09/12/2008 12:00AM

Tin Cup Chalice steps up to open company


ELMONT, N.Y. - After becoming the first horse to sweep the Big Apple Triple for New York-bred 3-year-olds, the undefeated Tin Cup Chalice moves into open company when he runs in Sunday's $75,000 Step Nicely Stakes at Belmont Park.

The Step Nicely, run at one mile on the main track, is restricted to 3-year-olds who have not won a graded stakes this year. The race drew a contentious field of seven, including the promising Check It Twice, who makes his 3-year-old debut and first start for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Tin Cup Chalice earned his connections a $250,000 bonus for winning the Mike Lee at Belmont here in May, the New York Derby at Finger Lakes in July, and the Albany Stakes last month at Saratoga. Though Tin Cup Chalice was extremely game holding off That'srightofficer in the stretch of the Albany, part-owner and trainer Michael Lecesse believes Tin Cup Chalice's best race in the sequence was the Mike Lee going seven furlongs.

"I thought the field was a little bit interesting, and the way it set up there was enough speed in there, and he showed what his speed could do and that he could carry it,'' Lecesse said. "I think that's his greatest distance, seven-eighths.''

Tin Cup Chalice's speed may be his biggest weapon in this field, which includes Check It Twice, who has not run since winning the What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder last Dec. 1, his third win from five starts. He was purchased privately by Cloverleaf Farm and turned over to Pletcher. Check It Twice had to scratch out of the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in March, and is only now just making it back.

"We were pretty pleased with the way he trained, and entered the Risen Star with some confidence that he'd run well,'' Pletcher said. "For this race, he's a horse better suited to two turns. This is a good starting point, but I'd expect him to improve around two turns or with added distance.''

Completing the field are Truth Rules, a winner of three straight starts for Nick Zito; recent allowance winners National Pride and Famous Patriot; Mucho Macho; and Law Enforcement.