05/14/2008 11:00PM

Ling Ling Qi on a sprint mission


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ling Ling Qi, Chinese for "007," may prove as unstoppable as his namesake, the fictional British secret agent James Bond, in Saturday's $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Ling Ling Qi has established a niche for himself as a dirt sprinter. In the Matt Winn, a six-furlong race on the Churchill main track, he faces St. Joe, Eaton's Gift, and four other opponents.

A nominee to the Triple Crown, Ling Ling Qi was given an opportunity by trainer Ken McPeek to develop into a router and a synthetic performer this year, but the Yonaguska colt failed to meet expectations. He tired to fifth in the Grade 3 Gotham at 1 1/16 miles at Aqueduct on March 8, and also ran fifth in the April 6 Lafayette Stakes over Keeneland's synthetic Polytrack surface.

In two starts sprinting on dirt in 2008, Ling Ling Qi (pronounced ling ling chee) has been perfect, winning a seven-furlong allowance at Gulfstream on Feb. 2 and taking a six-furlong second-level allowance at Churchill Downs on April 29.

In the latter race, he pulled jockey Robby Albarado to the lead a quarter-mile into the race, took pressure from two opponents on the turn while setting a soft pace, and drew away in the stretch to score by 2 3/4 lengths over Saratoga Seven, another Matt Winn entrant.

He ran quickly, racing six furlongs in 1:09.13, including a final eighth of a mile in 11.19 seconds. The performance earned him a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, the top last-race figure of the seven Matt Winn entrants.

"He's a nice horse," McPeek said. "And very strong."

Drawn outside, and with an abundance of pace in the Matt Winn, Ling Ling Qi will likely have to resort to stalking tactics.

With Albarado riding Racecar Rhapsody for McPeek in Saturday's Preakness at Pimlico, Jesus Castanon picks up the mount on Ling Ling Qi, who is owned by Lansdon Robbins III.

St. Joe and Eaton's Gift are expected to be the colts Ling Ling Qi will have to catch. Neither has won a race without having the lead after a half-mile.

Both come off rear-half finishes in longer races in which hot paces contributed to their poor performances. St. Joe faded to ninth in the Grade 2 Lexington at 1 1/16 miles after chasing Samba Rooster, and Eaton's Gift weakened to seventh in the 7 1/2-furlong Derby Trial after engaging in an early duel.

Georgetown could also prove dangerous, being the lone closer in a field inundated with speed.