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Atigun the one to beat in Colonial Turf Cup; Channel Lady heads All Along

Channel Lady invades Colonial Downs for top trainer Todd Pletcher (Courtney Heeney/Adam Conglianese Photo)

Atigun returned to the turf two starts back, defeating a salty group of optional claiming rivals on the Kentucky Derby undercard, and just missed with a rallying second in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap on May 25. The Kenny McPeek-trained colt will seek his first stakes victory when he lines up for Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs.

A four-year-old son of Istan, Atigun displayed decent class on the main track last season, finishing third in both the Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Marathon, and filled the same spot when making his second start of 2013 in the Grade 3 Razorback at Oaklawn Park. However, his form has improved noticeably since switching to turf, registering BRIS Speed ratings 110 and 106 in his last two starts, and Saturday's 1 3/16-mile distance looks like a perfect fit for the long-winded bay.

In the 1 1/2-mile Louisville, Atigun dropped too far back during the early stages and lost plenty of ground on the far turn while the winner was perfectly positioned throughout.

"He had a terrible trip," McPeek said of narrow runner-up finish. "I think he was several lengths the best horse."

Julien Leparoux, who missed the Louisville after riding Atigun two starts back, will be in for the mount aboard the likely favorite.

Swift Warrior exits a dead-heat seventh in the Grade 2 Dixie on the Preakness undercard, but the chestnut recorded consecutive wins in the Grade 3 John B. Connelly and Grade 3 Tampa Bay prior to that setback and merits respect Saturday for trainer John Terranova. Jose Espinoza, who missed the Dixie, regains the mount on the five-year-old.

Air Support likes the turf at Colonial Downs, winning the 2011 Virginia Derby and finishing second in last year's Turf Cup, and the well-bred son of Smart Strike will be making his third start off the layoff for trainer Shug McGaughey. He's lost both attempts this season but did not run poorly when finishing third and fourth against solid allowance/optional claiming fields at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, respectively. Javier Castellano rides.

Two Notch Road, third in the 2010 Colonial Turf Cup, made it back from a 2 1/2-year layoff this spring and the six-year-old gelding will look to capitalize upon an encouraging third in the Grade 2 Monmouth last out. Other runners include General Logan, who will return to stakes company for Graham Motion following a convincing allowance tally at Pimlico in his 2013 bow; and Hyper, who exits a runner-up in the May 15 Good Reward at Belmont for Chad Brown.

Colonial Downs will also offer the Grade 3, $100,000 All Along for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf and trainer Todd Pletcher will send out the leading candidate, Channel Lady. After recording her first stakes tally at Aqueduct last fall, the English Channel filly opened her four-year-old season with a close second in the Grade 3 Marshua's River and then captured the Grade 3 Suwannee River at Gulfstream Park. She's been facing better rivals in her last two starts, finishing fourth each time behind Centre Court and Stephanie's Kitten, and Channel Lady figures to appreciate class relief against six challengers on Saturday.

Castellano rides the 124-pound top weight.

Adjacent, Appealing Cat and Embarr are the main rivals.

The stakes action kicks off with the $75,000 Da Hoss at a mile on turf and Hudson Steele is the top draw in the seven-horse field. A Grade 2 winner last season, the six-year-old gelding will be making his first start for Pletcher since a sixth in the Grade 1 Man 'o War 11 months ago.

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