07/27/2005 11:00PM

Sussex first race in a while for many

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A trio of horses coming off long layoffs could have a major impact in Saturday's $100,000 Sussex Handicap at Delaware Park.

Mr O'Brien, a two-time Grade 2 stakes winner last season, and Control Tower, part of an entry from trainer H. Graham Motion's barn, have both been idle since last October. Motion's other horse, Change Course, has been off since March.

Attempting to gauge how those horses will run first time back is the key handicapping challenge for the Sussex, a 1 1/16-mile race on turf.

A fourth layoff horse, Royal Regalia, winner of an undercard stakes on last fall's Breeders' Cup program, will be scratched from the Sussex after running in an allowance race Thursday at Woodbine.

Mr O'Brien, winner of the Dixie Handicap at Pimlico and the Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont in 2004, has not raced since finishing ninth in the BC Mile. Trainer Robin Graham has been looking for the right spot to bring Mr O'Brien back. Three weeks ago, Mr O'Brien was entered in the $60,000 Da Hoss at Colonial Downs, but scratched.

Motion has indicated he will scratch one part of his two-horse entry, but said he intends to wait until race day to decide which one will run.

Motion said he is more concerned that the distance of the Sussex might be too short than he is about the lengthy layoff.

"They are both ready to run," Motion said. "I have a lot of miles in them and they both run well fresh, so I am not concerned about the layoff with either one. The layoff concerns me less than the distance, actually.

"Change Course, I had really hoped to run in the Cape Henlopen," he said, referring to a 1 1/2-mile overnight stakes on the Delaware Handicap undercard two weeks ago that came off the grass. "I think he needs that little extra distance. Control Tower is a horse we have always liked. He spent the summer last year up in Canada running against some pretty hard-hitting horses."

The list of contenders in the Sussex also includes Proud Man, winner of the Sunshine Millions Turf in 2004; L'Oiseau d'Argent, a front-runner who led until deep stretch of the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont in his last start; Miesque's Approval, a Bill Mott-trained 6-year-old whose only previous start on Delaware's turf produced a victory in the Grade 3 Kent BC in 2002; and Dr. Kashnikow, an 8-year-old who won the Grade 3 Cliff Hanger Handicap at The Meadowlands last fall.