11/27/2002 1:00AM

Carroll hoping Handpainted's a masterpiece


NEW ORLEANS - Handpainted, a 2-year-old A.P. Indy filly who has a good chance of being named a Canadian champion, was to arrive Thursday at Fair Grounds, where trainer Josie Carroll will prepare her for a start in the March 8 Fair Grounds Oaks.

A homebred owned by John and Glenn Sikura, Handpainted began her career at Woodbine and won her first three starts - two of them $125,000 stakes - by a combined 11 lengths. But in the Grade 2 Mazarine on Sept. 21, Handpainted got her right hind leg hung up in the gate and suffered serious lacerations, though still she managed to finish second in the race.

"It did actually go into her tendon," Carroll said of the injury. "But the healing went very well. The target is the Oaks."

Handpainted has been recovering the last two months at the Sikuras' Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Kentucky, and Carroll thinks "it shouldn't take a lot to get her ready. She keeps herself pretty fit."

Handpainted is bred to improve with age and distance, making her precocity and the speed she showed winning sprints all the more exceptional.

"She was ready physically and mentally to go early, but we thought all along she'll be a two-turn horse," said Carroll.

Carroll has more to look forward to this meet than Handpainted. She has several promising 2-year-olds - including the stakes winner Buffalo Jump - among her 30 horses at Fair Grounds.

Valhol back for more

Valhol, unraced since going off form late in the spring, worked a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 here Tuesday in preparation for the Dec. 8 Tenacious Handicap. Valhol won the Tenacious and the $125,000 Whirlaway here last year, but at 5-2 he finished eighth, beaten more than 20 lengths, in the New Orleans Handicap. His race in the subsequent Lone Star Park Handicap was little better, and after the race Valhol was diagnosed with an ankle chip.

"They did surgery and found it was trying to turn into a condylar fracture," said Dallas Keen, who trains Valhol for owner Jim Jackson. "It went real well, though."

This is Valhol's fourth season at Fair Grounds, but though he ran well last year, his 1999 campaign here remains his most notable. He went from a second-place finish in his career debut to finish a close fourth in the Louisiana Derby, then won the Arkansas Derby as a maiden. Valhol later was stripped of the victory when his rider was found to have carried an electrical device.

Valhol has been through much worse, however. He's had bone chips in his knees, a broken splint bone, and two summers ago nearly died of pneumonia. But Valhol battles on, and for this comeback he has posted four public works, and the last two, including Tuesday's, were strong.

"He's got full flex in the ankle," Keen said. "He's training real good and eating good. He did that work the other day easy, and that was on a fairly dead track, so that's nice."

Fifty Stars on comeback trail

Valhol is not the only comeback horse pointing for the Tenacious. Fifty Stars, who worked six furlongs here Wednesday in 1:15, also will start in the race if all goes well in the next week, trainer Steve Asmussen said.

Fifty Stars won the Louisiana Derby two seasons ago but suffered a serious injury two months later in the Kentucky Derby. Asmussen had him ready for a comeback last year at this meet, but Fifty Stars broke a splint bone and went to the sidelines again. His recovery from that injury was lengthy, and he ran poorly in his comeback race Nov. 1 at Churchill, finishing ninth, beaten 12 lengths. But at a mile, the distance was shorter than Fifty Stars needs for his best, and Asmussen thinks the horse was rusty.

"We were a little disappointed, but being a mile and after 18 months, he wasn't at his best," Asmussen said. "His form's definitely not back yet to the Louisiana Derby, but I'm happy with where he's at. Knock on wood, his leg is good. For a closer, he had good energy in his work, and he came back from it well."

Fifty Stars essentially is ready for the Tenacious, which will be something of a bellwether race for him.

Wednesday, Asmussen spent much of the morning getting horses ready for the Great State Challenge at Sam Houston: Easyfromthegitgo (1:14), Posse (1:14), and Souris (1:15.20) all worked six furlongs.

- Wholetthebullout was the obvious star of Wednesday's three training races. Racing just behind the early pace, Wholetthebullout made the lead coming off the turn under little urging from jockey Jamie Theriot and went on to a six-length win. Trained by Tom Amoss, she was timed in 1:01.60 for five furlongs, and galloped out nearly a half-furlong in front of her rivals while making a highly positive visible impression.

- After a glut of entries on opening day, things were tougher here Wednesday, and neither of the two best races in the condition book drew close to enough entries to make it onto the Friday program. Without them, the card lacks quality, and perhaps the best race of the day is the first, a 2-year-old maiden sprint.