07/27/2011 4:07PM

Saratoga: Ice Box returns to action in optional claimer

Tom Keyser
Ice Box, with Carlos Correa up, trains at Saratoga in preparation for his return to racing on Friday’s card.

Ice Box, winless since rallying to a nose decision in the 2010 Florida Derby, will return from a nine-month vacation to top a field of six in Friday’s third race, a third-level optional claiming test to be decided at 1 1/8 miles over the main track. Ice Box underwent knee surgery shortly after finishing fifth last October in the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup and then had his return further delayed by a series of what trainer Nick Zito described as “minor interruptions.”

“It’s a tough race to come back in, just like a stakes, but this is Saratoga and these types of races are always tough,” Zito said. “But this is what we’ve got to do, get him started somewhere. We think he’s fit enough to start back around two turns, and even if he needs one, he’s Ice Box and he’ll run his race. Right now, I’m not thinking about anything beyond Friday. If he runs well, then we’ll start talking about our options.”

Ice Box will break from the rail and faces a field that includes the multiple graded stakes-placed Convocation, Grade 3 winner Ron the Greek, Grade 2 winner Anak Nakal, Wilkinson, and Northern Giant.

Wilkinson, winner of the Grade 3 Lecomte in January and the lone 3-year-old in the field, underwent throat surgery for an entrapped epiglotis following his disappointing performance in the Ohio Derby.

“We think that caused him a little bit of a problem, so now we’re here and basically looking to get him back to where he was,” trainer Neil Howard said.