12/28/2006 12:00AM

Six may be short for Straight Line


Determining the best horse in Saturday's $50,000 Holiday Cheer Stakes at Turfway Park is not difficult. It is two-time graded stakes winner Straight Line. Determining the best horse under the conditions of the Holiday Cheer - a six-furlong race contested over Polytrack - is not as clear-cut.

Straight Line, a 4-year-old son of Boundary, tops the field with a $455,137 bankroll, bolstered by victories in the Grade 3 Iroquois in 2004 and Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap in 2005, both at Churchill Downs. There is only one problem as it relates to the Holiday Cheer - Straight Line has not run shorter than seven furlongs since Aug. 1, 2004, a stretch of 21 races.

Lately he has become accustomed to pressing slow fractions in elongated sprints, such as when he won a seven-furlong allowance race at Churchill Downs in his last start, on Nov. 19. That day he sat in second early off an opening quarter timed in 23.48 seconds and outran the rest of the field once the tempo quickened.

The result was a dominant score in fast time, a three-length triumph over fellow Holiday Cheer starter Chief Export. Straight Line raced seven furlongs over a fast track in 1:22.07, posting a 104 Beyer Speed Figure, matching the highest number of his 23-race career.

The opening quarter of the Holiday Cheer should be much faster than 23.48 seconds. There are several short-distance specialists with speed in the 11-horse lineup, such as Skeleton Crew, Smoke Smoke Smoke, and Eyeforglory. This will likely force Straight Line to press a quicker pace or take back and play the role of a stalker.

Straight Line's class is his strength. Besides his two graded stakes triumphs, he has won two other stakes races, including the 5 1/2-furlong Honest Pleasure Stakes when he was 2-year-old in the summer of 2004.

He has also proven himself racing over Polytrack, winning an allowance at Keeneland in October. He has never raced over Turfway's Polytrack surface.

Leading jockey Miguel Mena has the mount for 82-year-old trainer Harvey Vanier. Vanier's wife, Nancy, owns Straight Line with Cartwright Thoroughbreds.

Straight Line's principal adversary looks like Smoke Smoke Smoke. A 4-year-old son of Smoke Glacken, he has never raced on Polytrack, but having won stakes on turf and dirt, he acts like a horse capable of handling most any footing.

Although winless in two starts in 2006, Smoke Smoke Smoke comes off a close runner-up finish behind Storm Surge in a five-furlong allowance at Churchill Downs on Nov. 16. Willie Martinez rides.