10/03/2006 12:00AM

Tuffertiger may not get needed pace


It's not hard to come up with Tuffertiger as the horse to beat in Thursday's third race, a $47,000 second-level allowance. The question is whether he will get enough early pace to set up his late run.

Tuffertiger has not started in nearly eight weeks, since finishing second to Latent Heat, who came out of that race to win his third-level allowance condition on opening day of Belmont's fall meet. Tuffertiger has been sharpened for his comeback with four progressively faster half-mile workouts, and he returns at 6 1/2 furlongs, a distance at which he recorded Beyer Speed Figures of 98 and 96 before a late-summer freshening.

Tuffertiger will break from post 5 in a field of six.

"He's been doing great," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We skipped one opportunity to run him, because he ran a very fast number on the Beyers and the Ragozin sheets. We ran great. We were just second best. We just gave him a chance to fill up his tank."

A lightly raced 4-year-old, Tuffertiger has never finished worse than second in six lifetime starts, but he habitually lags far back in the early going, and there is not a great deal of early speed in this field.

"It matters," said McLaughlin. "We need pace. He comes from off of it. But if there isn't a lot of pace, hopefully it'll work out."

Four of Tuffertiger's five rivals are coming off grass races, including the Laurie LaFavers-trained Bold Decision, who has been on the lead or less than two lengths from the lead in 11 of his last 12 starts.

Bold Decision, the likely pacesetter, has kept tough company on turf and dirt this season. At the spring meet he was competitive in back-to-back sprints on the inner turf that went in course-record time. His last two starts on dirt were against graded stakes winners Commentator, Anew, and Tiger.

Devotees of short-term trainer angles should be aware that LaFavers sent out turf-to-dirt winner Elements at a $40 mutuel on last Saturday's card.

The other turf-to-dirt runners are Seeking the Glory, who tops the field in wins and earnings; River City Rebel, who earned Beyer Speed Figures of 94 and 96 in his last two dirt starts in New York; and Rebuttal, whose first eight starts have been on grass.

Will He Shine, a fast-closing second in the slop at Delaware Park first time back from a 10-month layoff, breaks from the outside.