08/11/2008 11:00PM

Rikman risky play on the turf

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Bruce Brown is off to an excellent start in his first season of training on his own, winning with more than 20 percent of his starters, mostly on the competitive New York circuit.

Brown isn't doing badly at Monmouth Park, either, where he has won with two of his first three runners.

Brown bids for another Monmouth victory Thursday with Rikman in the featured eighth race, a third-level optional $75,000 claimer at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Rikman, who posted a commanding win here in early June, faces six rivals. Rikman's solid recent record gives Brown a level of comfort. So does the return to familiar surroundings. Before striking out on his own in January, Brown was an assistant to prominent Monmouth trainers Tim Hills and John Forbes.

In Rikman, Brown sends in a horse who has 2 wins and a third in 3 starts, all on the dirt, since being claimed for $25,000 at Gulfstream Park in mid-March.

The 6-year-old Rikman won for a $35,000 tag at Aqueduct in his first start for Brown. He followed that with a 3 3/4-length Monmouth victory in a second-level allowance race. Most recently, Rikman rallied to finish third in a starter allowance at Delaware Park.

Brown has been forced to travel to find the right spots for Rikman.

"At times, it's hard to get races to go for this kind of horse," Brown said from Saratoga. "He's been our road warrior. He's been all over the place. You're best up here if you have a really good horse or are mid-level and below. The mid to upper range horses are tough to find races for up here."

With his horse needing a race, Brown is taking a shot on the turf. Rikman has not hit the board in four career grass starts.

"I was a little reluctant to do it," Brown said. "I am praying for rain, but we'll give it a shot either way. He needs to run."

Stewart Elliott, the rider for both wins since the claim, reunites with Rikman.

The biggest challenge might come from one of Brown's previous employers. Pat McBurney, who has taken over the training for the Forbes stable, sends out Get Serious - a solid gate-to-wire second-level allowance winner last time out.

Pablo Fragoso has the return call.

Wafi City, Love Dubai, Victory Alleged, Avanti Avanti, and Heavyweight complete the field. Heavyweight was cross- entered in a similar optional claiming event on turf Thursday at Laurel Park.