01/13/2004 1:00AM

Royal Spy good to go for return


Last year began as a breakout year for Royal Spy. Three races into his campaign, Royal Spy was one of the top turf milers in the Midwest, with stakes victories in the Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap at Fair Grounds and the Grade 2 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland.

Then he was hurt. Royal Spy missed a scheduled start in the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs in July because of a suspensory injury sustained in a workout, and didn't run for the rest of the year. Royal Spy makes his first start since the April 11 Maker's Mark Mile in Thursday's feature at Fair Grounds, a $36,000 allowance with an $80,000 claiming option. He figures to be a prohibitive favorite in a field of seven that will go about one mile on the turf.

Royal Spy is the standout on class in Thursday's race. A few of his opponents have run in graded stakes, but only Investor's Dream has won one, and that came in Brazil.

Considering his long absence, fitness would appear to be an issue with Royal Spy, but trainer Tom Amoss has put him through several long works in recent weeks, including two at seven furlongs. Also, four of his six rivals finished out of the money in their most recent start, which makes Royal Spy look even more difficult to beat.

Investor's Dream, whom trainer Steve Asmussen claimed for $80,000 at Santa Anita in October, has rarely ducked a tough fight. The company lines in his past performances read like a Who's Who: Milwaukee Brew, Good Journey, Designed for Luck, Redatore, and Touch of the Blues have all won at his expense.

Investor's Dream, the only one in the field running to be claimed, was third in his first two starts for Asmussen. The second of those two was an off-the-turf allowance at Fair Grounds last month against graded stakes winner Freefourinternet.

Gentlemen J J was a prominent player in 3-year-old turf stakes last year, although he failed to win any of them. Among his best efforts were second-place finishes in the Wilhite Memorial at Louisiana Downs and Jim Bowie at Retama Park, and a third in the Bossier City Handicap at Louisiana Downs.

In his last race, the Woodchopper Handicap Dec. 27 on the Fair Grounds turf, Gentlemen J J finished second to Waupaca, beaten a neck. The Woodchopper was Gentlemen J J's first loss over the Fair Grounds turf course in three starts. He won a maiden race and an allowance race over the course last January.