06/07/2007 12:00AM

Chip Hunter no longshot this time

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Chip Hunter, third in the John Franks Memorial Stakes in his last start, returns to optional claiming company on Saturday at Louisiana Downs. The $31,000 race drew a field of nine, including an entry and one horse entered for the main track only.

A second-level Louisiana-bred allowance with a $35,000 claiming option, the race will be run at about one mile on the turf.

In the Franks Memorial last month, Chip Hunter was making his first start following a Fair Grounds campaign that saw him defeat open allowance company in mid-February and finish a solid second in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf at

40-1 in early December. Trained by James Hodges, Chip Hunter will not be close to that price on Saturday, as he looks like the one to beat. Hodges has given the return call to jockey Carlos Gonzalez.

Trainer Sturges Ducoing will send out the tandem of Liquid Silver and Switch Grass Gas. Liquid Silver, a Grindstone colt, saw his streak of five straight trifecta finishes come to an end in the Franks Memorial when he turned in an uninspired eighth-place performance. That effort was Liquid Silver's first start after time on the sidelines following his busy winter campaign; he should be tighter in his second start back.

Switch Grass Gas is scheduled to make his first start on the turf on Saturday. The 3-year-old gelding, a son of the crack sprinter Malagra, last raced at Evangeline Downs in mid-April, capturing a first-level allowance. Ducoing named leading rider John Jacinto on both halves of the entry.

The one to catch on Saturday appears to be Cresent Deputy, who set almost all the pace in the Franks before faltering in the late going to report home fourth. The turf rail is scheduled to be out the maximum 25 feet this week, and in seasons past, that scenario has treated front-runners the best here. Cody Meche was named to ride by trainer Denise Schmidt.

With the forecast hinting at the possibility of afternoon showers, Tiger Monarch will rate as a major player should the feature be rained off to the main track. Trained by Jorge Lara, the 5-year-old is coming off a second-place performance in the Vilaxy Starter Stakes here on May 12. Prior to that effort, Tiger Monarch led every step of the way for a victory against optional claiming company at Oaklawn Park in early April.