04/08/2004 12:00AM

4-year-olds challenge old guard


Saturday's $50,000 Fire Plug Stakes at Pimlico could mark a changing of the guard among Maryland's older sprinters.

Elder statesmen Sassy Hound, Crossing Point, and Out of Fashion will be challenged by 2003 Triple Crown prospect Cherokee's Boy and two other promising 4-year-olds in the six-furlong Fire Plug.

Sassy Hound and Crossing Point, a pair of 7-year-old geldings trained by Ben Feliciano, have combined for 27 lifetime victories. So far this season, however, Sassy Hound and Crossing Point are a collective 0 for 3. Feliciano rarely runs both in the same race, so one is likely to scratch.

Out of Fashion is part of an entry for owner Mike Gill and trainer Mark Shuman. An 8-year-old, Out of Fashion was winless in four starts last season, but showed signs of life in a win over optional claimers in January. He's in a more realistic spot now after finishing far back in the Grade 2 General George and a high-priced optional claimer in New York.

If the old-timers have, indeed, lost a step or two, Cherokee's Boy is a viable alternative. A three-time stakes winner in Maryland last spring, Cherokee's Boy hasn't raced since June and will be sprinting for the first time since January 2003. He is, however, 2 for 2 at six furlongs and has been working bullets at Bowie for his regular rider, Ryan Fogelsonger.

"He looks awesome," Fogelsonger said. "He has gotten bigger and is doing the works easy, just like a horse of his caliber should. He has so much class and is training so well, I think we'll win this race and see a lot of him this year."

Cape Good Hope won three races last year as a 3-year-old. In his first start at 4, Cape Good Hope just missed going seven furlongs.

Northern Air, the other part of the Gill-Shuman entry, won the Gallant Bob Handicap at Philadelphia Park last fall and finished a neck behind Cape Good Hope last time out.