09/05/2009 11:00PM

Strike the Tiger to attempt two turns

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CINCINNATI - What goes around comes around. When River Downs gave trainer Wesley Ward permission to work a handful of horses over its turf course between races on a Sunday program in late May, Ward was hoping he could somehow repay the favor.

Settlement day is Monday. Ward has gone out of his way to send Strike the Tiger back to River Downs, giving this picturesque little track a highly decorated favorite for its signature closing-day event, the $200,000 Cradle Stakes.

Strike the Tiger, whose 3-for-3 career record includes a historic victory at Royal Ascot this summer, will stretch out to 1 1/16 miles when he faces nine other 2-year-olds in the Cradle, which River switched from dirt to turf in 2007.

"I've sent him back to River for a couple of reasons," Ward said Saturday from Saratoga. "One is to see how he handles the distance, and the other is to thank them for letting me work my horses there before we went to England."

By capturing the Windsor Castle Stakes on June 16, Strike the Tiger became the first American-trained horse to win a race at the prestigious Royal Ascot meet. Ward, who co-owns Strike the Tiger, a Tiger Ridge gelding, is well aware that the pressing question about the Cradle is whether Strike the Tiger can handle the distance. None of those first three races was longer than 5 1/2 furlongs.

"He's fast because we've taught him to be fast," said Ward. "But he's the most easygoing horse in the world. Any exercise rider in America could gallop him with two fingers. His mind is very, very sensible. His mind will get the two turns, but I don't know if his breeding will let him."

And therein lies the key to the 33rd Cradle. Strike the Tiger surely will be favored off victories at Ascot and the July 25 Chenery Stakes at Colonial Downs, but if he falters, several opponents appear capable of filling the void. Those challengers are led by Scottkeith'skitten, a sharp winner of an Aug. 6 maiden turf route at Saratoga, as well as Fantastico Roberto, Gleam of Hope, and Eddie Set Go.

The Cradle is the ninth of 11 races on a Monday card that starts at 1:20 p.m. Eastern.

Spend a Buck, the 1984 Cradle winner, remains its most famous graduate. He won the Kentucky Derby the following spring.