06/29/2007 11:00PM

Veterans try to relive glory days


The celebration of the July Fourth holiday arrives early at Mountaineer Race Track, which has three $75,000 stakes on its 10-race live card Tuesday night but is dark as usual on Wednesday. As far as some of the old-timers running in the Independence Day are concerned, however, the one-mile turf race just might be a few years too late.

At one time during their long careers, Muqbil, Irish Colonial, and Big Prairie were good enough to be stakes-placed in the Grade 2 Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap, the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap, and the Grade 3 Jefferson Cup.

All those good efforts, however, came two or three years ago, and none of the three veterans is good enough to still compete at those elite levels.

Of the trio, Big Prairie and Muqbil sport the best current form.

The 5-year-old Big Prairie, based at Keeneland with trainer Rusty Arnold, defeated high-priced optional claimers in his two most recent starts, both at 1 1/8 miles. Although Big Prairie has been off since January, Arnold is 3 for 16 with a $2.94 return on investment with his turf runners returning from long layoffs the past two years.

Muqbil, a 7-year-old with $323,626 in earnings on turf, finished a sharp second in the Memorial Day Handicap, his first start in 13 months. The horse who beat him, Puppeteer, is back again. Puppeteer has won three of his last four starts, including an easy victory over $5,000 starter allowance rivals just 10 days ago.

In the card's other one-mile turf stakes, the Firecracker for fillies and mares, Daring Julie has a good shot to prove she's a much better mare than she showed in her first visit to Mountaineer for the Decoration Day Handicap.

In that race, Daring Julie got hung out five wide after breaking from post 10 and never was in contention. She was a six-time winner last season, with her best success on the grass coming in $5,000 starter allowance races at Ellis Park and Indiana Downs.

The best two recent Beyer Speed Figures belong to Water Gap, but she is winless the past two seasons and hasn't won a turf race since September 2004 at River Downs.

The Mountain State, a 5 1/2-furlong dirt race for older sprinters, is led by Bernie Blue, a versatile 5-year-old who just missed in the six-furlong Waterford Park Handicap and then stretched out to wire the Slipton Fell Handicap going a mile and 70 yards. He earned triple-digit Beyers in both of those wins.