01/17/2008 1:00AM

Ah Day makes return in Fire Plug


Ah Day brings impeccable racing credentials into Saturday's $80,000 Fire Plug Stakes, a six-furlong race at Laurel Park that he dominated last year, winning by 3 3/4 lengths and earning a career-best 110 Beyer Speed Figure.

A 5-year-old gelding owned and trained by King Leatherbury, Ah Day is a seven-time stakes winner. He hit the board in three consecutive Grade 1 and Grade 2 stakes last season, and has won 7 of 13 starts locally and 3 of 4 sprints at six furlongs.

But because he hasn't raced in more than eight months and Leatherbury shows weak statistics with horses returning from long layoffs, Ah Day may be a vulnerable short-priced favorite in Saturday's field of seven older sprinters.

Ah Day hasn't run since finishing second as the even-money favorite in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap on the 2007 Kentucky Derby undercard.

Although Ah Day has been working extremely well for his comeback, posting two bullet workouts locally since Jan. 4, Leatherbury seldom wins with runners returning from long stints on the sidelines. He is just 1 for 42 with all dirt horses in their first start after being off for 180 days or more the last five years.

Leatherbury said Ah Day needed extended time off because of an injury.

"He had a little problem with his hind end," Leatherbury said. "We waited for him to heal up and then gave him the rest of the year off. He's working very well right now, but I haven't measured him against any other runners working right now."

Excluding an extremely slow running of the Fire Plug in 2006, the average winning Beyer for the last seven editions of the stakes has been 103, a figure several others in Saturday's field are capable of achieving.

Cognac Kisses comes off a win over third-level allowance runners at Philadelphia Park, matching his career high with a 102 Beyer. His trainer, Scott Lake, is 10 for 26 (38opercent) with horses coming off a career top in non-graded stakes the last five years.

Lemons of Love, off since late November, has matched or exceeded his previous Beyer in his last five starts, capped by a 100 Beyer in a third-level allowance. Trainer Tony Dutrow is 10 for 22 (45 percent) with horses coming off three ascending Beyers, including 1 for 1 with Lemons of Love.