09/30/2010 3:52PM

Much to like about Paddy O'Prado

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ELMONT, N.Y. – With the possible exception of Winchester, the older North American turf males entered in Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park have been a bit of an inconsistent and uninspiring group.

While Manhattan Handicap winner Winchester would certainly would be a logical winner of the 1 1/2-mile Joe Hirsch, there are three perhaps more attractive, if not more intriguing plays: Paddy O’Prado, the lone 3-year-old in the field; Treat Gently, the lone female in the field; and Never On Sunday, a former European-based 5-year-old who returns from a six-month layoff following two solid efforts at Gulfstream.

Paddy O’Prado, who has won three consecutive graded turf stakes against 3-year-olds, will likely go off favored in the 11-horse field. The Hirsch will be Paddy O’Prado’s first start against older horses and first start at 1 1/2 miles. Dale Romans, the trainer of Paddy O’Prado, won this race in 2004 with the 3-year-old Kitten’s Joy. Other potential hurdles such as a soft turf course or the 12-furlong distance don’t appear to faze Romans.

“Arlington was pretty soft, he handled that well,” said Romans, referring to Paddy O’Prado’s victory in the Grade 1 Secretariat on Aug. 21. “He’s handled all types of different courses with no problem. I don’t think it’ll be an issue.”

Regarding the 1 1/2 miles, Romans said, “I think it’s well within his range.”

Paddy O’Prado’s flight from Kentucky to Belmont was delayed from Thursday to Friday due to inclement weather, which canceled any plans to paddock or gate school.

“We don’t have any problems there, so it’s not a big deal,” Romans said.

Treat Gently, a 5-year-old mare, is 2 for 2 at Belmont, including an authoritative victory in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay at 1 3/8 miles in May. She also won the Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware going 1 3/8 miles, and as a 3-year-old in Europe, she won a Group 2 going 1 1/2 miles. That is why trainer Bill Mott opted for the Hirsch rather than the 1 1/4 miles of the Flower Bowl.

“One reason to take on the boys is to get the added trip,” Mott said.

Mott also has entered Bowling Green winner Al Khali, but said he may scratch if the course is too soft. Al Khali finished sixth in this race last year over soft ground.

Never On Sunday was a Group 1 winner on soft ground in France last year – beating two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldikova at Longchamp – before coming to this country and trainer Patrick Biancone in December.

Never On Sunday raced twice at Gulfstream, finishing third in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, in which he blew the second turn, and second in the Grade 3 Pan American, in which he may have been compromised by slow fractions.

Trainer Patrick Biancone said Never On Sunday may not have fully acclimated to North America in time for the first race and came out of the second one with an ankle injury.

“He’s ready,” Biancone said. “I think he’ll be much better at Belmont.”

Interpatation will be making his fifth consecutive start in the Turf Classic, having won it last year after finishing fourth in 2006, third in 2007, and second in 2008. He should enjoy the soft going.

Telling and Bearpath finished one-two in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga and are proven stayers.

Grassy, Solitaire and Strike a Deal complete the field.