07/04/2006 11:00PM

Ward aims 3 for Travers

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer John Ward and owner John Oxley will take the next several days to make decisions about their talented trio of 3-year-olds in the wake of their most recent performances.

In a perfect world, Strong Contender, Minister's Bid, and Dr. Pleasure would all make it to the $1 million Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 26. How they all get there will be the topic of discussion for Ward and Oxley once Oxley returns from vacation.

Strong Contender moved to the head of the Ward/Oxley class with an authoritative 7 3/4-length victory in Tuesday's Grade 2, $150,000 Dwyer Stakes. While the time of 1:45.24 was the slowest of 13 Dwyers run at 1 1/16 miles, the performance earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 109.

Mark Hopkins, who makes the Beyer numbers for Belmont, said the track got significantly slower as the day went on. Hopkins said he had to adjust his figures by 32 Beyer points for the last three dirt races.

"It was one of the most dramatic changes I've ever seen at Belmont," said Hopkins, who has made New York figures for 30 years. "And Belmont has dramatic changes."

Ward felt Strong Contender's performance was a huge step forward in the colt's career.

"Yesterday, Strong Contender showed in the panic that he was very seasoned, and that was a turning point," Ward said Wednesday morning from Saratoga. "I'd still say the other two need a little more seasoning."

Most likely, Ward will split the trio up among the $500,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 29, the $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park on Aug. 6, and the $750,000 West Virginia Derby, also on Aug. 6.

Minister's Bid is 2 for 2 and is coming off a first-level allowance win at Belmont on June 22. Ward has previously called Minister's Bid the ideal Haskell horse because of the colt's front-running style.

Ward believes Dr. Pleasure, who finished third behind two older horses in a first-level allowance race on June 28, will improve when he tries two turns. Dr. Pleasure won his only start at Saratoga.

Preakness winner Bernardini and Belmont winner Jazil are pointing to the Jim Dandy. Brother Derek and some other California-based horses, such as Point Determined and A. P. Warrior, who are scheduled to run in this weekend's Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park, may lean more to the Haskell.

Early arrival 'Misty' ready for Prioress

Trainer Jim Chapman brought the stakes-winning 3-year-old filly Misty Rosette to New York from Florida earlier than he had planned, but he hopes it pays off with a victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Prioress Stakes.

Chapman had planned to train Misty Rosette at The Vinery, a farm in Florida, and then ship to Belmont about 10 days out to get one work over the track. Chapman changed plans when his wife, Sonia - part owner and the exercise rider of Misty Rosette - broke her leg. Chapman found a replacement exercise rider who was willing to go to New York early and stay with the filly and two 2-year-olds.

By arriving in early June, Misty Rosette has been able to breeze three times at Belmont and shows two bullet five-furlong works coming into the Prioress. Garrett Gomez breezed her twice and will ride her Saturday.

"I think one of the big things is how they handle the track, and Garrett says she handles it as well as any horse," Chapman said. "She's ready. She's going to have to run as hard as she's ever run.''

Chapman, who also counts Stuart Tsujimoto as an owner of Misty Rosette, isn't sure she can't be successful in longer races. But he plans to keep Misty Rosette sprinting for now, especially with Grade 1 opportunites like the Prioress and Test at Saratoga.

"I sell horses," said Chapman. "My goal is the November sale with her. It was either screw her form up and go for the [Kentucky] Oaks or take care of her and have her fresh for the end of the year."

Showing Up expected to skip Virginia Derby

Showing Up's victory in the $1 million Colonial Turf Cup last month at Colonial Downs made him eligible for a multi-million bonus if he were to sweep three more races in what is dubbed the Grand Slam of Grass.

But trainer Barclay Tagg does not like the three-week spacing between the Colonial Cup and the $1 million Virginia Derby, scheduled for July 15, and said he will most likely pass that race. Tagg said he would point Showing Up to the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 12. The Secretariat is the third leg of the Grand Slam of Grass, while the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf, run Nov. 5, is the final leg. The Grand Slam guarantees $5 million in bonus money and winning purses for a four-race sweep.

"I'd like to go back, and I'd probably go back if it was a month in between," Tagg said. "Two times in three weeks is too much to ask. It's nice of them to put up a big bonus, but for my taste the race is too close for that caliber of horse, especially this time of year."

By skipping the Virginia Derby, Showing Up would go seven weeks between races. Showing Up won the Colonial Cup seven weeks after finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby.

Steppenwolfer may head to Virginia

With Showing Up likely to skip the Virginia Derby, Steppenwolfer, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, may head that way. Trainer Danny Peitz is also considering this Sunday's Lexington

Stakes, at 1 1/8 miles on the Belmont turf. Steppenwolfer debuted on turf, finishing fifth.

"We're leaning toward the race at Colonial," Peitz said. "Barclay's not going back, which makes that race more attractive."

On Sunday, Steppenwolfer worked five furlongs in 1:00.83 over Belmont Park's inner turf. "It look liked he finished up real well," Peitz said.

Whitney or Pacific Classic next for Invasor

Invasor may have to travel cross-country in order to continue racing at longer distances.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he is seriously considering shipping Invasor to California for the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20. The primary reason is that Invasor would be able to run 1 1/4 miles, the same distance as the Suburban Handicap, a race Invasor won last Saturday by 4 1/4 lengths. Invasor earned a 111 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.

"The key is the distance and the timing," McLaughlin said. "[Seven] weeks, a mile and a quarter, California, hits us right between the eyes."

Invasor won the Suburban 43 days after he won the Grade 1 Pimlico Special. That victory came 55 days after he finished fourth in the UAE Derby at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse.

Following the Pacific Classic, McLaughlin would then look to give Invasor another seven weeks before running in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 7. If Invasor were to perform well in those two spots, he could then be supplemented to the Breeders' Cup Classic for a fee of $750,000. Nevertheless, if owner Sheikh Hamdan and McLaughlin are thinking Breeders' Cup, they could supplement now for a reduced fee of $250,000, plus entry fees.

Henny Hughes to King's Bishop

McLaughlin said Henny Hughes will skip the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga on July 31 and go straight to the Grade 1 King's Bishop on Aug. 26. Henny Hughes made a spectacular 3-year-old debut, winning Saturday's Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup by 10 lengths. He ran six furlongs in 1:08.26 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 109.

McLaughlin said if Henny Hughes has another performance like that in him, he would rather it come in a Grade 1 than a Grade 2. The plan for Henny Hughes following the King's Bishop would be the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park on Oct. 7 and the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4.