04/29/2009 11:00PM

Turf experiment for Fierce Wind


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Fierce Wind, who sports a 3-for-3 record on the Tampa Bay Downs main track, will try the turf for the first time in his career on Saturday when he tops an interesting field of nine in the $75,000 Chris Thomas Turf Classic.

Fierce Wind began his career in promising fashion, winning three of his first five starts, including the 2008 Sam Davis Stakes here. He then ran into eventual Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown in the Florida Derby and came out of that race with some physical problems that led to his being off from March 2008 until January.

Fierce Wind made his first start for trainer Will Phipps in an overnight handicap victory here, came back to take the Challenger Stakes, then chased favored Finallymadeit before weakening to fourth in the Grade 3 Skip Away at Gulfstream Park.

By Dixie Union, Fierce Wind has Northern Dancer blood on his sire's side and Phipps said it was those bloodlines, along with an impressive work over the Payson Park turf course, that prompted him to try Fierce Wind on the grass in the 1 1/8-mile Chris Thomas.

"We worked him one morning on the turf at Payson and were very pleased with the way he got over the ground in that move," Phipps said. "He's got a high cruising speed but isn't the type that has to be in front, and the owner and myself also feel there will be opportunities to race him long on the turf up north this summer."

Phipps has named Dale Beckner aboard Fierce Wind in the Chris Thomas, which is named for the late local TV and radio sports commentator who was a racing enthusiast.

Sporting Art, winner of the Gradeo3 Palm Beach Stakes last season at Gulfstream Park as well as the Grade 3 Calder Derby after being imported from Europe, is another strong contender. He will be making his second start since last June.

Victory Alleged came from far back to upset a strong field at 28-1 in the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Stakes back in February.

Of the locals, Marquet Cat, who led to the final strides of the Turf Classic on Florida Cup Day against statebreds, may have the best chance of upsetting the final stakes of the Tampa Bay season.