01/13/2006 12:00AM

Chinese Dragon to ship in from West

Benoit & Associates
Fort Prado (above) will face old rival Onthedeanslist and shipper Chinese Dragon in the Fair Grounds BC.

BOSSIER CITY, La. - It is not all that easy to fly a horse into Louisiana Downs - unless you're willing to pay for it. And the connections of the good California turf horse Chinese Dragon have found reason to ante up the cash to fly here for next weekend's Grade 3 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Chinese Dragon's presence adds luster to a busy closing weekend here at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs. There are four stakes on both Saturday and Sunday, three each day for Louisiana-breds, with the Fair Grounds BC slated for Saturday, and the Black Gold for 3-year-old grass horses situated on Sunday's closing-day card.

The Fair Grounds BC already had a decent story line with a rematch between Onthedeanslist and Fort Prado, the one-two finishers on this grass course last month in the Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap. But adding Chinese Dragon to the mix will make things interesting. Based at Santa Anita with trainer Bob Hess, Chinese Dragon has won 5 of 6 starts since being imported from Ireland, and he took a division of the Sir Beaufort Stakes run Dec. 24 at Santa Anita.

"Weather permitting, he's coming," Hess said. And the reason is straightforward: The Fair Grounds BC is a Grade 3, and Chinese Dragon has raced only in listed stakes.

"For all that he's done, and all the nice horses he's run against and beaten, he's never won a graded stake," said Hess. "We're trying to get that behind him, and then maybe get him back here and run in the Kilroe."

Chinese Dragon breezed an easy five furlongs Friday morning in California. Fort Prado, based here at Louisiana Downs with Jeff Trosclair, will have his final work for the Fair Grounds BC on Sunday, Trosclair said. Fort Prado was favored to win the Bradley, but Onthedeanslist, who is with Ralph Nicks at Oaklawn Park, got away with a soft pace and held off the closing Fort Prado.

Zarb's Dahar turned out for a while

One prominent horse who won't be in action here next weekend is Zarb's Dahar, who has won two stakes this meet, but has been sent to his owner's farm to recover from some physical issues. Trainer Sweet Hodges said Zarb's Dahar would be turned out at the Foxwood Plantation not far from Louisiana Downs for at least 60 days as he recovers from sore legs. Zarb's Dahar's problems began with a quarter crack in his hoof, but Hodges said the horse also had developed soreness high up in his suspensory ligaments.

"He's never been sore in these places before," Hodges said.

The Louisiana-bred Zarb's Dahar won the Thanksgiving Handicap here in November, and came back on fairly short rest to win the Louisiana Champions Day Sprint. That victory gave him 11 wins from 12 starts at Louisiana Downs, but Zarb's Dahar had to work hard to beat a horse he had handled fairly easily in the past.

"We'll get the same horse back," Hodges said, "but just a year older."

Business up for Donnie Meche

Donnie Meche, who is on about his ninth life now as a jockey, won his second race since his comeback on Thursday. Meche's business has started picking up, and he hopes to gain some momentum heading into the Oaklawn Park meet after returning from a long suspension two weeks ago.

"I feel a lot fitter than I did the first week," Meche said before Friday's first race. "There's nothing like actually riding to get you fit."

Meche hunkered down in the Lafayette, La., area after Oaklawn Park stewards suspended him last spring, Meche's second long suspension in three years, this one for refusing to submit to a drug test. Meche galloped some horses, and actually went to work at a wood factory near his home.

"I'd never done anything for work except horses before that," Meche said.

But Meche is back again, even riding occasionally now for his one-time major client, Steve Asmussen. Criticized in the past for his work ethic, Meche so far this comeback has been prompt for morning workouts. He looks healthy, and is happy to be riding alongside his young brother, the apprentice rider Cody Meche.

"I feel excellent right now," Meche said.

Cougar Cat skips Duncan Kenner

Cougar Cat, one of the most impressive allowance winners this meet, was nominated to Saturday's Duncan Kenner Handicap, but trainer Ronny Werner passed the race. He said Cougar Cat could run back Feb. 4 in the King Cotton at Oaklawn Park.

Cougar Cat, a 4-year-old son of Storm Cat and the top-class racemare Excellent Meeting, started his career in Europe, winning once as a 3-year-old. Purchased privately, he finished a troubled third at Churchill in his U.S. debut, and broke through with a fast entry-level allowance victory here Dec. 28. Werner is high on the colt, and said he has trained well since his entry-level allowance score.

* There will only be three days of racing here next week: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which is closing day.