11/22/2006 1:00AM

Amoss's biggest guns get some rest


NEW ORLEANS - The trainer Tom Amoss has Breeders' Cup horses to run at the Fair Grounds meet, but not right away. Both Rush Bay, who finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf, and Baghdaria, who was a surprisingly decent seventh in the Distaff, are turned out for 60 days of farm rest in Kentucky.

The pair will rejoin Amoss's Fair Grounds string later in the meet, Amoss said. "We'll bring them back and point them for races at the end of the Fair Grounds meet," he said.

Rush Bay was a 32-1 shot in the $3 million Turf, but ran very well, contesting a quick pace and holding well to finish only about four lengths behind the upset winner, Red Rocks. Rush Bay won 3 of 7 starts in a solid 2006 campaign, and at age 4, he might still have his best races ahead of him.

"That's the unique thing about turf horses," Amoss said. "They seem to get better with age, and I think Rush Bay will be that way."

Amoss said Rush Bay might be able to make the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap on March 10.

Baghdaria probably was the last horse let into the Distaff, which was oversubscribed, but she justified her slot in the race. Baghdaria poked her head in front in upper stretch before tiring late, finishing less than seven lengths behind Round Pond, the winner. Baghdaria is not yet 4, and she, too, could turn into an improved horse next year with greater maturity.

Amoss will have his typical barn full of horses for the Fair Grounds meet, though stock still is arriving from Churchill Downs. In recent years Amoss has not been able to keep up in the Fair Grounds trainer standings with Steve Asmussen, who can call not only on his Fair Grounds-based horses but strings in Texas and elsewhere. But this year, Amoss might have a shot at leading trainer. While Asmussen serves a six-month suspension, horses at Fair Grounds will continue to run in the name of Scott Blasi, Asmussen's top assistant. But since Asmussen is due back after the first of the year, and horses will again run in his name, the barn's total will be divided between two different trainers, giving Amoss a chance.

Diliberto transitions into new role

Mike Diliberto long served as the televised face of Fair Grounds, co-hosting a daily in-house television show and making selections before every race here for years. Each day on the Fair Grounds simulcast signal one could see the cheery Diliberto making selections alongside the colorful Vince Marinello, who often appeared to glean choice handicapping information from Diliberto's studies.

Now, Marinello is in jail, charged with murdering his ex-wife, and Diliberto, who also was the Fair Grounds linemaker, no longer is working for the track. Diliberto's job was thrown up in the air last season when Hurricane Katrina forced the Fair Grounds meet from Diliberto's home in New Orleans to Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., and this year Diliberto and Churchill Downs Inc., Fair Grounds' parent company, parted ways.

"I was there 15 years," Diliberto said. "I'd been working at [defunct] Jefferson Downs since 1972, and when Brian [Krantz] bought the Fair Grounds, I moved on over."

Diliberto, however, is not done at the racetrack. Last week, he passed a test to become a jockey agent, and has picked up the book of the veteran Larry Melancon as well as that of young Randall Toups. Both will begin riding at Fair Grounds following the conclusion of the Churchill meet.

Meanwhile, Jessica Pacheco, who worked most recently at Louisiana Downs, will serve as the television host this meet. Billy Pettingill, a veteran clocker, will make the morning line.

Two allowances tough to crack

There really is no Friday feature on the second day of this Fair Grounds meet, just a pair of inscrutable entry-level allowance races. The eighth is a dirt route for colts and geldings that drew a field of eight, race 9 a turf route for fillies and mares that went with nine entries.

It's difficult even guessing at the favorite in the eighth. Perhaps Etruscan will attract support, based on highly competitive Beyer Speed Figures. But while Etruscan has earned figures that match up well in this spot, he has lost ground in the stretch in his last three starts, and he has raced only once in six tries on dirt, having been on turf and Woodbine's Polytrack in his other tries.

Tiger Bait won a sprint maiden on Oct. 14 at Louisiana Downs, and with only two career races, he has upside. His trainer, locally based Eddie Johnston, has been known to win races in bunches early in the Fair Grounds season.

Mark Frostad trains Etruscan, and another Canadian outfit, that of Malcolm Pierce, might have the favorite in race 9. That would be Baradore, who has been losing entry-level allowance races at short odds for well over a year now. Bettors might turn a blind eye to that sobering fact - if only for the lack of appealing alternatives. What Will Be, from the barn of Ralph Nicks, has fewer losses but looks like the same type of folly as Baradore. None of the others shows a truly contending turf race, but one of them might well jump up with something good enough to win Friday's ninth.

New York shipper heads Pago Hop

Eight horses were entered Monday in Saturday's Pago Hop Stakes, a $75,000 one-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies. There are no standouts in the race, but trainer Shug McGaughey will ship in a filly named Moya from his New York base. Moya last raced Oct. 9 in the $110,000 Pebbles Handicap at Belmont, finishing fourth. The others in the Pago Hop are Fiery Dancer, Rolling Sea, Page Turner, Aly's Vow, Delicate Dynamite, Doeny Ghost, and Andover the Cash.