07/07/2005 12:00AM

Turf star finds a soft spot for return


Ten of the 11 older horses entered in Saturday's $60,000 Da Hoss Stakes at Colonial Downs are realistically running for second money.

That's because it's hard to imagine a rather undistinguished group that includes five horses who are either winless or unraced on grass coming close to Grade 1-caliber turf runner Mr O'Brien.

Now 6, will be making his first start since finishing ninth of 14 in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Lone Star Park.

The decision by trainer Robin Graham to bring his turf star back in a minor one-mile stakes at Colonial Downs might seem odd, but keep in mind that last year Graham chose to run Mr O'Brien in a similar small stakes at Pimlico following nearly a four-month layoff. Mr O'Brien romped by nine lengths with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure. He went on to win twice more during the season. Both wins were in graded stakes, the Grade 2 Dixie at Pimlico and the Grade 2 Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont Park.

If Mr O'Brien has somehow lost several steps over the winter, the one horse who might be capable of pulling an upset is the European import Battle Chant.

A 5-year-old now in the barn of Graham Motion, was winless in six starts in England last year, but ran well enough to finish a close second in a Group 2 stakes.

In his North American debut at Pimlico in late May, Battle Chant overcame post 10 and a wide trip around both turns to defeat nine rivals in an optional claiming race.

If the race were to come off the turf, Mt. Carson and Honorable Man would become instant contenders.

easily won the 2004 Da Hoss when it was moved to the main track with a 100 Beyer. Honorable Man has won three in a row, most recently a seven-furlong race at Laurel Park in which he got a career-best 103 Beyer.