12/30/2010 4:47PM

Western Prospector gets stakes try in Holiday Cheer


When Western Prospector won a maiden race in his second start in April 2009 at Keeneland, covering six furlongs on Polytrack in a quick 1:09.64, he appeared a horse destined for stakes.

It’s just taken him while to make it there. But the time has finally come Saturday – 18 races after that maiden win – when he squares off against Tend and five other rivals in his first stakes appearance in the $50,000 Holiday Cheer at Turfway Park.

Although untested in such company, Western Prospector looms a major force, being in sharp form and appearing the dominant speed of the six-furlong race on Polytrack.

With the exception of the longshot Silver Summation, his opponents prefer to stalk the pace. This should allow jockey Ben Creed to place Western Prospector in a good position, either on the lead or sitting just off the flank of Silver Summation, who breaks to his inside.

Trainer Randy Mathews, who trains 5-year-old Western Prospector for owner Chalee Inc., said the horse’s ascent into stakes company was delayed by hind-end issues earlier in the horse’s career and from mental immaturity.

“He’s been a slow maturing horse to tell you the truth,” he said.

This fall at Churchill Downs, he showed what he could do when he runs to his capability. First, in a five-furlong $40,000 claiming race there in the slop on Nov. 18, he romped by more than seven lengths. And then, when wheeled back 10 days later, he led for much of a third-level allowance before being caught in the closing strides, finishing third, beaten a neck.

To win the Holiday Cheer, Western Prospector, a 5-year-old gelded son of West Acre, will have to contain stakes winners Tend and Golden Country in the stretch.

Both have proven to be effective synthetic performers, though Tend has stronger recent form than defending champion Golden Country.

Tend beat Western Prospector by more than 10 lengths the last time they met, Oct. 17 at Keeneland, though the race unfolded to Tend’s benefit, with Western Prospector being pressured into a hot pace, which set up Tend’s rally.

Tend, claimed for $80,000 in that race, then crossed the finish line first in an allowance at Churchill Downs on Nov. 14, only to be disqualified and placed second when his rider, Perry Ouzts, inadvertently struck a rival horse with his whip in the stretch.

Tony Scott trains Tend for Billy, Donna, and Justin Hays. Scott is subbing for regular trainer Joe Woodard, who is serving a suspension for a medication violation.