10/05/2005 11:00PM

Polytrack form put to the test


When the Turfway Park fall meet began in early September, horsemen and bettors alike could only guess which horses would excel over the new Polytrack surface. A month later, with the meet complete, the guesswork continues - except now it concerns whether Polytrack form will hold up over a traditional dirt surface.

Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 Phoenix Breeders' Cup at Keeneland provides a testing ground. Four of the nine starters come off races over Polytrack, including two recent winners, .

Neither is expected to be the favorite, although each will be well supported. In a deep field that includes a talented Chicago shipper in Fifteen Rounds, each seems likely to start at odds of 3-1 or higher. This comes despite the fact that both horses earned among the top 10 Beyer Speed Figures of the Turfway meet.

Premium Saltine, in fact, earned a 105 Beyer, the co-high of the Turfway meet, in winning an allowance there Sept. 9. Only Shaniko, winner of the Kentucky Cup Classic, ran as fast.

Like Fifteen Rounds, who has raced mostly in Chicago in ungraded company, Premium Saltine is getting a class test in the Phoenix. Although he has run quickly this year, posting five consecutive triple-digit Beyers, his success over that stretch has come at Hawthorne, Prairie Meadows, and Turfway - tracks perceived to be a cut below Keeneland. Corey Lanerie rides for trainer Tom Amoss.

Level Playingfield is more accomplished in major stakes, having won the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint in 2004 over the old Turfway main track. In his most recent start Sept. 24, he earned a 97 Beyer for winning Turfway's Marfa Stakes with a dramatic rally from last under John McKee.

For either to win the Phoenix, he seemingly needs some degree of regression from Fifteen Rounds. This spring and summer at Arlington Park, Fifteen Rounds won 5 races from 6 starts, the most wins of any horse during that meet. Three times at Arlington he ran six furlongs in under 1:09, including in his last race, the Arlington Sprint Handicap, which he won in stakes record time of 1:08.51.

The speedy Danieltown and the comebacking Bwana Charlie are other notable starters in the nine-horse Phoenix, which goes as race 6 on a Saturday card that includes the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity and Shadwell Turf Mile.

Bwana Charlie, fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, is winless in two starts in 2005 but approaches the Phoenix off a series of swift workouts.