Updated on 09/18/2011 12:23AM

Round Pond makes '06 debut

Sunny Taylor/Coady Photography
Round Pond, among the top fillies or mares in North America, will prep for the Azeri Breeders' Cup in an optional-claiming sprint.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Round Pond figures to be a major player in the older filly and mare division this year. On Thursday at Oaklawn Park she will make her first start in six months, in a six-furlong optional claiming race that will serve as her springboard to the Grade 3, $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup here March 11.

Round Pond is widely considered the best horse on the grounds. She won the Grade 1 Acorn last year at Belmont, and was a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly of 2005. For her comeback she has turned in a series of stirring works, her latest a bullet six-furlong breeze in 1:13 on Feb. 5.

"The idea was to train her and get her ready for the Azeri, but after her work the other day, I realized she is coming to hand way too fast," said John Servis, who trains Round Pond. "Then you have concerns: Am I going to have to hold her on the ground for another month? So, this seemed like a good idea and a good spot to get started."

Last year, Round Pond wasted little time establishing her class. She won her maiden at Oaklawn at six furlongs, and one start later won her two-turn and stakes debut in the track's $75,000 Honeybee.

later won the Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy at Oaklawn, then the Acorn. In her last start, she finished second in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks on July 16. After the race, Round Pond was found to have a small bone chip in her left knee, and it was removed. She has been based at Oaklawn since November.

"She's just been doing great," said Stewart Elliott, regular rider of Round Pond. "She's really something special."

Elliott said Round Pond's acceleration is one of her best assets. "She can lay back and just turn it on when you need her to," he said. "She's got that quick turn of foot. She showed that when she won the Acorn. She had to wait, and she got outside of horses late and just kicked it in to get there."

Round Pond could get a stalking trip Thursday behind the quick .

"I expect her to probably be off the early pace, probably third or fourth, and come running," said Servis.

Round Pond has won 4 of 6 starts and $467,300. She is a daughter of Awesome Again and races for Rick Porter.