05/14/2008 12:00AM

Turf allowance gives Tour Ireland class relief


MIAMI - Tour Ireland seemed ambitiously placed jumping from a maiden special weight win at Tampa Bay Downs into the Grade 3 Calder Derby, but proved he belonged with a very promising second-place finish behind the 3-2 favorite, Sporting Art. As his reward, Tour Ireland receives what figures to be some major class relief when he drops down against entry-level allowance competition in Friday's featured seventh race at Calder, which will be decided at a mile on the turf for an $18,200 purse.

The question facing handicappers is whether Tour Ireland, a homebred son of Tour d'Or owned by trainer Noel Hickey's Irish Acres Farm, will repeat his big performance in the Calder Derby or regress off the hard effort at what figures to be a very short price.

Tour Ireland began his career with an apparent victory against $50,000 maiden claimers at Tampa on March 19, only to lose the decision when he was disqualified and placed fourth for interfering with a rival while rallying near midstretch. Tour Ireland came back just 17 days later to trounce a stronger group of maiden special weight foes over the same course despite racing greenly, a performance that earned him an opportunity to try graded stakes opposition in the Calder Derby.

"I thought I had a good colt and I wanted to know how good," said Hickey.

Hickey quickly found out after Tour Ireland withstood several challenges on the lead before succumbing to Sporting Art after ducking in at the gap nearing the wire.

"I think he was going to get caught anyway," Hickey said.

Tour Ireland will be returning in less than three weeks off the hard effort in the Calder Derby, for which he earned a career-best 82 Beyer Speed Figure. A repeat performance would make him tough to beat, especially if he clears off on an easy lead from his inside post.

For those seeking an alternative to the odds-on Tour Ireland, Jim Jack N Johnnie might fill the bill. The lightly raced son of Forestry was an impressive debut winner going five furlongs over the Gulfstream Park turf course, circling the field and finishing full of run following a poor start. Another slow beginning cost Jim Jack N Johnnie all chance when he made his local and two-turn bow as a prohibitive 4-5 favorite four weeks later.

Jim Jack N Johnnie has been back to the starting gate for additional schooling since his last appearance and should show marked improvement if he is finally able to break with the field on Friday.