05/16/2006 11:00PM

Looks like all Wanderin Boy

Patrick Lang / Lang Photography
Wanderin Boy wires the Ben Ali at Keeneland, and with Funny Cide a likely scratch in the Pimlico Special, he may have the front to himself.

BALTIMORE - When the best horse in a race is also the controlling speed, it makes for a lethal combination. On paper, Wanderin Boy looks like the best horse in Friday's $500,000 . And with the expected scratch of Funny Cide, Wanderin Boy now appears to be the controlling speed.

On Wednesday, the connections of Funny Cide, the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, entered him in Saturday's $100,000 William Donald Schaefer Handicap and indicated that is where the gelding will run barring something unforeseen. Provided that is the case, the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special will be reduced to a five-horse field.

More importantly, it takes an early pace challenger away from Wanderin Boy, who enters the Grade 1 Special off a front-running victory in the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland. There's the rub. Wanderin Boy has recorded 3 of his 5 career victories over the notoriously speed-friendly Keeneland strip.

"He is 3 for 3 at Keeneland, but he won the Mineshaft at [the Fair Grounds], and he obviously looked good doing that, so let's hope not," said Zito, when asked if Wanderin Boy could be a Keeneland horse for course. "He's getting good now and he has an enormous amount of talent, obviously."

Wanderin Boy's only poor performance came in last year's New Orleans Handicap. He emerged from that race with an injury and was off 10 months. He has gradually improved with each of his four starts this year and shows a five-furlong work in 59.76 seconds over Saratoga's Oklahoma training track last Sunday. Javier Castellano will ride Wanderin Boy, the 117-pound highweight, from post 3.

Wanderin Boy's stiffest challenge figures to come from Harlington, one of two horses in this field trained by Todd Pletcher. Like Wanderin Boy, Harlington suffered an injury last year after a race at Fair Grounds and missed nine months.

He has come back with 3 wins in 3 starts, including a neck victory in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 4. In that race, Harlington dragged jockey John Velazquez through an opening on the rail down the backside and had just enough to hold off the late charge of Contante.

"I think that was as much of a product as the way the race unfolded as anything," Pletcher said of the early move. "Johnny was concerned the way they were spread out around the track. If he didn't commit to the rail you'd risk getting caught very wide around the second turn. It wasn't necessarily the horse was rank or unnecessarily taking him there."

Pletcher said Harlington's 11-week layoff was by design. The horse runs well fresh, and Pletcher wanted to keep him in longer-distance races. Garrett Gomez will ride from post 6.

Pletcher's other horse is West Virginia, who comes off a 1 3/4-length victory over Funny Cide in the Grade 3 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap. The Beyer Speed Figure of 106 he earned that day was the best of his career.

"He ran a big race last time," Pletcher said. "He would need to step up to his highest level. He's got some speed, and if Funny Cide doesn't run he may be the first one stalking Wanderin Boy."

Mark Hennig won last year's Pimlico Special with Eddington. Saturday, he sends out We Can Seek, who comes off an allowance win at Aqueduct going 1 1/4 miles. He was a graded winner at 11 furlongs in Chile.

"He's a true mile-and-a-quarter horse," Hennig said.

Invasor was a champion 3-year-old in Uruguay. He ran fourth in the UAE Derby in March and will be making his North American debut in the Special. Invasor, a son of Candy Stripes, will run on Lasix for the first time.

"Let's find out how good he is," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

* The Pimlico Special is the last leg of a pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $250,000. It is also the first leg of the Pimlico Special-Preakness double. The Pimlico Special will be broadcast live on ESPN in a one-hour telecast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern. Post time for the Special is 5:43 p.m

The field

Pimlico Special Handicap
Purse: $500,000; 1 3/16 miles; Grade 1

1Funny CideR. Migliore1134-1
2West VirginiaN. Arroyo1154-1
3Wanderin BoyJ. Castellano1178-5
4InvasorR. Dominguez1168-1
5We Can SeekR. Bejarano11212-1
6HarlingtonG. Gomez1165-2

* Track odds
* Television: Friday; 5-6 p.m. Eastern; ESPN