10/26/2007 12:00AM

Soft grass suits Nownownow fine

EmailOCEANPORT, N.J. - A boggy turf course, gray skies, sheets of mist blowing off the heath - it seemed like a perfect day for an Irish-based grass horse. Wrong. It was American-bred Nownownow who got the best of Irish invader Achill Island in the inaugural running of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf on Friday at Monmouth Park.

An American-bred from the first foal crop of the precocious dirt sprinter Whywhywhy, yes - but there was a major French connection here, too. Nownownow was bred and is owned by the Fab Oak Stable of the Parisian clothier Fabien Ouaki, and was ridden to victory by the French import Julien Leparoux. The victory was the first in a Breeders' Cup for Leparoux as well as for Nownownow's trainer, Francois Parisel, in whose name the horses in the barn of suspended trainer Patrick Biancone have been running since last week.

Nownownow came from the back of the pack on a turf course turned hugely demanding by persistent rain through the week. The day began with the turf listed as good, but by the time of the $1 million Juvenile Turf it had been downgraded to yielding, and the grass may have been ever wetter than that.

Bettors seemed to sense as much, with Prussian, the unbeaten Bill Mott colt expected to go favored, dead on the board for much of the wagering. Indeed, Prussian could not quicken with the strong finishers after setting the pace to the stretch. Prussian was taken back to third out of the gate, as speedy Preachin Man set out for the lead, but Prussian is a keen horse, and by the clubhouse turn he had pulled Kent Desormeaux to the front. The fractions appeared moderate, 24.33 seconds to the quarter, 49.59 to the half, but this was a testing course, and Prussian was not at his best over it.

"It was too much for him," Desormeaux said.

The closers began ganging up at the top of the stretch, and before the eighth pole the whole field was separated by only a few lengths - a dark jumble in the rain. But the best movers were on the far outside. Achill Island, the Aidan O'Brien-trained horse, had come wide from the back of the pack on the far turn - "A huge run," O'Brien said - and seemed to have the momentum. But Leparoux had waited longer, and took aim at Achill Island in midstretch.

"I didn't ask him till the quarter pole," said Leparoux, who said he had Achill Island in his sights all the way.

The margin of victory was a half-length, with the 15-1 shot Cannonball, who just raced on Sunday in New York, edging out the English horse Strike the Deal for show. Nownownow paid $27.20 to win, and keyed a $180 exacta. As a sign of just how demanding the conditions were, the winner was timed in 1:40.48 for one mile.