12/01/2006 1:00AM

The right stuff to make it big on dirt


PHOENIX - It wasn't quite a year ago that a confirmed top turf horse tried dirt and reveled in it. The rest of the Barbaro story is well known.

A few years ago, trainer Bobby Frankel took a different confirmed turf horse and moved him to dirt. His name was Peace Rules, and he would go on to run third in the Kentucky Derby and end up a top-class dirt horse.

Now trainer John Sadler is taking that route with Warning Zone, and while it's too early to say he'll have a similar degree of success - or even come close to what the other two accomplished - the move looks right. After all, when you have a 2-year-old with talent like with Warning Zone's, you need to find out if you have a potential Derby horse, even if that talent emerged on the turf.

Warning Zone won a division of the Grade 3 Generous on the turf at Hollywood Park on Nov. 25, which gives him 2 wins in 4 starts, all on turf. In those two losses he finished second both times. Now Sadler is aiming for the deep end of the pool - the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity on the main track Dec. 16.

There's cause for optimism. Sadler Warning Zone worked well on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track before the Generous, including a dazzling six furlongs in a bullet 1:11.20. There's pedigree, too. While his dad Chester House is best known for his top-class turf exploits both in Europe and the U.S., he also was capable on dirt. He ran fourth in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster in the slop, earning a 108 Beyer Speed Figure; third in the Grade 3 Excelsior Handicap, earning a 104; and fourth behind Cat Thief, Budroyale, and Golden Missile in the 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream, earning a 114.

Warning Zone also has shown ample positional speed in his turf races, meaning he likely has enough speed to get into the race on the main track. The main problem many turf horses have when switching to the main track is a lack of speed to get position off what are almost always faster fractions, and then still be able to finish.

With Warning Zone's talent, current form, pedigree, and some sensational morning activity on Hollywood's Cushion Track, there's reason to believe he could have a big say in the Hollywood Futurity, and maybe beyond. And if he doesn't, the turf is always there as a fall-back plan.

Price Tag: Best in the West?

It's never shocking to see a powerful European runner come to the U.S. for Frankel and deliver a huge performance. That was the case again in last Sunday's Grade 1 Matriarch, as Price Tag blasted home from far back to win smartly. Best of all, she's just a 3-year-old and is staying in training. It's easy to envision a big 4-year-old campaign for her.

The Matriarch run was no fluke - she has shown ability in Europe, including a first-place finish the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches at Longchamp, though she was disqualified from the victory.

With much of the distaff turf power these days stationed in the East (namely Wait a While, Vacare, and Lady of Venice), Price Tag may be poised to control things out West. She could end up like Intercontinental, who won the Matriarch a few years ago, then came back the following year to do even bigger things, including beating Ouija Board in the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

How about Showing Up in Arc?

Remember last spring, when Barbaro's connections toyed with the idea of shipping him to France for the Arc de Triomphe? Obviously the idea evaporated when Barbaro was hurt in the Preakness, but those same connections have another chance at such a monumental endeavor with Showing Up.

Make no mistake, Showing Up is the best turf horse in America right now, and as he turns from age 3 to 4 and develops sort of from boy to man he figures even bigger and meaner. The way he strode home in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby last Sunday was breathtaking, and it's entirely possible he will become the best American turfer produced in the U.S. since Manila.

It's a global game now. Japanese horses come here, go to France. Europeans travel all over the world. South African horses are emerging. We've seen Australians on the world stage. South Americans have made a mark internationally. Next week, Hong Kong will host some of the world's elite from all corners. In March, Dubai will put on a display of international excellence. There's no reason American horses can't take a swing at Europe's top races, and in Showing Up we might just have the right type of horse to take on such a challenge.