02/22/2008 1:00AM

Shamdinan bids for role as turf king

Four-Footed Fotos
Shamdinan ranks high among the major contenders in Saturday's Gulfstream Turf.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The retirement of Eclipse Award champion English Channel has left a void atop the nation's turf division. It is a void trainer Angel Penna Jr. is hoping he might fill this year with Shamdinan, the Breeders' Cup Turf runner-up who will begin his 2008 campaign in Saturday's $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes.

Shamdinan is one of any number of potential win candidates in the 1 3/8- mile Gulfstream Turf Stakes, the only Grade 1 race on the turf at Gulfstream Park this winter.

Shamdinan was Group 1-placed in his native France early in 2007 but wasted little time becoming a Grade 1 winner in the U.S., shipping across the Atlantic and winning Arlington Park's Secretariat Stakes for trainer Doug O'Neill. After finishing fifth in his first start against older horses in the Man o' War, Shamdinan remained on the East Coast with Penna, finishing fifth again in the Jamaica Handicap before concluding his campaign with a big effort behind English Channel in the Breeders' Cup.

Penna gave Shamdinan time off following the Breeders' Cup but has had him in steady training at Palm Meadows since the first of the year. He is hoping to use the Gulfstream Park Turf as a stepping-stone to a trip to Dubai and the $5 million Sheema Classic on March 29.

"He needed a layoff and deserved one after turning in such a big race over the soft turf at Monmouth in the Breeders' Cup," explained Penna. "He's training well and going into this race a good 90 percent, although obviously I don't have him at the top of his game for this one. I don't want him to run a grueling race and leave his best effort here if we're going on to Dubai."

Penna says he believes Shamdinan has a chance to become one of the leaders of the division in 2008.

"The horse has matured since last year, and I think in the long run he'll be a lot better horse than he was last year," said Penna. "Of course, the type of campaign he'll ultimately have depends a lot on whether he does go to Dubai. That would probably be the toughest race he'll run all year with everybody coming in from all over the world on top of their games for a $5 million purse, and we'd probably lose three or four months with him if he runs over there."

Julian Leparoux, who was aboard Shamdinan in both the Secretariat and for the Breeders' Cup, will fly in from the West Coast to keep his regular seat on Saturday.

For those who believe Shamdinan might need a race returning from a four-month layoff, there are many alternatives to choose from, including Einstein, winner of the 2006 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Einstein returns to his favorite surface following a sixth-place finish on dirt in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap three weeks earlier. He won a high-priced optional claiming and allowance race over the local course on Jan. 11.

Einstein could wind up the controlling pace in a field lacking real early speed - much as he won the 2006 edition, going gate to wire over a yielding course.

Trainers Kiaran McLaughlin and Barclay Tagg will be well represented in the race. McLaughlin will send out the Grade 1 stakes-placed duo of Zann and Stream of Gold, while Tagg counters with Dave and Cougar Bay. The remainder of the well-matched lineup includes Thorn Song, Palace Episode, Notable Guest, and Dancing Forever.

Zann will make his first start since moving into the McLaughlin barn late last winter. Previously trained on the West Coast by Michael Machowsky, Zann is coming off a pair of frustrating losses in the Grade 1 Citation Handicap and Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile.

"Zann is doing fantastic," said Neil McLaughlin, brother and assistant to Kiaran. "The distance is a question because his best races have been at a mile to a mile and one-eighth, but with his breeding and the way he finished in the Citation, I think the added distance should probably help."

Stream of Gold has also been frustrated on several occasions since coming to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia, having finished second in 3 of 4 starts in this country, including in the Grade 1 Turf Classic behind English Channel.

"The good thing about having both these horses in the race is that they have two different styles that should complement each other," Neil McLaughlin said. "Stream of Gold figures to be forwardly placed, while Zann should be coming from behind."