08/25/2008 11:00PM

Munnings ready to go for Hopeful

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - With a $1.7 million price tag on his head, expectations were high when Munnings launched his career here at Saratoga on July 26. Munnings did not disappoint, overcoming a slight mishap at the break to post an easy 4 1/2-length wire-to-wire victory over the well-regarded Just Coincidence.

Munnings will attempt to earn back a little more of his large purchase price as one of the favorites, along with Desert Party, in the Grade 1 Hopeful on closing day Monday.

Munnings tuned up for his stakes debut by working five furlongs in 1:00.31 under jockey John Velazquez on Tuesday. Breaking off a length behind stablemate Flint River, Munnings eased alongside his partner nearing the quarter pole and completed his final quarter in 23.99 seconds under little urging before galloping out six furlongs in a strong 1:13.06.

"I thought he worked very well," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "We've set him behind a horse in his last couple of works and he's a very professional individual. I'm not sure we're going to take him off the pace in the Hopeful but he looks like he'll relax if he needs to."

Munnings won his debut at six furlongs and will stretch out an additional eighth of a mile for the Hopeful. Because he is a son of Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Speightstown, it is logical to question how far Munnings will go, although Pletcher is confident his youngster can get a mile and beyond.

"At the end of the day I'm not 100 percent sure how far he'll run, but he gives every indication he'll go at least a mile and one-sixteenth," said Pletcher. "He's always finished up well and galloped out strongly during his works, and despite setting fast fractions he did the same thing in his first start. Although he's by Speightstown, he also gets quite a bit of stamina from the bottom part of his pedigree."

Among those ready to take on Munnings in the Hopeful is trainer Rick Violette's New York-bred Cribnote, who worked five furlongs from the half-mile pole around the clubhouse turn to the mile pole in 1:00.26 here Monday. Cribnote was nearly put over the rail when finishing fourth in his debut before returning to trounce statebreds by 13 1/2 lengths on July 27.

"I thought he'd gallop out a little better [in the work], but then I discovered he blew a hind shoe going into the turn just before completing his work and the rider didn't press on him after that," said Violette. "But he's fine and I'm looking forward to trying him in the stakes."

One horse who will pass the Hopeful is Capt. Candyman Can, who turned in one of the more notable 2-year-old performances of the meet when he rallied to post a 7 1/4-length maiden win on Aug. 13 in his career debut.

"The Hopeful just comes back a little too quick," said trainer Ian Wilkes, "so we've decided to wait for the Arlington-Washington Futurity. I knew this horse had talent but he did surprise me a little with his performance since it's not really my style to have young horses cranked up to win first time."

Kip Deville sharp in Big A work

Kip Deville, the leading turf miler in the nation, worked a sharp six furlongs in 1:14.49 Tuesday morning over the Aqueduct turf course. He is pointing to the $1 million Woodbine Mile in Canada on Sept. 7.

With jockey Rudy Rodriguez in the irons, Kip Deville went his first three furlongs in 39.23 seconds and his last three furlongs in 35.26 seconds, according to the Aqueduct clocker.

"He looked good, he really did," trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said outside Aqueduct's Barn 7, where his horses are stabled while his Barn 10 is being renovated. "I'm very happy with Kip."

Kip Deville has run only twice this year, winning the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland in April and the Poker at Belmont in July. Since the Maker's Mark, Dutrow has been focused on the Woodbine Mile and the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. Dutrow ran Kip Deville in the Poker because he felt the horse needed to run.

"He's ready to run right now again," Dutrow said. "I don't think we did a bad thing; it looks like it might work out in our favor."

Dutrow may also send Grade 1 Suburban winner Frost Giant to Woodbine for the $750,000 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles on the same day as the Woodbine Mile. Initially, Dutrow was planning to run Frost Giant in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a 1o1/4-mile dirt race at Belmont on Sept. 27. But the likelihood of Curlin running in the Jockey Club may alter those plans.

"I think he's better on the dirt, but a mile and a half seems to be what he wants so we don't have a problem trying this," Dutrow said. "I'd rather do that than run against Curlin because I don't see any way in the world how our horse can beat Curlin. Up in Canada I can see us having a very good chance of winning it."

Frost Giant was a Group 3 winner on turf in Ireland and has won an allowance race on turf in North America.

Evening Attire liable to scratch twice

The venerable 10-year-old Evening Attire is entered for main track only in Thursday's fifth race, a $75,000 optional claiming race scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on the turf. He is also among the nominees for Saturday's Grade 1 Woodward, but barring a change in the weather, Evening Attire is not likely to start in either race.

"If the race goes on the dirt we'll run him Thursday, although I don't think we're supposed to get any rain," said trainer Patrick Kelly. "We really only nominated him for the Woodward on the chance something might happen to Curlin to keep him out of the race. He's 10 years old and my goal right now is to find the easiest spots I can for him."

Evening Attire has not started since winning Philadelphia Park's 1 1/2-mile Greenwood Cup on July 19.

Trainer Allen Jerkens also reported that he's likely to pass the Woodward with Merchant Marine, owned by Peachtree Stable.

"He worked well yesterday but the owner doesn't want to run in there and I'm not going to do something the owner doesn't want me to," Jerkens said Tuesday. "If we pass the Woodward, we'll probably look at the Devil Diver."

The $75,000 Devil Diver is a 7 1/2-furlong race at Belmont on Sept. 7.

Travers helps improve sagging business

Great weather and full fields that included Saturday's Grade 1 Travers produced significant increases in both attendance and ontrack handle for the fifth week of the meet compared with the corresponding period in 2007, including the second largest all-sources handle in Saratoga history on Travers Day.

Overall, however, average daily attendance for the first 29 days of the meet remains down 11.7 percent at 24,233 fans per day, and ontrack handle is off 8.4 percent to $3.2 million a day compared with the first five weeks in 2007. All-sources handle for the meet is down 10.9 percent to $14.3 million daily.

"Our reward for four weeks of primarily miserable weather was sensational racing topped by surely one of the most exciting Travers Stakes ever witnessed, and we're gearing up for a colossal final weekend that includes champion Curlin's appearance here Saturday in the Woodward," said Charles Hayward, president and CEO of the New York Racing Association.

- additional reporting by David Grening