07/02/2009 11:00PM

Warrior's Reward has yet to hit his peak

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Barbara D. Livingston
Warrior's Reward (right) will try to use the Dwyer as a stepping-stone to the Jim Dandy.

ELMONT, N.Y. - On the surface, it may seem odd for a jockey to consider giving up a Kentucky Derby winner for a horse that has yet to win a stakes race. But in Calvin Borel's case, his leap of faith in the promising 3-year-old Warrior's Reward may be justified.

We will learn more Saturday at Belmont Park when Borel pilots Warrior's Reward against six other 3-year-olds also seeking their first stakes victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 Dwyer Stakes, which kicks off the second half of the 3-year-old season.

Borel was taken off Mine That Bird by that gelding's connections because he wouldn't give a commitment to ride him in the West Virginia Derby on Aug. 1. That is the same day as the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, which is a target of Warrior's Reward.

Warrior's Reward has 2 wins from 5 starts, but has lost both stakes races in which he has run. However, following his eighth-place in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby, Warrior's Reward underwent throat surgery to fix a displaced palate. He responded with a 2 1/4-length victory in an allowance race at Churchill Downs on May 1 that proved to be a fast and extremely productive race. Munnings, who ran second that day, came back to win the Grade 2 Woody Stephens. Three other horses came back to win allowance races, including Just Ben, who is entered in the Dwyer.

Six weeks later, in the Grade 3 Northern Dancer, Warrior's Reward lost a head decision to the undefeated Successful Dan, whom he couldn't get by in the stretch. In that race, Borel had Warrior's Reward closer to the pace than the stretch-running colt prefers.

"Last time there wasn't a lot of pace. It didn't play into our hands,'' said Ian Wilkes, the trainer of Warrior's Reward. "I think our horse is improving a little. This horse needs some hard racing at the moment to get better.''

Just Ben and American Dance enter the Dwyer off career-best performances. Just Ben, a son of Speightstown trained by Nick Zito, rolled to a 13 3/4-length allowance win going seven furlongs on Belmont Stakes Day. Just Ben was purchased privately earlier this week by Roy and Gretchen Jackson's Lael Stable.

"He's got tremendous speed and I'll probably use it Saturday,'' Zito said. "If he's got limitations we'll find out, but I think he can go a distance.''

American Dance, a half-brother to 2005 Horse of the year Saint Liam, shortens up after winning a 1 1/8-mile allowance race by 6 1/4 lengths on the front end.

Masala, whose two best races have come in one-turn races on dirt, is an upset candidate.

Kensei and Sunday Sunrise, an uncoupled entry trained by Steve Asmussen, complete the field.