03/23/2006 12:00AM

Rushaway field contains two good horses gone bad

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FLORENCE, Ky. - How can a good horse run so bad? Surely that's what trainers Todd Pletcher and Speedy Smithwick were asking themselves recently when High Cotton and Warrior Within threw in absolute clunkers when trying to keep their already thin Kentucky Derby chances alive.

, a romping winner of the WEBN Frog Stakes in February, finished last of 12 for Smithwick in his lone subsequent start, the March 4 Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park.

Both colts have the chance to make amends Saturday in a full field of 12 in the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes at Turfway (race 9). The 1 1/16-mile race presents all sorts of interesting angles, including whether High Cotton (post 1) and Warrior Within (post 3) can rebound right away, and, more importantly, whether there are any 3-year-olds poised to give a performance that might surprise Derby watchers and force them to take notice.

Aside from High Cotton and Warrior Within, others worth a long look in a well-matched Rushaway include , trained by Nick Zito; Fidrych, in from Oaklawn Park for trainer John Servis; Kings Challenge, yet another capable 3-year-old from a Bob Holthus stable that already has Lawyer Ron and Red Raymond on the Derby trail; and Special Interest and In a Flash, both of whom had been mentioned all week for the Lane's End Stakes but turned up instead in the Rushaway.

Thirteen were entered, with Cape Seabastian the lone also-eligible in a race limited to 12.

Prado's luck not all bad

Even though Edgar Prado lost the mount on the likely Lane's End favorite when Strong Contender was excluded based on earnings, he still stands to have a productive afternoon. Besides picking up the mount late Thursday on Hemingway's Key in the Lane's End, Prado has mounts in all four supporting stakes, including Final Copy in the first stakes of the day, the $50,000 Hansel (race 7).

Final Copy had a three-race win streak snapped when third as the favorite in the Feb. 4 WEBN Stakes but since has been regrouped by trainer Greg Foley. The turn-back to the six-furlong Hansel could mean Final Copy, a Donamire Farm homebred, will be finishing with the kind of flourish that already has made him a winner in 4 of 8 starts.

The top challenger figures to be Urban Guy, winner of the Feb. 25 Mountain Valley at Oaklawn Park as a lukewarm favorite. Robby Albarado will ride for trainer Tim Ritchey.

Other notables in a field of nine 3-year-olds are Skeleton Crew, a two-time winner over Polytrack, and Tax Credit, who earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure when finishing first (though subsequently disqualified) in a Turfway maiden race three weeks ago.

Will Canani's momentum continue?

Nick Canani has been on a roll lately, having won with four of his last five starters at Turfway.

"Let's just hope the hot streak lasts through Saturday," said Canani, the transplanted Californian who moved his training operation to Kentucky last July 4.

Canani, the son of trainer Julio Canani, will saddle a top contender in the $50,000 Queen Stakes (race 11) - Very Vegas, whose victory in a Feb. 16 allowance, he said, "should set her up just right for this."

"She came out of the race great and has really trained well since then," he said. "We're going into this with a lot of confidence."

Very Vegas figures to vie for favoritism in the six-furlong Queen with the unbeaten Listen and the speedy Songfest.