01/16/2003 12:00AM

Ask the Lord in peak form for Maxxam

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Ask the Lord has changed his ways. Once a tough customer on turf, he seems to enjoy racing on dirt more as of late, and on Saturday night could pick up his first stakes win in the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston.

The 1 1/8-mile handicap has drawn nine others, including Valhol, the 117-pound highweight; Fifty Stars, who returns to the site of one of his biggest career wins; Seainsky, runner-up in the $100,000 Woodchopper at Fair Grounds; New York shipper High Commissioner; Tee Cat, who is in sharp form; and Rare Cure, winner of the $100,000 Star of Texas at Sam Houston.

Ask the Lord won two conditioned turf allowances impressively early in his career, but seems to be at his best on dirt these days. In fact, he has won three of his last four main track starts, his most recent score an optional claiming win at Fair Grounds on Jan. 3.

"He's obviously favoring dirt now," said Al Stall Jr., who trains Ask the Lord for Peter Gaffney and Stewart Madison. "He's out of a Slew o' Gold mare, so maybe it's the female side kicking in on him."

It must be. Ask the Lord is coming into the Maxxam in peak form, wiring a field of $75,000 optional claimers by 3 3/4 lengths last out and earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102.

Such a strong effort builds his case, but also raises the question- could he bounce?

"You never know, but he's training fine," Stall said. "He's an old, tough gelding and he's got a good foundation running long, so most probably that wouldn't apply to him."

Curt Bourque, who was aboard Ask the Lord last out, has the return call for the Maxxam.

Robby Albarado will ride multiple stakes winner Valhol, who seems to be sitting on a strong race in his second start back from a six-month layoff. In his comeback on Dec. 8, he ran a solid fourth, despite trouble, in the $75,000 Tenacious Handicap at Fair Grounds.

"He'll move forward for the out," said Dallas Keen, who trains Valhol for Jim Jackson.

Valhol has suggested as much in his training. In his final two works for the Maxxam, he has drilled bullets, working five furlongs in 1:00.40 on Jan. 7 and four furlongs in 48.20 seconds on Jan. 14.

Given the speed he has shown in the morning, Valhol should be prominent early in the Maxxam, along with Doc D, while Ask the Lord should assume a stalking position under Bourque.

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