11/23/2007 12:00AM

Distance the catch for 'Chief'

EmailNEW ORLEANS - The conditions of Sunday's featured ninth race at Fair Grounds may not have been exactly what the trainers of some of the entrants were looking for, but their horses are ready to run now, and the $41,000 second-level optional claimer seemed like a better option than waiting for the perfect spot.

The field for the six-furlong dirt race includes three Louisiana-breds who could have found easier spots facing fellow statebreds. The trainer of the horse with the lifetime highest Beyer Speed Figure in the field, Chief What It Is, would have preferred a shorter distance on grass.

Chief What It Is, a five-time winner who gets in here by running for the $35,000 claiming price, has the most earnings in the field and a top Beyer of 99, earned while winning at five furlongs at Delta Downs in March. In his last effort, he finished sixth in the Zydeco Stakes at Delta Downs.

"I think he needed the last race," said Lori Hendrickson, the trainer of Chief What It Is. "He's a most unpredictable horse.

"This distance isn't what I wanted, but they don't have a 5 1/2-furlong race on the turf yet. Maybe he'll get the lead and get comfortable. Hopefully, he won't stop at the eighth pole."

Joining Chief What It Is in the early going will be the Richard Scherer-trained Who Let the Cat In and The Q Club, who will be returning from vacation for the Al Stall Jr. barn.

"He's a natural speed horse, drawn outside," Stall said of The Q Club. "So he'll do what comes naturally to him. Last time out, he was down on the inside and didn't break well."

The probable favorite, Five Star Dawn, seems to have found the right spot, coming into this race after just getting up to win a first-level allowance at Churchill Downs. That victory came after several narrow losses. He brings a string of steadily rising Beyer Figures. He'll be shortening up a half-furlong, and he figures to drop back a bit as usual under Jesus Castanon.

"I don't think we'll change anything about the way he'll run," said Galen Pruitt, assistant to Five Star Dawn's trainer, Paul McGee. "Jesus fits the horse. He's that style rider - patient, comes from off the pace. They'll work out good together."

Also likely to stalk the pace is Truelyonbroadway, who is coming out of two straight wins.

"He's a horse that had a lot of speed and wasn't using it correctly in his early races," trainer Tom Amoss said. "Then we took the blinkers off, got him to come off the pace."