11/01/2002 1:00AM

Posse put to test in Iroquois


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - They all have passed their initial tests. Now the waters get deeper Sunday at Churchill Downs, where a promising group of 2-year-olds will clash in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes.

Under more favorable circumstances, Posse, a Silver Deputy colt who wowed Kentucky racing fans earlier this year, would be a solid choice in the $100,000 Iroquois, a one-mile race run around one turn. But Posse has not raced in more than three months, and with so many of his opponents having matured and improved during that time, the race suddenly takes on a more competitive look.

One of the Iroquois starters who has made terrific recent progress is What a Bad Day, a gray colt who won an allowance race by 8 1/2 lengths last month at Keeneland. Like most other trainers with a horse in the race, Carl Nafzger is eager to see what happens Sunday when What a Bad Day gets the most difficult test of his young career.

"He's got the ability," said Nafzger. "Now he has to show us if he has the class."

Posse, trained by Steve Asmussen, clearly is the most accomplished of the group, having won the Kentucky Breeders' Cup here in the spring. He finished fourth in the Sanford at Saratoga in his last start, after which Asmussen said the colt needed a short break.

The most notable challengers to Posse and What a Bad Day are Bluegrass Spirit, an impressive maiden winner at the Keeneland meet for John Ward; Champali, a Glitterman colt who is unbeaten in two sprints; and Mr. Whitestone, already a consistent performer for Dale Romans.

The rest of the Iroquois field is Repartment, Alke, Patacon, Larry B, and Boston Park.

Although devised mainly as a prep for the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, a Grade 2 race that will be run Nov. 30, the Iroquois has developed into a solid race in its own right. Winners in recent years have included such top horses as Ide (1995), Exploit (1998), Mighty (1999), and Harlan's Holiday (2001).

The Iroquois is the ninth of 10 races on a Sunday card that also includes three allowances (races four, six and eight). The sixth, a $55,200 turf sprint, is a particularly good race, having drawn Manofglory as part of a full field; the eighth, a $45,900 route, has Grade 2 winner Grammarian among a field of eight.

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