03/11/2009 11:00PM

Proudinsky stuck wide in repeat bid

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It wasn't complicated, figuring out Proudinsky's main winter goal. Last year at 5, the horse's best win came in the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap, and a return trip to Fair Grounds from California has been in the cards for quite some time.

Some way to welcome a defending champ, though: Proudinsky was slapped with post position 14 in the Muniz, a Grade 2 grass race at 1 1/8 miles. Two horses, Golden Yank and El Caballo, were cross-entered in the New Orleans Handicap, but even if both scratch from the Muniz, Proudinsky has an unfavorable draw.

"Really, you're always concerned when you get the outside post like that," said trainer Bobby Frankel.

What doesn't concern Frankel is the rain in the local forecast. The Fair Grounds turf was labeled yielding in last year's Muniz, and wet going helps Proudinsky.

"He's better on off turf," Frankel said. "He likes it soft."

Proudinsky was Frankel's 12th start in a Fair Grounds graded turf stakes, but his first winner, and win number two is not going to come easy. The Muniz bunch lacks standouts but has quality, and in such a large field, a clean trip will be of the essence. Frankel said Proudinsky pulls himself toward the front when he feels fresh and good.

"He shouldn't get too far back," Frankel said.

That could give Proudinsky an edge on one main rival, Soldier's Dancer, who rallied from a last of 13 to win the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf on Jan. 24.

"I didn't think he was going to get there," said Florida-based trainer David Vivian, who never has started a horse at Fair Grounds. "I couldn't believe he was that far back. On the backstretch, the announcer said, 'He's 20 lengths out of it, and he's got his ears pinned.' "

Get there Soldier's Dancer did, giving him four stakes wins in his last seven starts. The long Fair Grounds stretch should work in late-running Soldier's Dancer's favor, and he is another horse proven on wet turf.

"He couldn't be doing any better," Vivian said. "He's a good shipper. He takes everything in stride."

Transduction Gold finished fourth in the 2007 Muniz, but has won 3 of his other 4 Fair Grounds starts, including a sharp allowance victory Feb. 20 over graded-stakes-class Sterwins.

"I was going to give him the winter off, but when I decided to bring him back early, this race made a lot of sense," said owner-trainer John Glenney.

Glenney was using that recent allowance race to tune Transduction Gold for the Muniz; the win was a bonus. "I just wanted to get enough in him for this race," Glenney said.

Between Transduction Gold in post 12 and Proudinsky on the outside is French Beret, the mercurial horse who finished second in the 2008 Muniz. In the Fair Grounds Handicap last month, however, French Beret was sixth while stablemate and fellow Muniz starter Windward Islands came second.

California shipper Nownownow has shown enough in the past to factor Saturday, and do not ignore Wesley, who flopped in his synthetic-track debut last out in the Grade 2 Strub, but has a powerful closing turf kick at his best.