02/24/2010 12:00AM

Wesley's comeback no easy spot


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - After giving his multiple graded stakes winner Wesley some time to regroup after he went a bit off form last summer, trainer Mark Hennig had several options for the 5-year-old horse's comeback this month.

Last Saturday, Hennig could have run Wesley against Courageous Cat at a mile here at Gulfstream Park in the Canadian Turf or faced Gio Ponti at 1 1/16 miles in the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup.

Hennig chose what figured to be the path of least resistance, Thursday's 1 1/8-mile turf feature at Gulfstream. Thursday's seventh race, a fourth-level optional $100,000 claimer, figures to be no picnic either, with the likes of Grade 2 winner Nownownow and the dangerous Irish-bred Staying On among the seven others signed on for the race.

Wesley won Saratoga's Grade 2 Hall of Fame as a 3-year-old in 2008 and Calder's Grade 3 Miami Mile Handicap last April. But his form subsequently went downhill as he finished off the board in his last three starts in 2009, including the Grade 1 Manhattan and Grade 1 United Nations. Following a sixth-place finish last August at Saratoga in the Grade 2 Fourstardave, Hennig pulled the plug for the remainder of the year.

"He didn't have any issues," Hennig said. "I just felt he'd tailed off after not having had a reasonable break for a while. He really does well at Payson Park, so I brought him down early. I really didn't want to start him back at a mile and an eighth, but that seemed like a better option than going against Courageous Cat or Gio Ponti. He's pretty fit but he'll need some pace."

Nownownow will also need some help up front if he's to win his south Florida debut. He captured Santa Anita's Grade 2 San Fernando 13 months ago, but has not won in four subsequent starts. Trainer Patrick Biancone brought Nownownow east following his eighth-place finish in Santa Anita's Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 7.

Staying On appeared to come up a trifle short here Jan. 22 when fading to finish third in his U.S. debut and first start in nearly four months. Trained by Christophe Clement, Staying On was multiple Group 3- placed in Europe last season.

Hunting, a Grade 3 winner on dirt, will make his turf debut if he goes on Thursday. Hunting was beaten less than a length under similar allowance conditions over the main track here last month.