07/03/2008 12:00AM

Vacare uses stakes as Diana prep

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ELMONT, N.Y. - It was not by design that trainer Christophe Clement brought Vacare back from an eight-month layoff in the Grade 1 Just a Game Handicap last month. It was certainly no surprise when she got beat four lengths by Ventura in the one-mile race that ran in a solid 1:32.75.

Clement had hoped to run Vacare in an overnight stakes before the Just a Game, but one scheduled for the middle of May failed to fill for four consecutive days. With his next target the Grade 1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga on July 26, Clement may have found the perfect prep in Saturday's $75,000 Mariensky Stakes at Belmont Park.

Vacare, a multiple graded stakes winner, is one of eight horses entered in the Mariensky, though the race could lose some entrants to other races out of town. Even Clement said he wanted to take a look at the field and course condition before committing to run.

Vacare's eighth-place finish in the Just a Game was the only time in nine career starts that she finished worse than third. Vacare raced four wide, just outside Ventura from the backstretch until the quarter pole. But while Ventura exploded along the rail in the stretch, Vacare couldn't kick on, fading in the stretch.

"I just think physically and mostly mentally she would have benefited from a race before the Just a Game," said Clement, who trained the mare for whom the race Saturday is named. "She ran very well, she was beaten only [four] lengths, she was wide all the way, and it was her first start in eight months."

Vacare won the first five races of her career, including the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland when trained by Chris Block. For Clement, Vacare has won 2 of 5 starts, including the Grade 2 First Lady at Keeneland last October.

Paris Winds looms the biggest challenge to Vacare. Her late run fell a nose short in the restricted Beautiful Pleasure Stakes to another Clement runner, All Is Vanity.

Chestoria was beaten a neck in the Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap and could be a factor in this spot for trainer Bill Badgett. Carriage Trail, Them There Eyes, and Street Sounds all have a puncher's chance.

Samba Rooster, Harlem Rocker to skip Dwyer

Samba Rooster and Harlem Rocker, two potential starters for Sunday's $200,000 Dwyer Stakes, will not run in the Grade 2 race, their connections said Thursday.

Samba Rooster re-aggravated an old injury in a workout here Monday and will be out indefinitely, trainer Bob Baffert said. Samba Rooster was only a maiden winner, but in two starts since being sold and transferred to Baffert, the colt finished second in the Grade 2 Lexington and third in the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby.

"He's shipping back to California," Baffert said. "He had an old issue that came back. I was hoping it wouldn't be so bad. Samba Rooster is going to need some time. We don't know how much time."

Meanwhile, trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed Harlem Rocker would make his next start in the $1 million Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie on July 13. That race, restricted to Canada-breds, is run over Fort Erie's dirt track. Harlem Rocker is 3 for 3 on dirt, including a victory in the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in April.

Pletcher said if he runs anything in the 1 1/16-mile Dwyer it would most likely be Ready's Image, who has yet to win beyond 6 1/2 furlongs. Ready's Image is coming out of a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens at seven furlongs on Belmont Day.

Others pointing to the Dwyer included Halo Najib, Manteca, Mint Lane, Pascal, and Tizbig.

Timber Reserve close to return

If Curlin finds a new home on the turf and with Heatseeker retired, there could certainly be a void in the handicap division come the fall. John Kimmel thinks he can help fill it with Timber Reserve.

Timber Reserve, winner of last fall's Pennsylvania Derby, is nearing a return to the races, and Kimmel believes his colt is over the chronic foot problems that have kept him out since early January. Timber Reserve has not run since finishing 10th of 11 in the Hal's Hope at Gulfstream on Jan. 5.

On Wednesday, Timber Reserve worked six furlongs in 1:13.89 over the Belmont main track, his sixth breeze since May. Kimmel is hoping to find a race for Timber Reserve in the next three weeks and, should all go well, he would be pointed to the Grade 1 Woodward on Aug. 30 at Saratoga.

Kimmel said on three occasions Timber Reserve had split open his frog, the bottom part of a horse's foot that acts like a shock absorber. He credited Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic veterinarian Scott Morrison with designing a special bar shoe to protect the foot. According to Kimmel, they put maggots underneath the bar shoe to eat the dead tissue.

"His feet are looking great, the frog looks absolutely great; next time he gets shod, he'll have a normal shoe," Kimmel said. "I really got to give Scott Morrison credit; he's got this horse's feet in much better shape. His heels are even and that should help his long-term soundness. I'm getting excited that we're not that far away."

Keep the Peace skips Prioress

The New York-bred Keep the Peace was not entered for Saturday's Grade 1 Prioress as expected due to a "minor setback," trainer Eddie Kenneally said.

Kenneally wouldn't reveal the nature of the problem, but indicated that Keep the Peace likely wouldn't be ready for a race like the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga either.

Keep the Peace has 2 wins and 3 seconds from 6 career starts. Her three seconds have come in graded stakes by a combined three-quarters of a length. Most recently, Keep the Peace was beaten a half-length in the Grade 3 Dogwood at Churchill Downs.

* Kip Deville, prepping for a start in the Poker Handicap here July 13, worked five furlongs in 1:02.61 over the Aqueduct turf course Thursday.