07/10/2003 12:00AM

Will Tenpins show signs of rust?


ALTOONA, Iowa - Tenpins, a winner of three graded stakes in 2002, returns from a 7 1/2-month layoff in the premiere event of the Prairie Meadows season, Saturday's Grade 3, $350,000 Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Tenpins, a front-runner, scored gate-to-wire victories last year in the Grade 3 Schaefer at Pimlico and the Fayette at Keeneland. He posted his biggest career win in the Grade 2, $400,000 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington last September. Tenpins stalked the pace in that race and won by a neck.

Trainer Don Winfree sent Tenpins to the sidelines following a fourth-place finish in the Clark Handicap, where he was beaten 3 1/4 lengths by Lido Palace on Nov. 29.

Although he has been away from the races for a long time, Tenpins has been working well at Churchill Downs over the past six weeks. In his last major work, Tenpins went a mile in 1:38.60 on July 4. If he is able to deliver a top effort first time out, Tenpins, a winner of 7 of 11 starts, will be tough to beat.

Tenpins's regular rider Robby Albarado will be in from Kentucky for the mount. Tenpins will carry high weight 118 pounds and concede from two to seven pounds to his seven rivals.

There is an abundance of early speed to challenge Tenpins in the 1 1/8-mile Cornhusker, including one-time claimer and now graded stakes winner Patton's Victory and Slider, who finished second in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in April.

But Tenpins may get some pace relief as two others who figured to battle for the early lead may be scratched. Trainer Ray Tracy said Vito Corleone is likely to start in a stakes at Horsemen's Park on Sunday, while Northwest Hill is pre-entered in a Claiming Crown event next Saturday at Canterbury Park.

If a hot pace develops, Bowman's Band and Woodmoon stand to benefit.

Bowman's Band, who scored a neck victory in the $100,000 Brandywine Handicap at Delaware Park in his most recent start, figures to work out a good stalking trip from his rail post position with the patient Mark Guidry in his saddle.

Woodmoon figures to make his run from well off the early pace under jockey Ray Sibille. Woodmoon was never a factor when sixth, beaten 14 1/2 lengths, in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill last month, but he should find Saturday's competition much more to his liking. Niall O'Callaghan, who won the 1999 Cornhusker with Nite Dreamer, trains Woodmoon, who carries 113 pounds.