02/15/2008 12:00AM

Autrey plays game like it's poker


NEW ORLEANS - Michael Stidham calls fellow trainer Cody Autrey "Johnny Come Lately." It's true that at 28 Autrey isn't as a seasoned as those who have been training since before he was born.

But the trainer standings don't reflect age, only wins. And in the win category Autrey is doing well enough to be sitting in second place at the Fair Grounds meet, behind only Steve Asmussen.

Autrey's statistics, 38 wins from 140 starters through Feb. 14, peg him as a consistent winner and likely target for profitable betting, but Autrey's training style makes him difficult to bet.

"We have a poker-like strategy," said Autrey. "That's the way I want it, hard to read. The other trainers don't know if we are trying to steal a purse or unload a horse with problems."

Autrey's entries on Sunday provide a perfect snapshot of why his cards-to-the-vest manner of dropping horses can be so maddening. In the third race, for $12,500 claimers, he sends out Themanbdancing, who last raced in a $25,000 claiming race on Sept. 6 at Arlington.

"He had a throat problem," said Autrey. "So we gave him some time off and we're bringing him back at level we think he can win."

In this case, that level is half the price for which Autrey claimed him, though a winner's share of the purse would make Themanbdancing almost a break-even proposition if he were to be claimed.

In the eighth race, Autrey has EZ Otto, who last raced on Feb 2. He goes from an allowance, his first start for Autrey, into this $25,000 claiming spot.

"He's not the horse we hoped he was," said Autrey. "So we have him in a spot where we hope he can win."

Muniz next target for Jazzquest

Trainer Tom Amoss had a big day on the undercard to last weekend's Risen Star Stakes. Graeme Six won the Pan Zareta Stakes, and Jazzquest finished second in the Fair Grounds Handicap, before Prince Cortez finished last in the Risen Star.

Now Amoss is looking for spots for each of them.

Graeme Six won the Pan Zareta, a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares, with ease, coming home 2 1/2 lengths in front. Though she clearly likes the track, Amoss doesn't think Graeme Six will run here again.

"She came out of that race great, but there is nothing on the schedule for her at the Fair Grounds," said Amoss. "We are looking elsewhere, mid-March. We'd like to get her some winning graded black type."

Jazzquest raced wide in the New Orleans Handicap, finishing with a strong kick to get up by a nose for second. He will be pointed o the Grade 2 Mervin H. Muniz Handicap here on March 8.

"He's shown that he loves this course," said Amoss. "The owner, Mr. Richard Colton, is from New Orleans, and we'd like to run him here again."

Prince Cortez came into the Risen Star a perfect 3 for 3. He broke from the outside post and raced in fifth before fading to last of 11.

"He was a victim of being stuck on the outside, and being overly aggressive," said Amoss. "We have a training program to solve his aggressiveness, including taking the blinkers off."

Amoss indicated the Risen Star had done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for Prince Cortez.

"We basically see that race as a toss-out," said Amoss. "We believe he has a bright future."

Back to turf route for Demarcation

Trainer Paul McGee has a talented horse in the 4-year-old gelding Demarcation. The question is really which type of race the horse prefers.

In search of that answer, McGee has entered Demarcation in Sunday's feature, an $80,000 optional claiming race at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

"His breeding says a little bit of everything," McGee said. "That's why I've been switching him back and forth."

Demarcation has won 4 of 11 starts, in a variety of situations, short and long, on turf and on dirt. McGee hopes Demarcation will signal a preference for a surface and distance.

"He's won on the grass going long, and then we went back to sprinting, thinking he might be a come-from-behind sprinter," said McGee. "Now we are going back to stretching him out."

His last race was a sprint, the Gaudin Memorial Stakes. He finished fourth of eight that day, 4 1/2 lengths in back of Euroears. Demarcation was gaining ground in that race, and should find the competition softer in this field of seven.