09/23/2004 12:00AM

Marfa more than two-horse race


When Private Horde and Mountain General last met, they finished one-two in the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga last year. They meet again on Saturday for far less money and prestige in the $75,000 Marfa Stakes at Turfway Park.

Neither has reached his top form of last year, winning only allowances in 2004. Private Horde, who won the 2003 Vanderbilt by five lengths over Mountain General in the slop, has 1 win in 6 starts this year. Mountain General is 1 for 7.

Both are looking to get back on track at Turfway in the Marfa. Private Horde won this race in 2003, Mountain General in 2002.

Although Private Horde soundly defeated Mountain General in the Vanderbilt, he might not be the favorite Saturday, not after finishing second in his most recent start, a money-allowance contest at Hoosier Park on Sept. 8. He raced evenly throughout, losing by 2 1/4 lengths to Mr. Mink, a speedy stakes-winning Indiana-bred with an 8-for-13 record.

Mountain General also ran second last out, 4 1/2 lengths behind the Grade 1-placed Pretty Wild at Saratoga on Aug. 13. Pretty Wild earned a 111 Beyer Speed Figure for winning that race, Mountain General a 101 for second place.

Despite the class of Mountain General and Private Horde, the 6 1/2-furlong Marfa is not a two-horse race. Three of the four other entrants have run well in stakes, including Unbridled America, Sea of Tranquility, and Sterling Gold. Only Full of Luck, who raced in claiming races this summer, seems outclassed.

Sterling Gold, a $50,000 claim by trainer Bernie Flint in May, may have the edge in recent form. He earned triple-digit Beyers in races in July and August, and he was a close third behind graded stakes winner Freefourinternet in the Labor Day Handicap, a mile turf race at Mountaineer Park on Sept. 6. That effort earned him an 89 Beyer, the highest of his career on turf. Previously, he had been twice unplaced on turf, each time running Beyers of 83. Returned to dirt, he appears poised for a top effort. Willie Martinez rides for owners LTB Inc. and R. A. Williams.

Unbridled America and Sea of Tranquility could also challenge with their best races. Unbridled America ran second to Riva Ridge winner Fire Slam in the Don Bernhardt Stakes at Ellis Park in July, and Sea of Tranquility, a three-time winner in 2004, lost by a nose to Mountain General in the 2002 Marfa.

* Saturday's card from Turfway will be combined with six races from Kentucky Downs to form a 16-race simulcast package. Four of the six Kentucky Downs races are Kentucky Cup Turf Festival stakes.