08/31/2006 11:00PM

Cinnamon Strike ready for rise


BOSSIER CITY, La. - Cinnamon Strike, an impressive winner at first asking at the difficult debut distance of seven furlongs, will attempt to take another step through her conditions at Louisiana Downs on Sunday as she goes against 10 foes in an optional claiming race.

In a bargain buy, Cinnamon Strike cost only $9,800 as a weanling at the Keeneland November sale in 2003. Trained by Wes Hawley, she attracted attention in the mornings early this summer with several strong workouts. Her coming-out party came on July 28, and the daughter of Smart Strike was hardly a secret at 2-1 on the tote board. To the joy of her backers, she battled up front early, put the other speed away in a blistering six-furlong fraction of 1:09.90, and ran the seven furlongs in 1:24. Her victims that day included favored Ariad's Cape, whom Cinnamon Strike will again face on Sunday after that rival got a maiden win of her own here Aug. 18. Lonnie Meche again will ride.

The main obstacle to Cinnamon Strike on Sunday appears to be Stormy Light. Now in the barn of perennial leading trainer Cole Norman, Stormy Light was last seen at Lone Star Park, running second in the Valor Stakes for Texas-breds while still being trained by John Barger. Stormy Light won at first asking when she rallied from far off the pace with a furious late run after dwelling at the start in a maiden claiming race here in early June. Norman will add blinkers to Stormy Light's equipment for her return, and leading rider Carlos Gonzalez will be aboard.

With plenty of attention given to the two fast-developing fillies in the race, veteran Mandy Lea could be a value play if she is overlooked.

She comes in off a freshening for trainer Jerry Hardin following a third-place finish in a second-level allowance here in May.

A winner of three races, Mandy Lea has won from off the pace, and that running style might serve her well on Sunday because there is ample speed in the field. Anthony Lovato will ride.

Blushing Sugarplum might also be a factor after her third-place finish in a similar spot in her last start. She has raced well here this year, finishing worse than third only once in six starts - a fifth-place finish in the Dixie Miss Stakes.

Tracy Hebert rides Blushing Sugarplum for trainer Ronnie Ward.