02/04/2010 12:00AM

Musket Man ends long layoff in Super sprint


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Musket Man, winner of last year's Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby and a fast-closing third to Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the 2009 Preakness in his final start as a 3-year-old, kicks off his 4-year-old campaign on Saturday as the strong favorite in a field of eight older sprinters in the $75,000 Super Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Musket Man, winner of 5 of 8 starts and $836,000 last season, was sent home for some freshening over the summer, suffered a bone bruise in July, and returned to training last November. Since moving to Tampa, he has worked in sparkling fashion, including a three bullet works.

"He's been training super and now it's time to get him back on the track in the afternoon," trainer Derek Ryan said, "This race is a good starting point for him. He's not at his peak conditioning-wise, but he's fit enough to give a good account of himself and if he runs to his works, he'll be in the thick of things. It's a long year and we're looking at this race as a barometer as to where we go from here."

While Musket Man should go off as the strong favorite in the seven-furlong Super there are some others in the field who have credentials to upset, topped by Conchacer and War Fighter, who finished second and third in the six-furlong Pelican Stakes in their 4-year-old debuts.

Conchacer, from the powerful Dale Bennett barn, challenged for the lead through the stretch of the Pelican and was coming back again on the winner, Sneaking Uponyou, in his first race since October.

Conchacer won 3 of 9 starts last season, including the Forward Pass Stakes at Arlington Park, and has not been worse than second in four lifetime starts over the Tampa strip.

War Fighter led to the final furlong of the Grade 2 Ohio Derby before weakening to be second, and won 3 of 9 races in 2009.

The field also include Guam Typhoon, a stakes-placed runner from the Ian Wilkes barn who won 4 of 9 last season, and Weslinn, who led the field into the stretch of the Grade 2 Indiana Derby at 62-1 before weakening to be fourth.