02/15/2007 1:00AM

Culinary at a career turning point

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NEW ORLEANS - The biggest question mark in the $75,000 Chou Croute Breeders' Cup Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds applies to Culinary. A multiple stakes winner, she would be tough as nails at her best but could be facing retirement if she turns in a poor showing here.

The Chou Croute, for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles, drew a field of six, five of them stakes winners. Culinary's toughest rivals figure to be Delicate Dynamite, the likely favorite, and Eyes on Eddy.

Culinary won the Sam Houston Distaff Handicap last year, and in 2005 she won the Furl Sail Handicap. A 5-year-old mare trained by Michael Stidham, she had an outstanding 5-3-0 record in 12 starts after winning the Sam Houston Distaff but has gone six races without a victory since. She got a freshening from April to December. In her return, she showed good speed in the Treasure Chest at Delta Downs before fading to fourth. She ran very poorly at 3-1 in the Furl Sail on New Year's Eve, then ran another bad race in this year's Sam Houston Distaff.

"I wish I had some answers," said Stidham. "She's doing great in the mornings. She's happy, she's working well, she's in great condition. But she hasn't shown it in the afternoons. We're baffled."

Stidham said that if Culinary hadn't been working so well - she has turned in bullet half-miles in her last two moves - she might have been retired after her recent performances.

"We're hoping she decides to put it back together," said Stidham, "but if she doesn't run well this time we'll probably send her to the breeding shed."

Delicate Dynamite started off the Fair Grounds meet as a promising turf filly, finishing second in the Pago Hop in November. Trained by Tom Amoss, Delicate Dynamite blossomed into a main-track star when she won an off-the-turf allowance and turned in an impressive performance on the dirt last month winning the Truly Bound Handicap.

Eyes on Eddy, who finished second to Delicate Dynamite in the Truly Bound in her first start for trainer Steve Asmussen, is a multiple stakes winner who won the $100,000 Suwanee River Handicap at Gulfstream Park last year. She had been off since October before the Truly Bound and might have needed the race. Asmussen also entered Rolling Sea in the Chou Croute. Uncoupled with Eyes on Eddy, Rolling Sea won a restricted allowance race last time out by more than seven lengths.