09/13/2005 11:00PM

Long-absent Lunarpal begins comeback in Sprint


Before a pair of unbeaten 2-year-olds clashed on July 29, 2004, in the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, there was no way to know that one would go on to stardom and the other into oblivion.

Afleet Alex was an easy winner of the Sanford, while Lunarpal, who had opened his career with four straight wins, finished sixth. And while Afleet Alex proceeded to become the most accomplished horse in his class, Lunarpal hasn't even had another race.

That hiatus of nearly 14 months will end Saturday when the speedy Lunarpal runs in what usually proves to be one of the best races of the Kentucky Cup series at Turfway Park, the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Sprint.

Lunarpal, bred and owned by Bill Heiligbrodt, "just needed time" following his Sanford defeat, trainer Steve Asmussen said Wednesday. "We were looking to bring him back earlier than we have, but it was one stupid little thing after another that kept holding us back. It's not like he broke anything. We almost had him ready to go a few different times, but then something would come up."

Lunarpal was one of about eight 3-year-olds expected in the Turfway entry box early Thursday, when entries for all five Kentucky Cup races were to be drawn. Lunarpal, with Mark Guidry to ride, is one of the logical favorites in a field also expected to include Vicarage, Storm Surge, Going Wild, and Estate Collection.

Asmussen said he has not been overly impressed with how Lunarpal has trained toward his comeback.

"But that's what I've always said about him, even last year when he was winning every time I ran him," Asmussen said. "He's just not a morning tout."

Lunarpal's latest workout came Tuesday, when the colt breezed a half-mile in 49.80 seconds over the new Polytrack surface at Turfway.

Asmussen acknowledged that although quite a few KC Sprint winners have gone on to the Breeders' Cup Sprint and two of them - Reraise (1998) and Cajun Beat (2003) - won the race, he said he won't even consider making such a quantum leap. "We're just trying to get back on track Saturday," he said.

Deputy G., Stream Cat head Juvenile

Like the Sprint, the $100,000 KC Juvenile also has produced more than its share of top horses in previous runnings, most notably Vindication (2002), Point Given (2000), and Boston Harbor (1996). There's no telling whether Saturday's 12th running will uncover another hidden gem, but at least the field looks like it will be big and well matched.

Asmussen also has a starter for the 1 1/16-mile KC Juvenile in Cab, a 5 3/4-length winner in a recent maiden sprint at Saratoga. The other main contenders include Deputy G., with John McKee to ride, and Stream Cat, with Gary Stevens riding for trainer Patrick Biancone.

Deputy G., who captured the Bashford Manor Stakes, and Stream Cat, who took the restricted With Anticipation on the Saratoga turf course, are the lone stakes winners in the prospective field.

Classic attracts a crowd

The anchor race in the series, the $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic, probably will have the largest field in race history, surpassing the 10 that started in 1996. Favoritism appears up for grabs among Grand Reward, Absent Friend, M B Sea, Mambo Train, and Shaniko. A maximum of 12 can start in any of the Kentucky Cup races.

Turf specialist Senor Swinger breezed 47.80 seconds Wednesday at Turfway, but trainer Bob Baffert would not commit the 5-year-old horse to the 1 1/8-mile Classic. The primary alternative is the $200,000 Kentucky Cup Turf, to be run next Saturday at Kentucky Downs.

* The remaining races are the $175,000 Turfway BC and $100,000 KC Juvenile Fillies. Both were expected to get medium- to large-sized fields.