11/25/2008 12:00AM

Sluggers returning for Grand Slam bids

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MIAMI - If the Grand Slam I card on Dec. 6 is any indication, the final month of the 2008-09 Tropical at Calder meet will be a good one.

Although Grand Slam I was more or less reduced to a ground-rule double with the cancellation of both the Cherokee Frolic and Kris S. stakes for 2-year-olds as part of an effort to cut purses, the Grade 3 Tropical Turf and My Charmer handicaps have survived and figure to lure a couple of full and extremely competitive lineups. The races are topped by the defending champions in both events, Ballast in the Tropical Turf and J'ray in the My Charmer.

Ballast is a two-time Tropical Turf winner, having captured each of the last two renewals for trainer H. Graham Motion. A son of Desert Prince, Ballast is already back in town, at Palm Meadows, to prepare for a potential three-peat.

Ballast rallied from just off the pace to a 1 1/4-length decision over Bob's Proud Moment in the 2006 Tropical Turf, then altered tactics and came from near the rear of the pack before outgaming National Captain to defend that title successfully for his only victory in 2007.

Motion gave Ballast more than seven months off following that victory, and as a result has a relatively fresh horse on his hands heading into the winter. The Irish-bred Ballast has started just four times in 2008 and returns locally off a game neck allowance victory at Keeneland on Oct. 22.

"He had a little soft tissue strain after winning this race last year that required some time off," said Motion. "And I was worried he might have lost a step after his first couple of races. But his last race showed me he's right back to his old form, and off that effort I couldn't say he wasn't coming into the Tropical Turf as good as he was each of the past two years."

Ballast is likely to face his toughest competition yet in the Tropical Turf. Icy Atlantic, fresh off his victory in the Bonnie Heath Turf Cup, is expected to return. So, too, is local division leader Soldier's Dancer, who had a two-race win streak come to an unexpected halt after he stumbled and lost his rider leaving the starting gate as the even-money favorite in the Bonnie Heath.

Other prominent nominees include the Grade 1 stakes-placed Spice Route, who recently shipped to Payson Park from his summer home at Woodbine; recent Grade 3 turf winners Nistle's Crunch and Karelian; and Silver Tree.

J'ray, trained by Todd Pletcher, ran down Bayou's Lassie to register a half-length decision in the 2007 My Charmer and appears to be back in peak form after winning a pair of graded stakes during the summer for trainer Todd Pletcher. Like the Tropical Turf, this year's field for the My Charmer is shaping up even better. Grade 1 winner Rutherienne, who is a perfect 3 for 3 over the local course, tops a list that includes the Grade 1-placed Callwood Dancer along with the Northern California-based win machine Wild Promises.

Trainer Greg Gilchrist has informed local officials that he will ship Wild Promises in from her base at Golden Gate early next week. A 4-year-old daughter of Wild Event, she has won her last four starts, all stakes, but will be getting her first taste of graded stakes competition in the My Charmer.

Motion said he is also considering running Caprice in the My Charmer.

Two take allowance shelter instead

A couple of horses on the nomination list for the Tropical Turf, Electricity and Fair Weather Stan, will instead seek an easier spot when they meet in Thursday's attractive allowance feature. Post time for the Thanksgiving Day card is 11 a.m.

Electricity, a homebred son of Storm Cat and Heavenly Prize, finished a fast-closing third under allowance conditions at Keeneland on Oct. 11. Fair Weather Stan was third behind Icy Atlantic and Magic Mecke in the Bonnie Heath following a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Miami Mile Handicap three weeks earlier.

Other key contenders in Friday's one-mile main event include Perfect Casting, Vanquisher, and Yankee Injunuity.

Jackpot in Big Drama's sights

Big Drama continued preparations for the $750,000 Delta Jackpot, working an easy five furlongs in 1:03 under jockey Eibar Coa here Monday morning. Big Drama, who swept all three legs of the open division of the Florida Stallion Stakes, will leave for Delta Downs by van on Monday.

Coa will replace Big Drama's regular rider, Paco Lopez, for the Jackpot.

The Delta Jackpot closed with 17 pre-entries, only 10 of whom can start over the compact, six-furlong oval at Delta Downs. Big Drama is assured a spot in the starting lineup as a result of his total earnings for the year.

Three Part Harmony, runner-up to Big Drama in the In Realty Stakes, was also pre-entered for the race but might not get in.

* The race schedule for the Z-5 Super High Five wager at Churchill Downs and Calder will change beginning Thursday. The wager will now be offered on race 5 at Churchill Downs, race 10 at Calder, and the last race at Churchill through Saturday, closing day of Churchill's fall meet.