12/06/2007 12:00AM

Cheroot dangerous on back class

EmailMaybe Cheroot isn't the horse he was when he was beating the best California-breds around and earning a shot in a couple of Grade 2 stakes in Southern California, but the West Coast raider still has enough punch to be dangerous in Saturday's $45,000 Hank Mills Sr. Handicap at Turf Paradise. The one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up drew a field of nine.

There's an extra dimension that handicappers must consider, because the forecast is for heavy rain Friday and Saturday and there will probably be a wet track.

Cheroot, owned by Charlotte Wrather and trained by Darrell Vienna, has speed and can carry it a ways. In July 2006, he defeated tough optional claimers in a turf route at Hollywood Park, then ran second in the California Cup Classic at Oak Tree in October, and won the On Trust Handicap at Hollywood in December. He dueled and faltered in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita on Jan. 7, then fell off the radar until the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita in the fall - when he ran seventh in an allowance race and seventh in the Cal Cup Classic.

Cheroot has been freshened since and worked well for what will be his first start at Turf Paradise. He ran third in his one wet-track start. Mick Ruis will ride.

Nationhood has routed only once, on turf, finishing seventh. But that was back in March, when he was still a maiden. A few months later, Nationhood graduated in a sprint race at Hollywood Park, then went on a tear, winning four straight - three at Emerald Downs and then the Zip Pocket here at Turf Paradise on Oct. 16. He kept on gamely to run second, beaten a head, in the Caballos del Sol sprint here Nov. 3 as the 3-10 favorite. If he handles the added ground on Saturday, he will be dangerous. He ran third in his only previous wet-track try. Seth Martinez rides.

Gold Bankers Gold has flourished since coming to Turf Paradise, winning three straight starts, then running second in a turf optional claimer here Nov. 13 for trainer Troy Bainum. Gold Bankers Gold has won 14 races, including one on wet going.

Highland Games was no factor when 10th in the Walter R. Cluer on the turf on opening day, Oct. 5, but bounced back with a smashing wire-to-wire win in the Black Mountain Handicap at a mile on Oct. 27, earning a strong 96 Beyer Speed Figure. All four of Highland Games's wins are on this track, and he is 3 for 4 at a mile.

Skipaslew has two seconds since coming here from California, including one in the Black Mountain when he was defeated by Highland Games. But Skipaslew might well relish the footing on Saturday. A son of Skip Away, he is 2 for 2 lifetime on wet tracks.