12/15/2009 12:00AM

The Darp discovers his niche


NEW ORLEANS - The Darp has been a tough puzzle for trainer Ronny Werner to solve. The Darp has shown flashes of brilliance, enough to merit running in stakes, and he has shown up at some point each race, though rarely in the winner's circle.

That might be beginning to change as The Darp has figured out how to relax, and Werner seems to have figured out The Darp's specialty.

The Darp returns in Thursday's featured eighth race at Fair Grounds, a second-level optional $40,000 claimer scheduled for 5 1/2 furlongs on turf.

In his first races locally, The Darp was all speed. Those tactics worked for him when he won his maiden two years ago by 9 1/4 lengths.

After that race, The Darp was unable to put all the pieces together. Sometimes he raced early, sometimes he made a late run, but his efforts fell short as he lost 10 straight.

Then last time out, in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance on turf here, The Darp, a 4-year-old gelding, really relaxed, trailing the field by as many as 11 lengths before prevailing by a neck.

Werner attributes The Darp's improvement to maturation and finding the right type of race for him.

"He's older and wiser, and like a lot of them, as they get older they settle more, get relaxed early, and then can run their race," said Werner. "Plus, we were trying to run him long on the dirt and he needed short on the turf."

While Werner believes The Darp prefers the turf, he intends to let him run should the race be moved off the grass. Although Wednesday and Thursday were predicted to be drier, the turf course was inundated from Saturday through Tuesday and may not be ready for the races.

"I like him better on turf, but you've still got that long stretch on the dirt here," said Werner.

Should the race remain on the turf, 8-year-old Atticus Kristy will be dangerous. Atticus Kristy, who has bankrolled more than $775,000 in career earnings, gets into the race for the $40,000 claiming price.

Claimed by trainer Bret Calhoun three races ago, Atticus Kristy broke badly his last time out.

"He broke so hard he fell on his face coming from the gate last time," said Calhoun. "They had to rush him up, and then he was tired."