06/18/2008 11:00PM

Nobody's certain how good Taconeo is

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Hunting comes into Friday's Yankee Victor after winning three of his last five starts.

ELMONT, N.Y. - If Kiaran McLaughlin can do half as well with the Venezuelan-bred Taconeo as he did with another South American-bred colt two years ago, the trainer will have a very enjoyable second half of the year.

While it's unreasonable to expect Taconeo to be anywhere near as good as 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor, McLaughlin has liked what he has seen so far from the 4-year-old colt. McLaughlin will learn more about Taconeo in Friday's $75,000 Yankee Victor Stakes, the featured event on Belmont Park's nine-race card that begins at 3 p.m. Eastern.

The Yankee Victor, run at 1 1/16 miles, drew a field of seven but will be scratched down to six, since trainer Stanley Hough named Javier Castellano on both Deputy Indy and Gold Trippi; one will have to scratch. The Yankee Victor will go as race 3.

Taconeo has won 12 of 18 career starts, including a streak of nine straight wins that went from Jan. 28, 2007, through last Aug. 12. He has won several group stakes by more than 10 lengths, but the obvious question is, what kind of competition has he been facing?

"You just don't know,'' McLaughlin said Wednesday from Saratoga. "He's trained very well for us; we think he's a nice horse. We're not sure about the Grade 1 competition, how tough it really was, so we figured we'd point for this spot instead of the Suburban.''

Taconeo has not run since finishing fourth as the 3-5 favorite in a 10-horse field in the Grade 1 Caribe in Puerto Rico on Dec. 2. He shows seven breezes since mid-April.

There are no superstars in the Yankee Victor, but there are some solid handicap horses in the field. Hunting, a 5-year-old gelded son of Coronado's Quest, has won three of his last five starts, including the Grade 3 Stuyvesant last fall and an optional claiming race last month.

"I know it was only a three-horse race, but I liked his race last time," trainer Shug McGaughey said. "I thought he breezed here really well the other day. He's a gelding, and he's the kind we sort of just want to have some fun with."

Shopton Lane has won five of his last seven starts but has not run since taking the Ground Storm Stakes over the inner track in February. He looms the one to catch from the rail under Rajiv Maragh.

Reade Baker, based at Woodbine, is 2 for 3 at this meet and ships down Storm Caller. Storm Caller comes off a narrow loss in the Grade 3 Vigil over Woodbine's Polytrack.