09/16/2004 12:00AM

Desert Darby zeroes in on target: Texas Hall of Fame


Mission almost accomplished. Trainer Steve Asmussen said earlier this year he was saving Desert Darby for the $100,000 Texas Hall of Fame Stakes at Retama Park near San Antonio. The race will be held Saturday night, and Desert Darby will return from a five-month layoff for it. His mission now is to defeat six others, including stakes winners Rare Cure, Chauffe Au Rouge, and Classoffiftyseven.

The Hall of Fame will be run over 1 1/16 miles on turf, and it is one of six restricted stakes on the card worth a cumulative $470,000. The races add up to the richest program of the meet, and the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth races combine for a special all-stakes pick four.

last raced April 15, when he finished second by a neck to Agrivating General in the $50,000 Premiere Stakes at Lone Star Park. Following that race, Desert Darby was given time off to freshen for a fall campaign. There are a number of statebred races on the calendar for him, including the $100,000 Assault on dirt at Lone Star on Oct. 23. He won that race, as well as the Hall of Fame, in 2002.

"He's awesome," said Asmussen. "He's a great statebred horse."

Donnie Meche will ride Desert Darby, who has speed and figures to be close to the lead. Desert Darby, who is a 7-year-old by Sheikh Albadou, races for Ken Quirk.

Rare Cure ran a huge race two starts ago in a neck win over graded stakes winner Pie N Burger in the $75,000 Bob Johnson Memorial at Lone Star on July 3. He will move back to turf, where he is a three-time winner, and in his final prep for Saturday he worked a bullet five furlongs in 58.20 seconds Sept. 11. Cliff Berry has the mount for owner-breeder Larry Dyson and trainer Joe Petalino.

Lots of Lockes on turf

Trainer John Locke has gotten some of his biggest wins over the Retama turf course, and he will try to continue that trend with Twilight Vision in the Hall of Fame; Oncearoundtwice in the $40,000 Tejas for 3-year-olds on turf; and Seneca Song in the $40,000 Selma for 3-year-old fillies on turf.

Twilight Vision is out to give Locke his second win in the Hall of Fame. Locke won the race last year with Fly Slama Jama, who set a course record. Locke's other major turf wins at Retama include the $100,000 La Senorita with Topango in 2003.

Oncearoundtwice ran in last year's $100,000 El Joven, the male counterpart to the La Senorita, and finished a strong second in that one-mile race. He will be making his first start since June in the Tejas. He will be cutting back to five furlongs for the Tejas, and he is on his toes for the race - having worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:13 on Sept. 4.

"He did break his maiden at five and a half furlongs on dirt, so he has some quickness," said Locke. "For his first start back off a layoff, it's a logical spot."

Casey Lambert will ride Oncearoundtwice for Tbd Owners.

Expect Will shoots for 5 for 5

One of the more interesting races on the night will go in the fourth race, the $125,000 colts and geldings division of the Texas Stallion Stakes. Expect Will is out to keep his record perfect in five career starts. The race is restricted to the offspring of nominated stallions.

Expect Will won his maiden and a trial race at Lone Star, before closing out the summer there with two stakes wins. He captured the $118,000 Texas Thoroughbred Association Sales Futurity June 12, and returned a month later to win the 5 1/2-furlong division of the Texas Stallion Stakes.

He will travel six furlongs on Saturday, and shows a nice series of works for his first start since July 11. Asmussen trains the Valid Expectations colt for Bill Heiligbrodt and has given the mount to Jeremy Beasley.

Also in the field is Leaving on My Mind, who returns to dirt after finishing fourth in the $100,000 Ketel One El Joven Sept. 4 at Retama.

Asmussen also has a top contender in the $125,000 fillies division of the Texas Stallion Stakes. Berdelia is shooting for her third straight stakes win, having captured the $129,000 fillies division of the TTA Sales Futurity on June 12 and the 5 1/2-furlong fillies division of the Texas Stallion on July 10.

She races for Ro Parra and will be ridden by Casey Lambert.

* Fleeta Dif makes the move to two turns in the $40,000 Fiesta Mile for owner, trainer and breeder Tom Warren. She will be ridden by Rita Helton.