07/24/2006 11:00PM

'Passion' has been going in right direction


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Presious Passion has been steadily closing the gap in each of his last two starts.

If that pattern continues Thursday at Monmouth Park, the 3-year-old Presious Passion should be highly competitive in the featured optional claimer on the turf for second-level allowance runners or horses carrying a $35,000 tag. The race carries a purse of $40,000.

In his first start after shipping north from Florida, Presious Passion lost by 6 1/2 lengths at Belmont Park. He was much closer in the last two at Monmouth, rallying to miss by 2 1/4 lengths and then only three-quarters of a length last time out.

"It's a little tough being 3, going against the older horses," said trainer Mary Hartmann. "Physically, the older guys are stronger, but he's going in the right direction and I'm very pleased with him."

Presious Passion also gets more ground. This race is 1 1/8 miles, the longest he has gone this year.

"I think when you go a mile and an eighth, they tend to go a little slower and he will lay up a little closer," Hartmann said.

A Nice Splash, one of three horses available for the $35,000 claiming tag, looks to be the horse to beat. The 6-year-old A Nice Splash drops a level following a one-length loss.

Nearly 20 years later, Dickey's back

Charles Dickey sends out two horses on Thursday after an 18-year absence from Monmouth.

The trainer decided to return to the Jersey Shore with 10 horses when the Churchill Downs meet ended and Ellis Park beckoned.

"It's good to be back," Dickey said. "I'm in the same barn I had when I was last here 18 years ago."

Dickey, 65, is a Kansas native who started his training career in Colorado in 1963. He trained on the Monmouth-Meadowlands Racetrack circuit from 1980 to 1988.

"I had back surgery in 1988," Dickey said. "I had to give up the horses for a few years. When I came back, I stayed in Kentucky most of the year, with winters in Florida. The last three years, I've gone to Oaklawn Park for the winter."

Dickey shipped in last week, and on Thursday sends out two horses making their first starts following claims at Churchill Downs.

In the fourth race, Regwell is a 3-year-old second-timer. He ran third in his debut on June 30, and Dickey took him for $30,000.

In race 7, the 5-year-old Derrick makes his 39th start, looking for his first win in almost a year - July 31, 2005, at Ellis Park was the last one.

Dickey took him for $15,000 on July 8 and runs him back for $22,000.