03/13/2010 12:00AM

Blue Smoke Bess worth a look

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NEW ORLEANS - The Illinois-based trainer Chris Block has sent a handful of horses out at the ongoing Tampa Bay Downs meet, but for the most part, wintertime means down time for the Block stable. The horses Block trains who aren't given a winter break have headed to New Orleans the last several seasons, and this year, the Block expatriates here at Fair Grounds are split between trainers Neil Pessin and Richie Scherer. Monday's featured race 9, in fact, is in part an ex-Block vs. ex-Block contest, with Pessin-trained Askbut I Won'ttell and Scherer-trained Blue Smoke Bess both win possibilities in an eight-horse field.

The Monday feature is carded at about 1 1/16 miles on turf for second-level allowance fillies or $40,000 claimers. Askbut I Won'ttell probably will be favored, but Blue Smoke Bess has a chance, too. Askbut I Won'ttell made one start at Arlington for Block late this summer before joining up with Pessin at Keeneland. There, she won an entry-level allowance race on grass, and in her first start at Fair Grounds ran third in the Dec. 5 Pago Hop.

But one could argue that Askbut I Won'ttell hasn't progressed much since the Pago Hop. She was third in an off-the-turf allowance race Dec. 31, then a close second in her most recent race on Jan. 23. Both performances were perfectly acceptable, but she does not appear to be anything like a standout Monday.

Neither, of course, is Blue Smoke Bess, but at longer odds this 5-year-old mare is worth a look. Blue Smoke Bess was a synthetic-track sprinter in conditioned claimers when Block conducted a turf experiment on Sept. 19, the results of which were favorable. Held up in last place, Blue Smoke Bess slalomed between horses while charging through the stretch, and went from sixth by seven lengths at the stretch call to first by a half-length at the finish. Her rider that day, James Graham, is back aboard for the first time since then on Monday. And the ride on Blue Smoke Bess seems to mean everything. In turf races where she was kept

closer to the pace, Blue Smoke Bess has not performed nearly as well. But on Feb. 7, under Pat Valenzuela, Blue Smoke Bess once again produced only in the stretch, and she won that day, as well.

Valenzuela, it should be noted, lands on second-after-long-layoff runner Pretty Squall. Pretty Squall should be forwardly placed as she drops in class - a potential ex-Block party crasher.