01/27/2009 1:00AM

Catmantoo may fire first time back


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Trainer Tim Ice's stable has been anything but cold at Oaklawn. He has won with 3 of his first 10 starters at the young meet and will attempt to keep the momentum going on Thursday when he sends out Catmantoo against a sharp House of Usher in the eighth race.

The field of older horses in the $40,000 optional claimer at a mile also includes Numismatist, third in the $150,000 Zia Park Derby in December; Samhoon, who last raced at Aqueduct, and Menacing, a stakes performer for trainer Tim Ritchey.

Catmantoo has run close to such stakes winners as Mambo in Seattle, Steve's Double, and Won Awesome Dude. Thursday's race will be his first since Sept. 10, when he was third in a $32,000 optional claiming race at Monmouth Park.

"I have three or four five-eighths breezes in him and he's galloped out pretty strong, so I know he's fit," said Ice, who has had Catmantoo in his stable since Dec. 1.

"He's a hard-knocker. Every time he's right there. It looks like it doesn't matter what he runs up against. He pretty well handles himself so we're looking for a good race."

Catmantoo will be making his first start for Ice, a 34-year-old former assistant to trainers Keith Desormeaux and Morris Nicks who went out on his own in June. Catmantoo exits a key race, out of which the runner-up, Loveyouintheworld, and the fifth-place finisher, Silver Light, returned to win optional claiming races in their next starts with respective Beyer Figures of 91 and 101.

Leading rider Terry Thompson has the mount on Catmantoo, who will break from post 2.

House of Usher, a $10,000 claim by Maggi Moss and trainer Chris Richard in December 2007, is seeking his fourth straight win. He began his streak with back-to-back $5,000 starter allowance wins at Churchill in October and November, and in his most recent out overcame trouble for a nose win in a $50,000 optional claimer, also at Churchill.

"He's been a fun horse," said Richard. "Basically, he's been first or second every single time we've run him on dirt.

"He's on a three-race win streak coming in, and this will probably be his toughest test yet."