12/29/2005 1:00AM

Back class vs. good current form


Saturday's $50,000 Holiday Cheer Stakes at Turfway Park offers a test of back class vs. current form.

In the back-class camp are Fire Slam and Private Horde, who have won graded stakes - but a year and a half or more ago. Then in the recent form camp are sharp runners such as Yucatan and Sgt. Bert, who enter the six-furlong Holiday Cheer in top form, but without the bankrolls of Fire Slam and Private Horde.

Despite rear-half finishes in his two starts in 2005, Fire Slam is the likely favorite. Winner of the Grade 2 Riva Ridge and three other stakes as a 3-year-old in 2004, he will be ridden by leading rider Jesus Castanon. The Holiday Cheer will mark his first start for trainer Becky Maker, whose Turfway runners were 7 for 17 through Thursday's racing.

"I hope that he can regain that back class," Maker said. "Of course you can never tell for sure until you run them. Hopefully, this race is a stepping-stone."

, who was troubled by problematic feet earlier in his career, is doing well, she said, and has been breezing weekly over the Polytrack at Turfway.

Blinkers will be added to his equipment. "When horses get older they can get a little nonchalant," Maker said.

enters the race off a lackluster showing in the Schaefer Mile at Hoosier, a race in which he was beaten 16 1/2 lengths. Returned to a sprint, he should be more effective.

Although not as effective over the last couple years as he was in 2003, when he won the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga, he has still proven to be a threat in allowances and small stakes and has won twice this year.

By comparison, Yucatan is a four-time winner in 2005. He easily handled the speedy Danieltown at Mountaineer on Nov. 27 in an open allowance before appearing to bounce with a return on short rest in an allowance prep for the Holiday Cheer at Turfway on Dec. 11. He ran third, 5 3/4 lengths behind the victorious With Distinction.

With Distinction is not in the Holiday Cheer, but the runner-up in that allowance prep, Sgt. Bert, is. Finishing 3 1/4 lengths behind the winner and 2 1/2 lengths in front of Yucatan, he earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure - the highest last-race Beyer in the 12-horse field.