06/18/2008 11:00PM

Mambo Meister strong choice, rain or shine


MIAMI - With every additional drop of rain that fell over Calder Race Course on Thursday morning, trainer Phil Gleaves knew the chances of finally getting Mambo Meister back on the turf in Saturday's $36,000 Lord Juban Stakes became slimmer and slimmer. But nobody will feel too sorry for Gleaves, since Mambo Meister looks like an even better bet if the race is switched to the main track.

Rain or shine, turf or dirt, Mambo Meister figures to be the odds-on favorite to add the Lord Juban to his victory in last month's Ride the Rails Stakes. That win came on dirt, while the Lord Juban is scheduled to be run at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

"The original idea after his last win was to ship him north for races like the Spend a Buck or Northern Dancer," Gleaves said. "But he's bred top and bottom for grass. He's practically painted green. So we figured, why not find out where he stands on turf before sending him out of town?"

Mambo Meister, a son of King Cugat, ran twice on turf at age 2, finishing third on both occasions following unlucky trips.

"I think his immaturity showed his first couple of times on the grass," said Gleaves. "But he's improved so much mentally from 2 to 3. You can see that by the improvement in his dirt races this year, and how he's begun to learn to relax when he runs."

Gleaves blew out Mambo Meister three furlongs in 35.60 seconds on the grass here Monday, getting him back over the surface in the Lord Juban.

"He looked pretty sharp in his blowout, and he's done very nicely since his last win," said Gleaves. "He's definitely on top of his game and should run his race no matter the surface Saturday.

"We did have to switch riders for this race since Manny Cruz, who rode him last time, is serving a suspension. But Ariel Smith worked this horse for me a couple of times during the winter, is riding well at the moment, and I'm very comfortable with having him aboard."

Mambo Meister figures to sit a nice trip behind the speed of Joey the Scholar and Unbridled Heat if the race goes as scheduled as turf. Joey the Scholar is the only member of the field with three wins on grass, and his status as a starter would change to doubtful if the Lord Juban is moved to the main track.

Unbridled Heat set the pace into the stretch then proved no match for Mambo Meister when finishing a well-beaten third in the Ride the Rails. A son of Unbridled Time, Unbridled Heat is winless in five starts on grass.