12/03/2008 1:00AM

Turf War returning in grass try

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NEW ORLEANS - After he dead-heated for the win in last December's Delta Jackpot at Louisiana Downs, Turf War had a future that looked bright, as in Kentucky Derby bright.

After a disappointing spring - finishing ninth in the Southwest and eighth in the Lane's End - he was entered in the Derby Trial instead of the Derby.

He showed little in the Derby Trial, finishing eighth, and was given the summer off to recuperate.

"We underestimated how much the Delta Jackpot took out of him," said Norman Casse, assistant trainer to his father, Mark Casse. "He was flat all spring, so we gave him the summer off and he went to the farm and hung out, spent time being a horse."

With summer long over, the Casse barn has entered him in Thursday's eighth race, a third-level optional claimer going about a mile on turf for a purse of $48,000.

As far as fitness and maturity, Casse believes Turf War will be ready.

"He's been doing better than ever, and he's more mature now," said Casse. "And physically, he's back to where he was before the Jackpot."

A string of workouts attests to his fitness. The question mark remains about how he will take to the turf.

"He's a full brother to Grasshopper, and neither of them have ever gone on the turf," said Casse. "We think he'll handle the turf, but it is an experiment."

Turf War will be facing others who are proven entities on grass, including the likely favorite, French Beret, who has thrived over the Fair Grounds turf.

In January, French Beret won the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley at 1 1/16 miles and then finished a game second to Proudinsky in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Handicap on Louisiana Derby Day in March.

"It's not his best distance, because he prefers a mile and an eighth," said trainer Mark Frostad. "But he likes the Fair Grounds, and I think he prefers going the two turns."

French Beret was winless this summer over Woodbine's 1 1/2-mile course, with most of his races around one turn.

Four of the horses entered will run for the claiming price, and Passport and Can't Beat It look especially dangerous.

Can't Beat It finished third in an optional claiming race in his last start at Woodbine.

In that seven-furlong race he was closing but ran out of room, and the long stretch on the Fair Grounds turf course may be more to his liking.