Smart Cover, injured running second to stablemate Cleburne in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs last fall, returns to the races in Saturday's Grade 3 Palm Beach on the Gulfstream Park turf.
Trained by Dale Romans for Donegal Racing, Smart Cover drew post seven of 13 in the nine-furlong Palm Beach, and will be ridden for the first time by Corey Lanerie. On Wednesday, Lanerie was named winner of the George Woolf Memorial Award in a nationwide vote of his peers.
"He's doing really good," Romans said of Smart Cover, whose sire, Any Given Saturday, won three graded stakes including the 2007 Haskell Invitational. "He's made a huge change from his two-year-old year to his three-year-old year."
Fifth in his debut last June at Churchill, Smart Cover broke his maiden by a nose going a mile on the grass at Ellis Park in July. In what would be his final juvenile start, he returned to the dirt and closed fast on the outside but fell a neck short of Cleburne in the 1 1/16-mile Iroquois.
"He got hurt in the stakes," Romans said. "We had to take care of a shin, but he's all healed up. He's training super, and he's really grown up into a bigger, stronger horse. It's a tough place to come out for his first start of the year, but there aren't many options."
Romans hopes to use the Palm Beach to get Smart Cover back on the Triple Crown trail.
"He'll go back to the dirt after this race," the trainer said. "I just wanted to get him started, and then we'll go look for one of those last-round 100-point preps (for the Kentucky Derby). He fits with the best of them."
Smart Cover went off at 26-1 in the Iroquois, finishing a neck ahead of Tapiture in a three-horse photo finish. Tapiture has gone on to become a top contender for the Kentucky Derby, winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in November and the Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park on February 17.
Also owned by Donegal, Cleburne has not run since upsetting the Iroquois at 34-1. The Dixie Union colt had his first timed work since then on February 22 at Gulfstream, going a half-mile in :49 2/5.
"Tapiture has really flattered that whole field," Romans said. "We're getting Smart Cover and Cleburne back, and we need them."