03/08/2005 12:00AM

Bailey gets call on Summerly

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NEW ORLEANS - Summerly, who is expected to start as the favorite in Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, will have a new rider for the race, with Jerry Bailey replacing Donnie Meche, trainer Steve Asmussen said Tuesday morning.

Meche most recently rode Summerly to victory in the Grade 3 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 12. Meche rode Summerly in her last two starts, which she won by a combined margin of 13 lengths.

Asmussen said he wanted to get Bailey now in order to give him a chance to get acquainted with Summerly before the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 6.

"I always thought if Bailey had ridden Lady Tak before the Kentucky Oaks, we'd have had a better chance," Asmussen said. "You don't have two chances to win the Kentucky Oaks."

Lady Tak finished sixth in the 2003 Kentucky Oaks while being ridden by Bailey for the first time.

Bwana Charlie, Asmussen's top sprinter, zipped five furlongs in 58.80 seconds Tuesday morning in preparation for his return in the $125,000 Duncan Kenner Breeders' Cup Handicap on March 19. The six-furlong Kenner was formerly known as the Pelleteri.

The time was the best of 10 at the distance on Tuesday and was the only five-furlong work faster than 1:01.

Bwana Charlie has not raced since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Lone Star Park. His last victory came in the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga.

Track gets rave reviews

Asmussen was one of several trainers who praised the condition of the main track Tuesday morning. Fair Grounds was hit by a vicious storm during racing on Monday, but the main track was in excellent shape for Tuesday's workouts. The track was rated good.

"There's no substitute for this track," Asmussen said. "It rained all day, and the track is in good shape."

"There's no place in America that could look like this the day after that storm," said trainer Al Stall Jr.

Neil Howard, who sent out the filly Soul Search and the older horse Alumni Hall for works in preparation for stakes Saturday, called the surface "unbelievable."

"Look how good this track is after all the rain we had yesterday," Howard said.

Soul Search tunes up for Oaks

Howard worked Soul Search a half-mile in 49 seconds Tuesday in her final tune-up for the Fair Grounds Oaks. An A.P. Indy filly, Soul Search won impressively in her only start over the Fair Grounds main track before running out of real estate at Oaklawn Park in an allowance race, finishing second as the favorite.

"She likes it here," said Howard. "If we want to run her in the Kentucky Oaks, I don't think there are any 1 1/8-mile races for her, and I don't want to run her at Keeneland. With that short stretch she has no chance. She's a plodder, so we want to give her a chance through the long Fair Grounds stretch."

Though still eligible for a nonwinners-of-two allowance, Soul Search will take on graded stakes winners in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Summerly won the Grade 3 Silverbulletday, the prep race for this, in her last start, and Runway Model beat Summerly in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November. Eyes on Eddy and Enduring Will, second and third in the Silverbulletday, are also expected to run Saturday, along with California invader Memorette, who ran second in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes last month at Santa Anita. Charming Colleen, third in the Las Virgenes, and Carlea, second in an Oaklawn stakes last out, are considered possible.

Alumni Hall, who will represent Howard in the Grade 2, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap on Saturday, breezed a half-mile in 48.40 seconds Tuesday. He most recently finished third in the Mineshaft Handicap here Feb. 12.

"That's a big work for him," Howard said. "He's not a fast work horse."

Others expected for the race include Badge of Silver, Colonial Colony, Formal Attire, Freefour-internet, Limehouse, Outta Here, Pollard's Vision, and Wanderin Boy, who won the Mineshaft.

Stakes winners in one-mile clash

A small field of stakes-tested horses will assemble in Thursday's feature race at Fair Grounds, a $62,500 optional claimer at a mile over the main track.

The aptly named Most Feared is the class of the race, although he has not won since his 2-year-old season in 2002, when he won the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity at Arlington Park. After finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Most Feared placed third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. He returned as a 3-year-old and finished third in the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby and the Texas Stallion Stakes. He raced only once as a 4-year-old last year and went back on the shelf, but is looking good in the mornings for trainer Jack Bruner. Most Feared turned in a five-furlong work in a bullet 59.60 for his return.

Trieste's Honor, winner of last year's California Derby and third in the Grade 2 Ohio Derby, is in good form for trainer Michael Stidham. A 4-year-old son of Old Trieste, Trieste's Honor ran a lifetime-best Beyer Speed Figure of 93 in an off-the-turf 1 1/8-mile race at Fair Grounds last month, finishing second to Dynareign after leading most of the way. Third-place finisher Dignified Donovan flattered that form with a subsequent victory. Trieste's Honor will have leading Fair Grounds jockey Robby Albarado aboard.

Majestic Thief has done most of his running on turf, but won the Mardi Gras Handicap at Fair Grounds last year, when the race was washed off the grass. Big Bold Sweep ran second in the Lightning Jet Handicap at Hawthorne in November. The speedy Distinct Vision was the runner-up in the Owners Day Handicap at Delaware.

Fair Grounds adds purse money

Beginning March 11, Fair Grounds will implement a 12-percent increase in overnight purse money. The increase will apply to the final 12 days of the season and does not include stakes races. The average of $24,000 per day has been funded by increased ontrack handle and simulcast sales of the track's live racing card.

"It is especially gratifying that we are able to make this [increase], even though we have already paid $500,000 more in purses to date than we did last season," said Randall Soth, Fair Grounds president and general manager, in a prepared statement.

The in-season purse increase is the first at Fair Grounds since 2001.

Stewards fine trainers

Fair Grounds stewards levied fines against two trainers last week after discovering traces of banned substances in post-race tests. Trainer Jeff Mullins was fined $1,000 after Mighty Beau, who finished second in the Feb. 12 Taylor's Special Handicap, tested positive for ranitidine, an anti-ulcer drug. Trainer Tom Amoss was fined $500 after Pye King, who won the sixth race Feb. 8, tested positive for pentoxifylline, a therapeutic medication used to aid circulation of blood in a horse's feet. The medication is legal to use except on race days. Neither substance is considered a performance-enhancing drug.

- additional reporting by John Swenson