06/15/2007 12:00AM

Shake the Bank's role as a rabbit finally over


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The rabbit runs free Sunday as Shake the Bank steps out of the shadow of his illustrious stablemate, Better Talk Now, in the $70,000 Battlefield Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Shake the Bank faces nine rivals in the 1 1/8-mile race on the turf in his first truly competitive effort since the summer of 2005 when he became the rabbit - the sacrificial pacesetter - for the late-running Better Talk Now.

They were an instant hit, combining for Grade 1 victories in the United Nations Stakes at Monmouth and the Man o' War at Belmont Park.

They clicked again last year in the Grade 2 Dixie Stakes at Pimlico.

Shake the Bank had a clearly defined role: Set an honest pace for his stablemate. That usually entailed opening a huge lead before fading in the lane. It was a thankless, but effective job.

The team has been split up. Better Talk Now, going solo, won the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

Now Shake the Bank gets his chance.

"This is something we wanted to do, in fairness to the horse," said trainer H. Graham Motion. "We've used him as an entrymate with some very good results. As Better Talk Now has gotten older, he's a little more relaxed and doesn't need as much help and the strategy wasn't working as well."

Shake the Bank comes into the Battlefield following a strong effort in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs. Again playing rabbit for Better Talk Now, Shake the Bank opened a seven-length lead on the pack. Better Talk Now finished fourth, beaten 1 3/4 lengths, and Shake the Bank held on surprisingly well, finishing fifth, only a neck farther back, while making his season debut.

"It was a very good effort, a remarkable try in his first start of the year," Motion said.

Strategically, there is no mystery here. Shake the Bank will be heading for the front - the place to be on Monmouth's speed favoring course.

The major difference: Tommy Turner will ration the gelding's energy with the goal of retaining rather than relinquishing the stage.

"Tommy is finally getting his wish to ride the horse properly," Motion said. "Tommy has done a great job, following our strategy to a T."

Turner is eager to let the horse have a competitive run in his first non-graded race in the last seven starts.

"When I first started riding him, he was kind of wild," Turner said. "He'd run five or six furlongs full out and have nothing left. Now he's learned to chill. He can relax on the front end and still have some gas left."

The 7-year-old Silver Tree also finds an easier spot. He has won nine races and more than $1.2 million for trainer Bill Mott. His victories include the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in 2004

Silver Tree most recently ran fourth in the Dixie.

Trueamericanspirit primed for Dowd

The 2006 season was a washout for Trueamericanspirit. He missed most of the summer because of throat surgery and then wound up trapped in the barn during the equine herpesvirus outbreak at Monmouth last fall.

He ran only five times with a pair of thirds.

"It was very, very frustrating," said trainer Tim Hills.

A new season brings a fresh start for the 7-year-old Trueamericanspirit, who has won nine races and $442,665. He will be one of the top contenders Sunday in the $60,000 Bernie Dowd Handicap for New Jersey-breds at one mile and 70 yards.

After running Trueamericanspirit three times over the winter at Aqueduct, Hills freshened the horse for this meet. Trueamericanspirit returned with a rallying third at six furlongs in the John J. Reilly Handicap last month.

"It was a good race against a ridiculous speed bias," Hills said. "It sets him up just right for this race. Going long is his game now. He's older and a step slower."

Carrots Only will garner support following his nose loss in an open allowance race on June 3. He captured a similar race for New Jersey-breds last fall, the Garden State Handicap at the Meadowlands.

* Red Giant makes his stakes debut for Todd Pletcher, Monmouth's leading trainer, in the $60,000 Restoration Stakes for 3-year-olds going one mile on the grass. He is 2 for 3 since switching to grass. He most recently drew away to a two-length allowance victory at Belmont.