Updated on 09/17/2011 10:53AM

No time like present for Rock Slide


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Neil Howard always knew Rock Slide was a good one. Howard just didn't know when or how the horse would prove his trainer right.

The time and place seem to have finally arrived.

As a son of the great sire A.P. Indy, Rock Slide was born with the looks and potential to become a top-class performer, but for one reason or another, the pieces never came together in quite the right way.

That is, until this year. Rock Slide, now 5, enters the $250,000 Firecracker Handicap in search of his third straight victory on turf, a surface that seems to have transformed him into a major player in the stakes ranks. Victory as the 117-pound highweight in the Grade 2 Firecracker, which will be run for the 11th time Saturday at Churchill Downs, would make Rock Slide one of the hottest turf milers in North America today.

"We've always liked him," said Howard, who trains Rock Slide for a partnership headed by his primary client, Will Farish. "It's just taken some time for him to come around, and getting him on the grass has helped me keep him sound and really picked his head up."

Rock Slide drew post 7 as one of nine older horses entered in the Firecracker, a one-mile race that always seems to come up a competitive race. In his last start, Rock Slide won the Sea o'Erin Handicap, and before that scored a gritty allowance victory over Kappa King.

Robby Albarado normally rides Rock Slide, but because the jockey will be at Belmont Park to ride Mineshaft - Rock Slide's full brother - for Howard in the Suburban Handicap, the mount has gone to Willie Martinez.

Tap the Admiral, shipping in from Belmont, and Pass Rush, a 4-year-old racing on turf for the first time, are next in line in the Firecracker weights at 115. Pass Rush had a recent work over the Churchill turf and "seemed to like it well enough," according to trainer Pat Byrne.

The Firecracker field is rounded out by Freefourinternet, Entitlement, Package Store, Al's Dearly Bred, Classic Par, and Cat Tracker.

Entitlement, entered following a sharp allowance win for trainer John Hennig, is a good longshot candidate.

The Firecracker is the ninth of 11 races Saturday, with post time scheduled for 5:26 p.m. Eastern. It will be televised on CBS from 5-6 p.m. along with the Suburban and the American Oaks from Hollywood.