03/24/2010 11:00PM

Lord Justice stretches in softer spot


Lord Justice, who failed badly in his first two attempts to carry his speed 1 1/8 miles, gets another shot to show he can handle the distance - this time against distinctly softer company - in Saturday's $70,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes at Laurel Park.

The Johnson, which goes as race 10 and serves as the first leg of this week's Magna 5, drew a field of six older horses, including the coupled entry of Zarroc and Cheers Mate.

A 4-year-old based in New York with trainer Todd Pletcher, Lord Justice stopped badly the first two times he was asked to run nine furlongs. But both of those races were against graded stakes company.

Lord Justice will be making his first start since February. The last time he returned from a similar layoff, Lord Justice led wire to wire in the mile-and-70-yard Spend a Buck at Monmouth Park last May.

The only horse who looks capable of pressing Lord Justice in the Johnson is Cheers Mate, a 5-year-old who in each of his last two starts against third-level optional $32,000 claimers has flashed speed and stopped.

Indian Dance, whose three-race winning streak was snapped when he finished second in the nine-furlong John Campbell Handicap last month, looks like the stiffest challenger for Lord Justice. But the 4-year-old Indian Dance is a deep closer and may not get sufficient pace to set up his kick.

Indian Dance, the 7-5 morning-line favorite, has won 3 of 5 starts for trainer Larry Murray with just one off the board finish, his maiden race at Saratoga last August. In his most recent race, he rallied to get second behind Redding Colliery in the Campbell on Feb. 15.

"It was a top notch effort," Murray said. "It was a very speed-favoring racetrack that day and nobody went with Redding Colliery. We were the only one running at the end. We threw him to the wolves in that spot as well. He had never gone a mile and an eighth and had missed six days of training because of the snow. But he has a lot of talent and if he can move forward, we might have a nice one."

Eddie C. is a 12-time winner of $342,580 in good form for high-percentage trainer Chris Grove. But he was badly beaten by Indian Dance two starts ago in the Campbell and is an 8-year-old coming back just eight days after he last raced, so it's questionable whether he can return on short rest and duplicate the 97 Beyer Speed Figure he posted finishing a distant third in an optional claimer.