04/29/2003 12:00AM

Major Hero in for a Scuffle


Major Hero was good enough to finish third in the 1999 Cinema Handicap at Hollywood Park while racing on the flat with California trainer Neil Drysdale.

Now, in the midst of a second career - as a steeplechaser - Major Hero makes his first start in a six-figure stakes in nearly three years in Thursday's $100,000 Hard Scuffle Steeplechase at Churchill Downs.

Run over 2 1/16 miles on turf, the Hard Scuffle is restricted to novices who have not won over hurdles before March 1, 2002.

Major Hero races for Guy Torsilieri's Coppertree Farm and trainer Tom Voss. He has won 2 of 5 starts over hurdles, including an allowance race at Saratoga. He ended the year with a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Foxbrook Supreme Hurdle at Far Hills, N.J.

At first glance, the losing margin of nearly 50 lengths in the Foxbrook may seem discouraging, but the race was won by Mcdynamo, who opened his 2003 campaign with a victory against top open horses in the Royal Chase at Keeneland last Friday.

Voss chose to run Major Hero on Thursday when he saw the race did not have a large field.

"I wasn't going to run him until the race came up short," he said. "He hasn't run since last fall, and we're at a bit of a disadvantage, but he's worked at home on the all-weather track and uphill gallops."

If Major Hero wins, he would not be the first ex-flat horse to succeed in the Hard Scuffle, first leg of the steeplechase triple crown. Pompeyo, once trained by Drysdale, won this race in 2000.

Aside from Major Hero, there are seven other entrants. The race includes Fighting Star and Naughty Prince, who have both won their last two starts, and Preemptive Strike and Hotspur, who were second and third in a novice stakes at Atlanta on April 12.