09/17/2003 11:00PM

Moorish Prince looks like a new horse

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer Glenn Thompson sheepishly accepts credit for the improvement by Moorish Prince from low-level claimer to stakes winner.

Thompson knows he also deserves a measure of the blame for a performance decline by the 7-year-old gelding.

"I don't know if it speaks well of me that he turned around so much, because I had him so bad that he ran for $5,000," Thompson said.

Moorish Prince hit rock bottom in running fifth for Monmouth Park's bottom claiming price on Aug. 15. He had not won in two years, and there were no takers at that drastically reduced price.

Desperate times prompted desperate measures, and the turnabout was so dramatic that Moorish Prince ranks as a key contender Saturday in the Slady Castle Stakes at a mile and 70 yards at Monmouth.

The Slady Castle is one of three $45,000 stakes that form the core of New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival Day, the first card that features all New Jersey-bred races.

Moorish Prince has earned over $150,000. His salad days appeared over until Thompson, who co-owns the gelding, made two dramatic moves: He fired himself as the exercise rider and added blinkers to the horse.

The improvement was swift and dramatic, as Moorish Prince bounced back to win the Castle Guard Stakes for New Jersey-breds by 10 astonishing lengths in the slop at 31-1.

"He really ran the other day," said Thompson. "That really shocked me. I didn't think he'd like the mud, but it looked like he loved it."

The addition of blinkers was a throwback to earlier, more successful days in Moorish Prince's career.

"In this drawer in my kitchen I kept an old picture from when he broke his maiden," said Thompson. "Every once in a while I go in that drawer, and couple of weeks ago I opened it, and there was the picture of him with the blinkers on."

Restoring the hood helped restore the gelding's focus.

"The last few races, you could see that he wasn't putting out in the stretch," said Thompson. "He wasn't really trying."

The change of exercise riders also helped.

"I used to ride him every day and he's a very tough horse," Thompson said. "I fired myself as his rider."

The changes contributed to a gratifying turnaround.

"You go through periods where you lose a horse," Thompson said. "They tail off on you. Then you remember something or make a subtle little change and you can bring them back. It's good to see."

Moorish Prince will face nine rivals: Sweet Arden, Strike N' Prospect, Country Joe, Marine, River Power, Hard Delivery, Calahan's Jet, Vow, and Beknown to Me.

Friendly Lover: Our Wildcat out to rebound

Trainer Eddie Broome hopes Our Wildcat gets a better trip than last time in the six-furlong Friendly Lover Stakes.

Our Wildcat wound up in tight traffic and did not fire in an open allowance race.

"The horse wants to be in the battle," Broome said. "The horse wants to grind it with them.

"He never showed anything last time because he was so far back. That's the first time he's been off the board in a sprint in his life."

The Friendly Lover drew a seven-horse field that includes the very tough Gators N Bears.

The 3-year-old Gators N Bears has won all three of his starts at Monmouth this season, including stakes victories in the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup and the Rumson.

Graze, Something Smith, Second Collection, Dixie Two Thousand, and Brucker's Brother complete the field.

William A. Purdey 'Cap: Sleeter confident

The William A. Purdey Handicap at a mile and 70 yards for fillies and mares attracted 10 runners, including Picnic Theme for Team Sleeter, one of the leading breeding operations in the state.

Gerry Sleeter is the owner while son Kevin handles the training.

Four of Picnic Theme's wins have come at Monmouth, and she mostly recently cruised to a front-running win against open claiming company.

"She's coming into this the right way," said Gerry Sleeter. "I think she should do well in there."

She will face Powers Prospect, who returns to statebred action for the first time since winning her maiden at The Meadowlands last fall. The 3-year-old filly will make her first start of the season at Monmouth after a campaign throughout the region that produced a victory in the Wide Country stakes at Laurel.

She offers handicappers two key angles following an allowance grass race at Pimlico: turf to dirt and open to restricted company.

Completing the field are Enough Kissen, Special American, Cigno d'Oro, Proven Form, Someones Coming, Salina's Gift, Uphill Skier, and Firecard.