03/08/2008 12:00AM

Mr. Umphrey tries to regain confidence


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Mr. Umphrey has faced, and for the most part held his own against, horses like Benny the Bull, Chatain, Diamond Stripes, and Magna Graduate in three of his last four starts. With those company lines, the drop into an allowance for Monday's $49,000 main event seems like an easy way for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. to get Mr. Umphrey back into the winner's circle following a 13-month losing streak.

But Mr. Umphrey has been just unreliable enough in his previous tries against third-level allowance competition to give players some pause before singling the likely favorite on any of their multi-race tickets or taking a short price in the win pool. The speedster could be vulnerable, especially if Mr. Umphrey gets pressed on the lead by Art and Soul, Holy Canyon, or Bushmills Best, all of whom have seen the lead in recent sprint outings.

Mr. Umphrey is coming off a fifth-place finish behind stablemate Benny the Bull in the Sunshine Millions Sprint on Jan. 26. He was also beaten just a head by the multiple graded-stakes winner Chatain in an overnight stakes at the Meadowlands during the fall. But he sandwiched those efforts around a fourth-place finish against third-level optional claiming company at Aqueduct in his 2007 finale, the fourth time he's failed to win the condition in as many attempts.

"I brought him down for the Sunshine Millions, but he's doing well and is ready to run again," said Dutrow. "He's got a lot of speed but he doesn't necessarily have to be on the lead to win, and he's certainly run some good races lately. Especially the one when he just got beat by Chatain."

Bushmills Best won a three-other-than allowance race and earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure in his 2006 finale at Calder but remains eligible for this race since he ran under a $40,000 claiming tag that day.

Holy Canyon showed he may be cycling back to top form when he withstood an early pace battle to earn a four-length victory in a second-level optional claimer that was taken off the turf on Feb. 10. The outing was his first since he finished far back in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes on July 30.

An early speed duel would enhance the chances of Vicarian, who returns to south Florida after finishing a well-beaten fourth in Tampa Bay Downs's Super Stakes on Feb. 9. In his previous start, Vicarian recovered from an eventful start to rally to a one-length second-level allowance win for trainer Ian Wilkes.