01/24/2008 12:00AM

Mach Ride's camp confident vs. Benny the Bull

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Benny the Bull closed out his 2007 campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and a victory in Laurel's Grade 1 De Francis Memorial, and as a result will go off as a solid favorite in Saturday's $300,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream Park. But Steve Standridge, who trains the Florida-based Mach Ride, said he wouldn't trade places with anybody going into the race.

The six-furlong Sunshine Millions Sprint marks the first confrontation between the speedy Mach Ride and late-running Benny the Bull. They were on a collision course to meet three months earlier in the Breeders' Cup Sprint until Standridge was forced to withdraw Mach Ride from consideration because of a bruised foot that had not healed properly.

"I think I'm the horse to beat on Saturday," Standridge said. "Getting a race under his belt off the layoff is a big plus."

Standridge was referring to Mach Ride's second-place finish over a sloppy track in the Grade 2 Mr. Prospector Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 5. That was the first start for Mach Ride since he checked home a troubled fourth behind Fabulous Strike in the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park on Sept. 30.

Mach Ride registered the most important victory of his career in Calder's Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap in early July, topping a field that included division kingpins Fabulous Strike and Smokey Stover. Standridge and Mach Ride also were frustrated on a couple of occasions in Grade 1 races when awkward starts compromised their chances in both the 2007 Vosburgh and the 2006 King's Bishop.

Mach Ride will break from post 2 in the Sprint under regular rider Elvis Trujillo and Standridge makes no bones about his strategy.

"Our hand is pretty much forced from that post - he's going to be on the lead," Standridge said. "I know there's a lot of other speed in this field, but he's ready to go all the way."

A fast and contentious pace will play into the hand of the stretch-running Benny the Bull, who rallied from last to finish second behind Midnight Lute in the Grade 1 Forego and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. He also came from eight lengths back after the opening quarter-mile to win the De Francis.

"This is beautiful," said Richard Dutrow Jr., who also will send out Mr. Umphrey in the Sprint. "There's six of them that need the lead. That's good for Umphrey and Benny."

Mr. Umphrey, who Dutrow said is better when he stalks, won just once in 10 tries a year ago but was second to Chatain in an overnight sprint stakes this fall at the Meadowlands.

Among those expected to give Mach Ride a run for his money on the lead are California invader Bushwacker and the Calder-based Finallymadeit.

Bushwacker closed out 2007 with two front-running wins that included a three-quarter-length score in Hollywood's Grade 3 Vernon Underwood Stakes over In Summation, who on Monday set a six-furlong track record at Santa Anita.

Finallymadeit won eight races, including six stakes, a year ago and was third behind Mach Ride after contesting the pace to deep stretch in the Mr. Prospector.

Storm in May should also be flying at the end and could be a sleeper. Storm in May rallied from far back to win the Sunshine Millions Dash for 3-year-olds over this track a year ago at odds of 26-1.

- additional reporting by David Grening