04/26/2005 11:00PM

Magistretti makes return in Elkhorn

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - One of the more enduring images from the 2004 fall meet at Belmont Park is Magistretti kicking into overdrive to win the Grade 1 Man o' War Stakes. Two disappointing defeats soon followed, but the race remains a vivid reminder of what Magistretti can do.

Following a six-month layoff, will resurface Friday, and just in the nick of time for the Keeneland fans. The feature on closing day of the 16-day spring meet is the $200,000 Elkhorn Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf race that trainer Patrick Biancone hand-picked as a suitable return spot for Magistretti.

Owned by Michael Tabor, Magistretti is part of a full field entered in the Grade 3 Elkhorn. Assuming he runs - and Biancone said too-soft turf might lead him to scratch Magistretti in favor of stablemate Salford City - then surely Magistretti will take plenty of wagering support in his 5-year-old debut.

"I am going to run only one of them," said Biancone. "Magistretti has been doing very well. I don't know if I have him 100 percent, but he should be good enough to win this kind of race. He is a very determined horse. I expect him to perform very well if he runs."

Magistretti earned a 111 Beyer Speed Figure with his rallying triumph in the Man o' War in early September. He subsequently finished second, then fourth, in a pair of extremely competitive Grade 1 races: the Oct. 2 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont and the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park.

If Magistretti does not start, or if he happens to turn in a subpar effort, then the Elkhorn might well fall to Navesink River, an up-and-coming colt who proved a gritty winner for trainer Todd Pletcher in the 1 1/2-mile Pan American on the Florida Derby undercard at Gulfstream Park, or Swagger Stick, an authoritative winner of an April 10 allowance prep for trainer Graham Motion.

Other notables in the Elkhorn include Epicentre, third in the San Luis Rey at Santa Anita in his last start, and Rochester, a 9-year-old gelding who has earned nearly $975,000.

The two also-eligibles are Macaw and Classic Piper. Twelve is the field-size limit.

Racing on the Kentucky circuit will shift Saturday to Churchill Downs.