11/08/2008 1:00AM

Turf should suit Always First

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Photos by Z/Keeneland
In nine starts - all at 1 1/2 miles - Always First has four stakes wins and two seconds and has earned $388,615.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Both Tom Voss and Barclay Tagg have enjoyed great success in their careers with marathon turf runners. Saturday, the two veteran horsemen go head-to-head with major contenders in the $150,000 Red Smith Handicap scheduled for 1 3/8 miles over Aqueduct's turf course.

Voss will send out the multiple graded-stakes winner Always First, while Tagg will saddle the promising Summer Patriot in the Grade 2 Red Smith, which drew a field of nine. The Red Smith, the last graded turf event of the year in New York, is likely to be run over good to yielding turf.

Initially, Voss and owner Charlie Noell purchased Always First with the intent of turning him into a steeplechase horse. But Voss noted that Always First was one of the "three or four in my life that could not jump; he just never got it. We got lucky in that he could still run on the flats. He made a lot of money."

In 9 starts for Voss - all at 1 1/2 miles - Always First has 4 stakes wins and 2 seconds and has earned $388,615. He's coming off a three-quarter-length victory in the Grade 3 Sycamore at Keeneland in which he rallied from last in a 10-horse field.

"He's doing better now than he was the race before," said Voss, who won the 2004 Red Smith with Dreadnaught. "He likes the cooler weather probably."

Voss also believes Always First, who breaks from post 2, will like a less-than-firm turf.

Summer Patriot impressed with two wins at Saratoga in marathon turf races. He jumped up from a restricted stakes to the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, where he may have moved a bit prematurely while finishing third behind Grand Couturier. He was beaten just a nose for second by Interpatation.

"You're always hoping they'll be a monster," said Tagg, who won the 1993 Red Smith with Royal Mountain Inn and last year's renewal with Dave. "But he did okay."

Presious Passion, Lauro, and Strike a Deal also are top contenders in the Red Smith. Presious Passion won the Grade 1 United Nations at 1 3/8 miles over yielding turf at Monmouth, but was beaten 25 lengths in the Turf Classic. Lauro, a German-bred, comes off a front-running win over four rivals in the Grade 2 Sky Classic at Woodbine. Strike a Deal has finished second in seven stakes races, including the Grade 3 Knickerbocker last out over this course.

Banrock, Wheels Up at Noon, Interpatation, and Hard Top complete the field.