08/30/2008 12:00AM

McPeek looks for Fitzaslew to step up


CINCINNATI - Nearly a quarter-century after Spend a Buck used the Cradle Stakes as a springboard to racing immortality, River Downs still strives to garner a moderate amount of national attention for its marquee race. Moving the race from dirt to turf for the 2007 Cradle was an attempt toward that end, but the cast of 2-year-olds assembled for the 2008 running suggests the effort is stalling.

Indeed, with Fitzaslew looking like the top contender with only one race on his past performances, the Cradle could have come up a lot better - especially considering its $200,000 purse and its spot on the racing calendar as a two-out prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Whatever the case, trainer Ken McPeek believes the future of Fitzaslew is so promising that the colt might eventually prove himself a top turf horse, thereby rescuing the 2008 Cradle from apparent mediocrity.

"This is a really nice horse," said McPeek, who has won the Cradle three times, including the inaugural turf voyage last year with Old Man Buck. Although Fitzaslew, owned by Alliance Racing, earned just a 61 Beyer Speed Figure in winning a maiden sprint on the Churchill Downs main track, "he's a big, long horse who really should do his best going long on the turf," said McPeek.

Fitzaslew, with Perry Ouzts to ride, will break from post 4 in a field of eight entered in the 1 1/16-mile Cradle, which anchors the closing-day card at River.

The top three challengers to Fitzaslew swept the top three spots in the Cradle prep over the River turf. Chilliness won that Aug. 9 race as a 54-1 shot, with Appalachian Trail second and Night Action third.

Chilliness was purchased privately after his career debut by Steve Greene and John Krull. The trainer of record for Chilliness for the Cradle prep was Bruce Waltermire, a longtime former assistant to Mike Tomlinson, a Churchill-based trainer who since has assumed the training of the Ecton Park gelding.

"We bought him with the intent of getting him into longer races," said Tomlinson. "Obviously we've been pretty lucky so far."

Tomlinson has named Calvin Borel to ride Chilliness, who will break from post 3.

Spend a Buck, the 1984 Cradle winner, went on to win the Kentucky Derby the following spring and remains the most renowned horse to race at River Downs, a picturesque track that rests on the northern banks of the Ohio River.