05/06/2008 11:00PM

Californians find reason to return


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - The last time trainers Vladimir Cerin and Bob Hess Jr. started a horse at Lone Star Park, they won significant stakes races. Cerin sent out Luftikus to capture the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap in 2000, while Hess trainee Spring Meadow won the $150,000 Stonerside in 2002. Saturday, both return for the first time since their local stakes triumphs to run horses in the Grade 3, $400,000 Lone Star Derby.

"I've always hoped to get back," said Hess. "I just needed the right kind of horse."

Hess has the promising Limestone Edge on deck for the Lone Star Derby, while Cerin will be represented by stakes winner Leonides. The horses are legitimate contenders in the projected derby field of 13, which is led by Samba Rooster and El Gato Malo. The race is one of three 1 1/16-mile stakes on Saturday's card. The others are a pair of 3-year-old divisions of the $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes, expected to draw Gold Coyote and Ablaze With Spirit.

Limestone Edge invades from Keeneland, where in his last start he won a first-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles on April 12. Among those he defeated was Tizdejavu, who one start later won the Grade 3 Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill Downs. Earlier in his career, Limestone Edge won his maiden at Santa Anita over Medjool and Tres Borrachos, both of whom went on to place in Grade 2 stakes, with Tres Borrachos now being pointed for the Preakness.

"We think he has a good amount of ability," Hess said of Limestone Edge. "I think this is a perfect race to test his potential."

Limestone Edge, who is 2 for 4, is a grand-looking son of Cat Thief. Hess estimated he stands more than 16.2 hands tall and weighs more than 1,200 pounds. Corey Lanerie has the mount in the Lone Star Derby, a race in which Limestone Edge figures to be tracking Samba Rooster.

"I think he can lay back or be very tactical," Hess said of Limestone Edge. "It just depends on the pace."

Leonides also has tactical speed, and he could get a tracking trip Saturday under Richard Migliore.

"We don't have to have the lead," said Cerin. "He certainly doesn't have to have it in a sprint, so if we could just sit off the pace it would be ideal."

Leonides will be making his two-turn debut Saturday following a runner-up finish to Salute the Sarge in the $78,000 San Miguel at six furlongs at Santa Anita in his last start, March 29. Prior to that race, the horse was a dominant, 4 1/2-length winner of the $31,000 Palo Verde at 6 1/2 furlongs at Turf Paradise on Feb. 25. The race was his first start since finishing fourth, beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Georgie Boy, in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity.

"I think he's a high-caliber horse," Cerin said of Leonides, a son of Richter Scale. "I thought this would be a good place to stretch him out. If you have a 3-year-old, you're definitely tempted to try two turns.

"He's a very poised individual and he's a very athletic horse," said Cerin.

As of Wednesday, others expected for the Lone Star Derby are Golden Yank, My Pal Charlie, Poni Colada, King's Silver Son, Texas Wildcatter, Ide Like a Double, Isabull, Real Appeal, and Fort Apache. The field size will be limited to 14.

Cliff Berry, who leads the standings at Lone Star, has the mount on Golden Yank, said trainer Gary Thomas. The horse is the highest earner in the projected field, with a bankroll of $279,832.

Bullet work for Force Freeze

Force Freeze worked a bullet half-mile in 47.20 seconds on Wednesday in preparation for a start in the Grade 3, $100,000 Hirsch Jacobs Memorial at six furlongs at Pimlico on the Preakness undercard May 17. In his most recent start, he won an allowance at Lone Star last month with a Beyer Figure of 97.

"He worked super," said Allen Milligan, who trains Force Freeze.

Force Freeze was scheduled to van out of Lone Star on Thursday, headed for Maryland.

Berry has the mount in the Jacobs.

* My Three Sisters and Emma Grace, who finished second and third last out in the $50,000 Irving Distaff, return to the overnight ranks for Friday night's featured ninth race. Both will start as top contenders in a one-mile turf allowance for fillies and mares, with favoritism expected to go to My Three Sisters.