03/14/2008 12:00AM

Nistle's Crunch joins Derby fray


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Ken McPeek is planning to put his improving 3-year-old prospect Nistle's Crunch on the road to the Kentucky Derby. He's just not sure which of the many available trails he'll take just yet.

Nistle's Crunch, a son of Van Nistelrooy, comes off the best performance of his career, a two-length entry-level allowance victory here on March 1. The versatile Nistle's Crunch has not finished worse than third in six career starts - two on Polytrack, two on turf, and two on conventional dirt.

"He's a do-it-all kind of horse," said McPeek. "He can run on all surfaces, and I think he has a big future. Right now there's a chance he could run in the Lane's End, but everything is still up in the air. The Florida Derby and Holy Bull stakes here are also possibilities."

McPeek said he was pleased with Nistle's Crunch's most recent victory, against the Grade 3 stakes-placed Cool Gator and the odds-on favorite and previously undefeated Understatement.

"He's run a pretty steady series of races and I think the more patient I am with him the better he'll be," said McPeek. "He did everything I asked of him in his last start, and we'll try him at another level soon. It's just a matter of where and when."

Sugar Swirl will try for series sweep

The Grade 2 Shirley Jones Handicap at seven furlongs on March 22 closed with 17 nominations. The list is topped by Sugar Swirl, who will try to complete a sweep of the three graded sprint stakes for fillies and mares here this winter with a victory in the seven-furlong Shirley Jones. Sugar Swirl has registered one-sided wins in the Grade 3 First Lady and Hurricane Bertie handicaps earlier in the meet.

The Shirley Jones also marks the local return of Shaggy Mane, who won the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint by nearly eight lengths here last winter. Shaggy Mane, who finished a tiring fifth in defense of that title over the artificial surface at Santa Anita on Jan. 26, was transferred to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.'s barn at Palm Meadows, Fla., shortly after that race.

Two other notables on the nomination list for the Shirley Jones are Lady Marlboro, who dead-heated for win with Golden Velvet in the one-mile, Grade 3 Sabin Handicap on Jan. 6, and multiple Grade 1 winner Dream Rush.

Trainer Rick Violette said he will decide after Dream Rush works at Palm Meadows on Sunday whether to run her in the Shirley Jones or send her to New York for the Grade 2 Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct the same afternoon.

All Is Vanity makes big U.S. debut

All Is Vanity, a Group 2 winner last season in France, kicked off her U.S. campaign in high style with a wire-to-wire victory over Carriage Trail in Friday's $53,500 allowance feature.

The race's strong field also included European Group 2 winners Miss Lucifer and Just Little.

Pletcher pads his lead

Todd Pletcher added to his lead in the trainer standings - sending out Lady Chace to an easy victory over the odds-on favorite and multiple Grade 2 stakes-placed Melissa Jo in Friday's fifth race.

Lady Chace, a 3-year-old daughter of Tiznow, had won her career debut by nearly 11 lengths last summer at Monmouth Park, but had been idle since finishing a well-beaten sixth in Saratoga's Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes on July 25.

* Cool Coal Man had his first official workout since winning the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes here on Feb. 24 when he breezed five furlongs in 1:02 at Palm Meadows on Friday. Cool Coal Man is slated to make his next start in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 12.