01/06/2011 4:34PM

Desert Wheat one of several seeking redemption


Desert Wheat will try to win his first race since 2009 and recapture the form that made him a five-time Fair Grounds grass course winner when he starts in the $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace for Louisiana-bred on Saturday, but he is hardly the only horse in the hunt Saturday for faded Fair Grounds glory. Later on the card, a high-end dirt-sprint allowance includes Cash Refund, a perfect 4 for 4 on the Fair Grounds main track, and Grasshopper, who makes his first start since March 13.

Cash Refund was the leading sprinter of the 2009-2010 Fair Grounds season, winning an allowance race and the Gaudin Memorial before a three-quarter-length win in a strong edition of the $96,000 Duncan Kenner. The Kenner, however, was Cash Refund’s last win, and the 5-year-old gelding is on a four-race losing streak, though two losses during Churchill’s fall meet both were excusable. The first came in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint – Cash Refund’s first start in more than three months – where Cash Refund chased the pace and faded to eighth. Nineteen days later, Cash Refund was fifth of seven at odds of 4-5 in an allowance race, but that was the gelding’s first try over a truly wet racetrack, and trainer Steve Margolis reported last month that Cash Refund was slipping on the sloppy going. Cash Refund has come back to post four timed workouts at Fair Grounds, and while none look very fast, Cash Refund is a horse for the afternoon, not morning.

Grasshopper, now 7, came within a neck of winning the 2008 New Orleans Handicap, but that was one of his career bests. Transferred from trainer Neil Howard to Kiaran McLaughlin, Grasshopper narrowly won a high-end Gulfstream Park allowance race last February, finished last of 11 in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, and hasn’t started since. Back again with Howard, Grasshopper starts for just the second time at six furlongs.

Backtalk should have a decent chance to break his own seven-race losing skein on Saturday. Winner of the 2009 Sanford Stakes, Backtalk has never run quite as fast as Cash Refund, but he was a solid second behind sharp Noble’s Promise in his most recent dirt start.

Desert Wheat, meanwhile, is one of seven horses in the Dixie Poker Ace, and will try and rebound from a decidedly sub-par fifth-place finish Dec. 11 in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf. He will have to beat the second-place finisher from that race, Kissimmee Kyle.