11/03/2005 12:00AM

Big fig French Park steps way up


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The familiar dilemma of whether a flashy first-out Beyer Speed Figure can trump less spectacular but more established form will be part of the handicapping equation Saturday when French Park steps up in the one-mile Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs.

French Park earned a 95 Beyer when rolling to a 12-length triumph under Mark Guidry in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race on Oct. 20 at Keeneland. Trainer Helen Pitts said Thursday that running a horse in a stakes race in her second career start "is not my style," but that French Park has shown her enough to have earned a shot.

"It's a tough call," said Pitts. "I don't want to say she's strictly a sprinter, because the way she's trained, and on Mark's opinion, she ought to be able to get the mile."

Pitts, a 31-year-old Maryland native who assumed the training of most of Ken McPeek's stable in July, is keenly aware that horses with huge first races frequently regress in their second starts, especially when faced with changes in class and/or distance.

"She's got the right mind for this," she said. "It was either the Pocahontas or go in an other-than allowance around two turns. The way she won first out, you can't take anything away from her."

Among the other logical contenders in a field of 13 are Performing Diva and Coolwind, the respective third- and fourth-place finishers in the Grade 2 Alcibiades at Keeneland, and Swept Gold, who retains Rafael Bejarano off a fast-closing runner-up finish in a recent allowance sprint at Keeneland.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a three-time winner of the Pocahontas, is represented Saturday by the uncoupled duo of Mykindasaint and Dance Daily.

The $100,000 Pocahontas is the main prep for the Nov. 26 Golden Rod.

Stidham counting on Charley Tango

Normally at this time of year, Mike Stidham is preparing to take his best horses to Fair Grounds, but like dozens of other trainers, he has made contingency plans because of the devastation that struck New Orleans and forced Fair Grounds to close this year.

Stidham currently has horses at four tracks: Churchill, Hawthorne, Sam Houston, and Louisiana Downs. By the end of the month, he will have most of his horses in Houston and Louisiana, but before then, he wants to leave Kentucky feeling like he got something right. One of the best ways for that to happen is to have Charley Tango get back in form.

Charley Tango, like the rest of the Stidham stable, had a rough Keeneland meet (Stidham was 0 for 7 there). In the Oct. 8 Breeders' Futurity, Charley Tango "kind of got ping-ponged into the first turn," said Stidham, and the colt quickly dropped from contention to finish eighth, beaten 22 lengths.

Saturday, Charley Tango will have a chance at redemption in the Iroquois Stakes, a race that should signal whether the colt belongs with the best of the 2-year-old division. Charley Tango, by Maria's Mon, began his career with two Arlington Park wins, then a runner-up finish behind Sorcerer's Stone in the Arlington-Washington Futurity, before the Breeders' Futurity debacle.

"We're putting blinkers on him Saturday, hoping that will help him get refocused," said Stidham. "He's always done things nicely. He won his first two pretty easily and made us think he's a nice horse. If you can throw out the Keeneland race, you've got to give him a shot."

Albarado appeals suspension

Chief steward John Veitch said jockey Robby Albarado is appealing a suspension stemming from the disqualification of Albarado's mount, Gold Mask, from second to fourth in the eighth race Wednesday.

The five-day suspension was supposed to be in effect from Sunday through Friday, but the appeal will allow Albarado to continue riding, pending a hearing before the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.

The stewards also suspended apprentice Dane Kobiskie for five racing days, effective Sunday, for the disqualification of Theoretical in the last race Sunday. Kobiskie's agent, Steve Elzey, said he would decide Friday whether or not to file an appeal.

'Fanta-Bet' offers $10,000 top prize

Churchill and United Tote began a new wagering competition known as "Fanta-Bet" on Thursday. The meet-long competition, available ontrack only, costs $20 per day and is based on fantasy bankrolls. The grand prize of $10,000 (or a $10,000 seat at the 2006 World Series of Poker) will be awarded to the person with the highest one-day fantasy bankroll at the meet. A wide variety of daily prizes also are being offered.

Fanta-Bet will not be played on Wednesdays, when Churchill is running its regular handicapping contest.

Stars of Tomorrow idea nothing new

The "Stars of Tomorrow" concept that Churchill is employing for the first time Saturday was borrowed from its sister track, Calder in south Florida.

"Calder has done it twice, and the response from horsemen and fans has been good," said Churchill racing secretary Doug Bredar. "It looks like it should work really well here, too."

Hollywood turf horses are invited

With Hollywood Park closing its turf course for its upcoming fall meet, Donnie Richardson, Churchill senior vice president of racing, said California horsemen "are more than welcome" to send their grass horses to Churchill for upcoming stakes and allowance races.

Nominations are closed for the Commonwealth Turf and Mrs. Revere next weekend, but supplementary nominations are available. Meanwhile, nominations close Saturday for the Nov. 19 Cardinal Handicap and Nov. 20 River City Handicap.

Pick four guarantees should be met

Churchill apparently will have no trouble covering its new guarantees in the late pick four. The first such guarantee occurred Wednesday, when $108,769 was wagered.

During the fall meet, Churchill is guaranteeing a $50,000 pool in the late pick four every weekday card and $100,000 on weekend cards.

* One of the most popular promotions at Churchill is the Chili Cookoff, which will be held for the 10th straight year on Saturday. Besides a wide variety of chili samples from area restaurants, there also will be an infield concert by country-music star Patty Loveless, and an ontrack appearance by Sonadar from the new movie "Dreamer."