07/02/2008 12:00AM

Vicarino has a new challenger


Since he won a stakes race while setting a track record in only his third start at 2, Vicarino has been considered special. At 3, he won a stakes in his lone start, and he looks for his first stakes victory as a 4-year-old Friday in the $50,000 Sam J. Whiting Handicap at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, Calif. Vicarino has 3 wins and 3 thirds in 7 starts this year and will likely be a strong favorite in the Whiting.

The horse that could give Vicarino the most run for the money hasn’t been considered special until lately. Scrumpy, who ran last in a $6,250 claimer here last year and as recently as October ran at the bottom $4,000 claiming level, has won eight of his last 10 starts and comes into Friday’s race off a first-level allowance victory.

“It’s just a classic case of a cheap horse that got good, learned how to win, and has gotten confidence,” trainer Billy Morey said.

There are nine horses in the six-furlong Whiting, including Cause to Believe, a multiple stakes winner and Kentucky Derby runner making his 5-year-old debut.

With the exception of Cause to Believe’s 99 Beyer, which was earned last July 25 at Del Mar, Scrumpy comes into the Whiting with the best last-race Beyer, a 91 earned for winning a June 21 allowance race at Golden Gate Fields.

Scrumpy also gets a nine-pound weight break from Vicarino, with 114 pounds to Vicarino’s 123.

Kyle Kaenel, who has ridden Scrumpy to seven straight wins together, will be aboard again.

“They’re a pretty good team,” said Morey. “He seems to run well for Kyle, and he really likes the horse.”

Perhaps equally important, he has an entrymate, Thoughtuknew, who has speed that Vicarino must contend with early.

“He has speed and will make them hustle down the backstretch to keep up with him,” Morey said.

Thoughtuknew has won two straight and three of his last four races.

Vicarino has been compromised by speed duels this year and could face another challenge here, with Thoughtuknew early and Scrumpy late.

Still, Morey does not underestimate him.

“Vicarino’s good,” he said. “He’s the class of the field.”

Jack Hes Tops, returning here after a nine-week freshener, lost to Vicarino in a Feb. 7 allowance race at Bay Meadows then finished third in front of him in the March 15 Bay Meadows Sprint.