12/10/2008 12:00AM

Presious Passion seeks upset repeat


MIAMI - Presious Passion surprised just about everyone - except trainer Mary Hartmann - a year ago when he sprung a 67-1 upset in the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap. Presious Passion returns to defend that title here Saturday, and while another victory wouldn't be quite as shocking, it will still be regarded as an upset of sorts considering the gelding's recent form.

Presious Passion forced all the pace under jockey Elvis Trujillo before edging clear to a 1 1/4-length victory over 3-2 favorite Stream of Gold in the 2007 renewal of the 1 1/2-mile McKnight. He defeated a very strong field that also included Revved Up, Dave, and local turf kingpin Soldier's Dancer.

The McKnight gave Hartmann her first Grade 2 win. She posted her first Grade 1 victory nearly seven months later when Presious Passion again outran both his odds and the competition to score a game neck decision in Monmouth Park's prestigious United Nations Stakes.

"I wasn't surprised that he won the McKnight or any of those other longer races, because I always knew he wanted to go that far," Hartman said.

Presious Passion's form has tailed off since the United Nations. He has finished off the board in four subsequent starts, three of those races contested over turf courses softened by rain.

"He just can't handle the turf being soft and squishy like it was in each of his last two races in New York," Hartmann said. "As far as I'm concerned, he's just as good now as he was when he won here last year."

Presious Passion will reunite with Trujillo on Saturday, and Hartmann says having a rider who knows her horse is key to his chances.

"To tell the truth, I'd like to see him sitting just off the pace Saturday, but if he makes the lead, that's fine as long as he can set soft fractions," Hartmann said. "Elvis won on him before, and I'm confident he'll give him another good ride."

Despite having its purse cut from $200,000 to $150,000 earlier this year, the McKnight drew a full and talented field. Presious Passion will share high weight of 118 pounds along with fellow Grade 1 winner Always First. Other key contenders include Summer Patriot, Picou, Hard Top, Windward Islands, and Phil the Power.

* Stablemates You Luckie Mann and Frolic's Dream, who own the two highest Beyer Speed Figures of any 2-year-old in the country this year, both worked a half-mile here Wednesday. You Luckie Mann, whose 107 Beyer is the nation's best by a juvenile, worked in 49.60 seconds, while the undefeated Frolilc's Dream, who earned a 105 Beyer the same day, covered the distance in 48.80.