07/29/2008 12:00AM

Palanka City faces stiff challenge


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Midwest invader Palanka City first learned about life in the big city the hard way. She was scratched out of Belmont Park's Prioress Stakes earlier this month after failing to appear in the race-day security barn by the assigned time on the morning of the event.

Palanka City, who had been stabled at Prairie Meadows with trainer Terry Gestes prior to shipping east for the Prioress, remained in town and was transferred to trainer Barclay Tagg's barn shortly after her rude introduction to New York racing. She will get a second chance to see if she fits with the upper echelon of the 3-year-old filly sprint division when she takes on Eclipse Award champion Indian Blessing in Saturday's Grade 1 Test Stakes at Saratoga.

Palanka City will bring a three-race win streak into the Test that includes an easy victory in Pimlico's Grade 3 Miss Preakness on May 16. She has won those three starts by an average of better than four lengths, and according to Tagg has trained exceptionally well for her first real test in the big time.

"She seems like a pretty nice filly, but I guess we'll find out on Saturday," said Tagg, who trains Palanka City for owner William Stiritz. "I've been working her regularly with Big Truck and she's trained very well and done everything I've asked of her."

Palanka City has worked three times since joining Tagg's stable on July 5, including a bullet half-mile in 47.20 seconds here on July 22. She had her final major prep for the Test on Monday, going five furlongs in 1:00.74 on the main track.

Palanka City has won all her races from on or just off the pace, and Tagg said he does not have any particular strategy in mind for jockey Eibar Coa going into the Test.

"She doesn't appear to have to be on the lead and I'm not going after Indian Blessing," said Tagg.

Tagg also reported that Big Truck is likely to make his next start here in the $150,000 Albany, a 1 1/8-mile race restricted to New York-bred 3-year-olds, on Aug. 20.

Big Truck was originally scheduled to run in last Sunday's Jim Dandy, but Tagg called an audible, taking Big Truck out and replacing him at the last minute with Tale of Ekati, who finished fourth in the Grade 2 stakes for 3-year-olds.

"I just thought the Jim Dandy was coming up a little too tough for Big Truck," Tagg explained. "And I needed to get a race into Tale of Ekati to have him ready for the Travers, which is our main goal this summer."

Regarding Tale of Ekati, he said: "He was probably a work away for the Jim Dandy, but the race served its purpose."

Acai possible for Travers

It remains to be seen if Big Brown will run in the Travers, but trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. and the International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Inc. Stable may be represented in the Mid-Summer Derby by another horse.

Acai, a son of Three Wonders, made it 2 for 2 since being acquired by IEAH and moved to Dutrow when he won a first-level allowance race at Saratoga last Friday. Though his margin of victory was only a neck, Acai did run 1o1/8 miles in 1:50.42 and earn a 93 Beyer Speed Figure.

Dutrow said Acai would make his next start with blinkers, equipment he wanted to put on the horse following his maiden win but the stewards wouldn't allow it.

"I told them I wanted to put blinkers on him and they wouldn't let me do it, and in the race the other day you could see he's waiting and waiting and waiting,'' Dutrow said. "I said 'If you guys don't let me put blinkers on him I'm going to run him in the Pennsylvania Derby.' Edgar [Prado] told me after his first race that he's going to be better with blinkers.''

Another top 3-year-old now definite for the Grade 1 Travers is Harlem Rocker.

Trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed Tuesday, after conferring with owner Frank Stronach, that Harlem Rocker will pass Sunday's Haskell at Monmouth Park and await the Travers here on Aug. 23. Pletcher will still be represented in the Haskell by Atoned.

Rising Moon has foot injury

Rising Moon was vanned off from the track following his fifth-place finish in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Handicap with what is believed to be a bruise in his left front foot, Dutrow said.

"I'm being led to believe that it's a bruise,'' Dutrow said Tuesday. "We X-rayed it, sent the X-rays to different vets, and no one is telling me he has any kind of issues in that foot. Maybe he stepped on a rock on the way to the paddock. There's plenty of stones there, I know.''

Dutrow said he could tell from the start of the Whitney that Rising Moon was uncomfortable.

"He broke with his ears being pinned back, he was struggling all the way around there,'' Dutrow said Tuesday. "Yesterday, he walked better than the day before. Today he walked better than he did yesterday.''

Desert Key uncertain for King's Bishop

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens was trying to look on the bright side Tuesday morning after his Desert Key did everything but win the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes on Monday.

Desert Key set a contested pace, then hooked up in a stretch-long battle with Kodiak Kowboy before succumbing by a head in one of the more exciting races during the opening week of the meet. The rest of the field was left far behind the two leaders in the Amsterdam, the final local prep for the Grade 1 King's Bishop on Aug. 23.

"Naturally I'm not happy we got beat, but he certainly ran a winning race and you have to be pleased about his effort," said Jerkens.

He explained that it appeared jockey Edgar Prado was trying to get Desert Key to back off early co-leader Eaton's Gift on the outside, "but the other one just wasn't fast enough. And while the track was fast yesterday, it really wasn't speed-favoring."

The King's Bishop seems a logical option for Desert Key's next start, although Jerkens is not committing to anything at the moment.

"It's too early to think of options right now, although obviously the King's Bishop is one of them," he said.

Rain-soaked meet off to a slow start

Business was down substantially during the opening week of the 2008 meet compared with the same period a year ago. Most of the decline came in the first two days of the meet, which were plagued by heavy rains. In all, 13 races were taken off the turf opening week.

Attendance was off 25.7 percent, ontrack handle declined 12.6 percent, and all-sources handle was down 13.7 percent from the opening week in 2007. Saturday's Whitney Day helped lead a comeback. The all-sources handle of more than $25 million was the third highest non-Travers Day handle in track history.

"We came into the 2008 meet knowing that the economy, gas prices, and a particularly early opening in July would result in business declines compared to a record 2007," said Charles Hayward, New York Racing Association president and CEO. "But, ultimately, we're more dependent on the weather than anything, and after a rough start early we rebounded over the weekend."

New partner in Heir to the Stone

Trainer Rick Violette said owner Robin Cardoza has sold a one-third interest in her undefeated New York-bred 2-year-old Heir to the Stone to Jeff Puglisi.

Heir to the Stone, a son of Birdstone, won his debut by nearly seven lengths while earning a 90 Beyer Speed Figure at Belmont on July 10 and is being pointed for the Saratoga Special on Aug. 14.

Cardoza will remain the managing partner and Violette will continue to train Heir to the Stone. Puglisi has the bulk of his stable with trainer Steve Klesaris.

Violette also reported that his other promising New York-bred 2-year-old Crib Note will make his next start in the Grade 1 Hopeful on Sept. 1. Crib Note, by Read the Footnotes, also received a 90 Beyer winning his maiden by 13o1/2 widening lengths here last Sunday.

"These two horses are talented enough that they don't have to race against New York-breds to be of value," said Violette.

- additional reporting by David Grening