09/06/2007 11:00PM

Sunriver gets his turf in Man o' War

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Sunriver scores a front-running victory in the July 15 Bowling Green Handicap over firm turf at Belmont Park. The Man o? War should be run under the same conditions.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Todd Pletcher hopes a return to the firm turf course at Belmont Park results in a return to the winner's circle for Sunriver, who faces six rivals in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Man o' War Stakes at 1 3/8 miles.

The Man o' War is one of three Grade 1 stakes on a 10-race Belmont card that begins at 1 p.m. Eastern. Prior to the Man o' War, which goes as race 9, will be the $300,000 Ruffian for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on dirt and the $250,000 Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-old fillies on the inner turf course.

Sunriver, a graded winner on dirt as a 3-year-old, was floundering on dirt this year so Pletcher moved him to the turf. Sunriver achieved the desired results, winning a third-level allowance race on June 7 before taking the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap in front-running fashion in July. Both races were run on firm ground.

Sunriver then shipped to Chicago for the Arlington Million, which was run over good ground. Despite setting the pace through slow fractions, Sunriver faded in the stretch and finished fourth, beaten just one length by the winner, Jambalaya.

"He ran a big race, he couldn't quite polish it off," Pletcher said. "Garret [Gomez] said he felt like he was scrambling over the loose ground toward the end. It was still a big effort. He's 2 for 2 over this course. Hopefully, the ground will be firm."

Sunriver, who breaks from post 2 under Gomez, looms the controlling speed in the Man o' War, which will be run over the Widener turf course.

The French-bred Doctor Dino finished a neck in front of Sunriver in the Million while racing between horses most of the trip. Doctor Dino was based in France until the Million, and he shipped to Belmont shortly after that race and got two breezes in over the course.

Trainer Richard Gibson said Doctor Dino would prefer firm ground as well.

"I think the track condition didn't suit us at Arlington," Gibson said. "He wants fast pace, fast ground."

Doctor Dino drew the rail and will be ridden by Olivier Peslier.

Johnny Murtagh, who rode Doctor Dino in the Million, is committed to ride Yellowstone for the Irish-based trainer Aidan O'Brien. Yellowstone, an Irish-bred son of Rock of Gibraltar, won the Group 3 Gordon Stakes at Goodwood in July before finishing second to Lucarno in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes at York just 18 days ago.

Yellowstone, who drew post 7, looks like a horse that could be sitting second behind Sunriver in the early stages of the Man o' War.

Robert Ribaudo would like to see Yellowstone put some pressure on Sunriver while both put up fast fractions early. Ribaudo trains Grand Couturier, who took advantage of a swift pace to upset English Channel in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational last month at Saratoga.

Ribaudo left Grand Couturier in Saratoga to train until Thursday, citing the fact that his horse has done really well up there.

"He didn't really do well here at Belmont for May, June, and July," Ribaudo said. "We had planned on running in the Manhattan, but he had feet, ankles, nothing major, just not where we could train him for that race. For some reason, that Saratoga main track from the first day he stepped on it he did good."

Calvin Borel, up for the Sword Dancer ride, has the return call.

Shamdinan came right off the plane from Europe to win the Gradeo1 Secretariat for 3-year-olds at Arlington on the Million undercard. That was his first start for trainer Doug O'Neill, who took him back to California to train for this.

Shamdinan might prefer more give in the ground than he figures to get in the Man o' War. Julien Leparoux rides.

Marsh Side, runner-up to Sky Conqueror in the Grade 2 Northern Dancer at Woodbine, and Trippi's Storm, runner-up in the Bowling Green and third-place finisher in the Sword Dancer, complete the field.