02/10/2007 12:00AM

Chip Hunter owns big class edge

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NEW ORLEANS - Trainer James Hodges would rather not run his stakes-winning Louisiana-bred Chip Hunter against open company, but Monday's feature race at Fair Grounds, an entry-level allowance at a mile on the grass, is too inviting a spot.

That's because Chip Hunter's allowance and stakes wins against statebreds don't count under the conditions of the race, giving him a class edge. Lifetime earnings of $163,585 make the 5-year-old Chip Hunter the richest horse in the field.

While none of his rivals has more than three victories, Chip Hunter has won six races, including the $73,000 A.L. "Red" Erwin Stakes at Louisiana Downs.

"This is the first time I've entered him since Champions Day," said Hodges. "There hasn't been anything for him on the turf and I didn't want to run him on the dirt. I'd rather run against statebreds but you have to do what you have to do."

Chip Hunter finished a fast-closing second to Desert Wheat in the Louisiana Turf on Champions Day in December.

"He came out of the race real good and I think he'll run real good Monday," Hodges said.

The Steve Asmussen-trained Willist, one of two other Louisiana-breds in the race, also benefits from the condition since his second-level allowance victory over statebreds last week doesn't count against his eligibility in here. The 4-year-old Willist is a hard-trying sort who usually earns a check, with a record of 3-2-5 in 16 lifetime starts. Brush With Danger also has a pair of allowance wins against statebreds.

There are plenty of grass runners on the grounds and the race drew a full field. Fongtastic should be a tough customer off his second-place finish to repeat winner Transduction Gold. Chislehurst finished third in that race after leading in the stretch, then finished third to I Believe in Me over a yielding course after making the lead again.

Danseur's Gold, a 4-year-old gelding, has been running well in this condition and is going to win one of these at some point.

* Fair Grounds will race on Monday, March 12, to make up for the Dec. 21 program that was canceled due to inclement weather.