09/18/2009 12:00AM

Midshipman finally makes it back

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Barbara D. Livingston
Midshipman, shown training at Saratoga in August under exercise rider Iain Grant, will make his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Midshipman, last year's champion 2-year-old colt, makes his long-awaited 3-year-old debut in a third-level allowance race Friday at Belmont Park. The 6 1/2-furlong race marks Midshipman's first start since he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last Oct. 25. This race, which goes as the third, also represents Midshipman's first start on dirt.

As a 2-year-old, when trained by Bob Baffert, Midshipman went 3 for 4 racing exclusively over the synthetic surfaces of Southern California. He won the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity in his second start before finishing second to Street Hero in the Grade 1 Norfolk. Midshipman clinched his Eclipse Award with a front-running score in the Juvenile from post 10.

Midshipman was transferred from Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable to his Godolphin operation and was shipped over to Dubai for a winter campaign that was designed to have him return for the Kentucky Derby. But Midshipman suffered a soft tissue injury in March that forced him off the Triple Crown trail and out of training.

Midshipman did not resume training until this summer at Belmont, where he began working July 18. Midshipman has breezed nine times since then, including a five-furlong move in 1:00.25 on Sept. 10.

"It's been a long, steady road back," said Rick Mettee, the Godolphin assistant trainer who oversees the outfit's New York division. "He hasn't been flying around there in the mornings, but we feel we got the proper leg work into him. He certainly gives you the impression he'll go on in the afternoon."

Mettee hopes Midshipman handles the dirt as well in the afternoon as he has in the morning. Richard Migliore has the call from post 2.

"He worked really well on the dirt," Mettee said. "He gives us every impression he'll go well on it. We'll see what he does when he gets it kicked in his face."

The race drew a solid field, including the speedy 3-year-old Just Ben and the 4-year-old Storm Play, who makes his first start since finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile last November.

The last time Just Ben sprinted at Belmont he ran seven furlongs in 1:21.18 on Belmont Stakes Day and won by 13 3/4 lengths. After a failed attempt at stretching out in the Grade 2 Dwyer, Just Ben won another sprint allowance by 1 1/2 lengths last out.

Last year, as a 3-year-old trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Storm Play won his first three starts, including a first-level allowance win over this track in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 100. Storm Play has been transferred to Todd Pletcher by owner Ed Evans and shows a steady series of works for his return.