11/23/2007 12:00AM

Velvet Sword may leave 'em gasping

EmailALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Daniel Franko is sure about one thing with his 2-year-old gelding Velvet Sword: He won't get tired in Sunday's Golden Gate Fields feature, a $40,000 starter allowance race at one mile on the turf.

"This is an amazing horse in one sense," Franko said. "He never gets tired. I wish he could share his air with the others in my barn. This is the best-breathing horse I've ever had. No matter how far he goes, he comes back to the barn fresh."

Sunday's race is another step in the development process not only for Velvet Sword but also his six rivals. It marks the turf debut for each of the 2-year-olds.

"This is a true test for him," Franko said. "This race will define how good

he is."

Velvet Sword won his debut on Sept. 19 in a $20,000 maiden claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs at Bay Meadows. He faded badly sprinting against starter allowance foes in his second start, then ran second in his third start in a one-mile starter allowance at Bay Meadows on Oct. 26. He never got a breather in that race, as he battled for the lead all the way before Cafe Tortoni edged away from him late. Cafe Tortoni came back to run third in the Real Quiet at Hollywood Park.

"Hopefully, at one point he'll get the lead," said Franko. "Somebody may pass him because they're better, but he won't get tired. I don't know how long a distance he can go."

The outside post will allow Velvet Sword his choice of tactics. Though on the lead most of the way in his one-mile race, he ran behind a fast pace in his victory.

Sassou looks like the one to catch and looms the likely favorite as he ventures north from Southern California. He stalked and won in his Sept. 23 debut in a $40,000 maiden claimer at Fairplex, and then sat just off the sizzling fractions of Richer Gear as they ran one-two all the way in a $40,000 starter allowance at six furlongs on Oct. 27 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

Sassou will be making his first start around two turns as well as his turf debut, but he seems to have the best turf breeding in the field. His sire, In Excess, sends out better than 16 percent first-time winners on turf, and he earned more than $200,000 on the grass. A half-brother to Sassou, Dancer Sand, was placed in a turf stakes and went 5 for 14 on grass. (The rest of his siblings are a combined 0 for 5 on the turf.)

The field also includes the stakes-placed Sea Captain; maiden winners Deputys Pride, Count Coup, and Manningtoharrison; and Rileys Rainbow.