09/21/2007 12:00AM

California shippers challenge Orphan Brigade

EmailSouthern California shippers Tontine Too and Areyoutalkintome will meet defending champ Orphan Brigade on Sunday in the $150,000 Premier Breeders' Cup, the first Thoroughbred stakes of the meet at Zia Park in Hobbs, N.M.

The six-furlong race drew a field of eight, among them recent stakes winners Whirl and Smoke Mountain.

Tontine Too, a winner of 4 of 6 starts, made his stakes debut in his last start Feb. 17. He finished a troubled sixth, five lengths behind Gradeo1 winners Latent Heat and Proud Tower Too, in the Grade 2 San Carlos at Santa Anita.

"We were in with really stiff company, and things didn't go swimmingly," said Howie Zucker, who trains Tontine Too. "He got bumped pretty good. We decided it was time to give him a little break.

"He had a good first campaign. We're starting a second campaign."

Tontine Too won four races in his first five starts, among them an $80,000 optional claiming sprint at Santa Anita on Jan. 19. He won that 6 1/2-furlong race with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102. Brian Long has the mount on Tontine Too, who will break from post 2.

"He's got a a lot of natural speed," said Zucker. "From the inside, he'll be up there."

Areyoutalkintome is teetering on millionaire status with earnings of $972,065. A four-time stakes winner, he comes into the Premier off a fourth-place finish in the $90,000 Pirate's Bounty. The restricted stakes was run at Del Mar on Sept. 5.

Areyoutalkintome can be effective from off the pace, and lands in a field that drew a handful of front-runners. Ken Tohill, who was the leading Thoroughbred rider last year at Zia, has the mount for trainer Terry Knight.

Orphan Brigade won last year's Premier by a neck. He has finished no worse than third in his last seven starts, including wins in two allowance races at Lone Star Park. He comes into this year's Premier off a runner-up finish to Whirl in the $45,000 Charlie Iles Express at Albuquerque on Sept. 2. Bret Calhoun trains Orphan Brigade and has given the mount to Casey Lambert.

Alex Jimenez will ride Whirl, who is a son of Unbridled's Song and the mare Charm, a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Banshee Breeze. Whirl is trained by Greg Green.

Also in the field is multiple stakes winner Majestic Stream.