08/18/2005 11:00PM

Owners see star potential in First Samurai

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Bruce Lunsford has already retired Madcap Escapade. By year's end, Lansdon Robbins will do the same with Offlee Wild. Already, though, both Louisville-based horse owners have something to look forward to.

Lunsford and Robbins went to the horse sales last September and bought four yearling colts. The first one, First Samurai, has already paid huge dividends, winning his first two starts to emerge as a major player for next Saturday's Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga.

"I never expected to have another one that could get me excited," said Lunsford, who had to retire Madcap Escapade because of a tendon injury. "It's a little premature on this one yet, but he's got all the looks. I really like him."

What's not to like? First Samurai, a son of Giant's Causeway, won his maiden by 5 1/2 lengths at first asking July 9 at Churchill Downs. On Aug. 7, First Samurai came back to win an entry-level allowance race by six lengths, covering six furlongs in 1:10.36 and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 97. Additionally, he came out of that race with a bit of a lung infection.

On Friday, First Samurai breezed a solid four furlongs in 47.46 seconds over Saratoga's main track. Jerry Bailey, who was aboard for the allowance win, was up for the work, the third fastest of 30 at the distance.

"He's traditionally lazy and he doesn't put a lot of energy into his work," Bailey said. "I was trying to hit 48 [seconds] or 48 and change, and I got lucky. Two horses broke off right in front of him, so he had a target for half the work and it made him work a little bit better. It kept him interested."

Lunsford and Robbins spent $390,000 on First Samurai at the Keeneland September sale. They purchased three other colts, none of whom has yet started. Lunsford said he doesn't usually run his horses at 2, but First Samurai was a February foal who came to hand quickly for trainer Frank Brothers. In the Hopeful, First Samurai will meet Henny Hughes, who is unbeaten.

"I love competition," Lunsford said. "We never backed away with Madcap, and I think in this case this probably won't be this horse's best distance. I think he looks like a natural two-turn horse, but obviously his last race shows he's got a pretty good turn of foot."

Before Robbins looks ahead to next weekend, he said he hopes to have his picture taken Sunday with Offlee Wild, who will be a heavy favorite in the Grade 2, $250,000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup. Offlee Wild gave Robbins his first Grade 1 victory in last month's Suburban Handicap and is being pointed to the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic later this year.

"It's fun," Robbins said. "But enjoy it while it lasts, because next Sunday they could both be hurt and be done."

Prado to ride Don't Get Mad

With Gary Stevens committed to ride Chekhov in next Saturday's $1 million Travers, Saratoga's leading rider, Edgar Prado, has picked up the mount on Don't Get Mad, trainer Ron Ellis confirmed Friday.

"We were very fortunate that someone like Prado was available," Ellis said from California. "This horse might run better for some jockeys than others, but trying to figure out who they are, you don't know until after the race. Prado, to me, every time I've watched him, he's done masterfully."

Don't Get Mad, fourth in the Kentucky Derby, completed his preparation for the Travers on Friday by working a mile in 1:39.40 Friday at Santa Anita. According to Ellis, Don't Get Mad sat about a length off a stablemate for the opening half-mile of the move before finishing the last half-mile in 48 seconds on his own.

"He runs better working a little bit on the easier side," Ellis said. "He wasn't blowing at all. That's another thing - he's got tremendous lung capacity or something. He gets less tired than any horse I've ever seen."

Funny Cide unlikely to make meet

The connections of Funny Cide are treating him for a minor back problem, and it seems unlikely he will race at this meet.

Funny Cide has not worked since Aug. 7, and has not been to the track for about a week. According to owner Jack Knowlton, Funny Cide has been undergoing massage therapy for an unspecified back problem.

"It's in that part of his body," Knowlton said. "All I can say is it's my understanding that it's some soft tissue stuff, and we're getting him to a point where he's comfortable. It's not a leg injury or anything like that. People do this kind of work all the time. Everything I'm hearing is positive and we're going in the right direction. We are getting closer to the point where we may not make Saratoga, but we're not ruling it out."

Knowlton said he had no plans to run Funny Cide in Sunday's Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap, a race in which Funny Cide finished second last year. There is a 1 1/8-mile allowance race next Friday for which Funny Cide is eligible, but he seems highly unlikely to make that race.

Funny Cide is winless in four starts since taking last October's Jockey Club Gold Cup. He has not run since finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Suburban on July 2.

Sensation works toward Spinaway

Sensation, winner of both of her career starts, worked four furlongs in 1:01.80 Friday morning in preparation for next Friday's Grade 2, $250,000 Spinaway Stakes.

Though Beyer Speed Figures indicate Sensation's first race was better than her second, trainer Stanley Hough said he was more impressed with Sensation's 4 1/2-length allowance win here Aug. 5.

"She rated off the pace," Hough said. "We just sat on her, and she split horses and took all the dirt and went about her business. That showed me more than her first start."

A solid field is shaping for the Spinaway, including stakes winners Adieu, Effectual, Fifth Avenue, and Folklore, as well as the impressive maiden winner India. The combined record of the six projected starters is 11-5-0 from 16 starts.

Commentator works four furlongs

Commentator, the Whitney winner, worked four furlongs in 51.10 on Friday over the Oklahoma training track. He is being pointed to the Woodward Stakes at Belmont on Sept. 10, though trainer Nick Zito reserved the right to change his mind.

"We'd like Commentator to be around for a while," said Zito, referring to himself and owner Tracy Farmer. "Any race he points for he doesn't necessarily have to run. He's a gelding. There's no pressure to run in these Grade 1's.

"The Woodward looks like a good spot," he said. "If it changes, we'll let you know."