01/09/2008 1:00AM

El Cumbres back after 17 months


The 6-year-old Chilean horse El Cumbres looks like he could make some noise in the featured ninth race Friday at Fair Grounds - if he can remember what he's supposed to be doing out there.

Forgive El Cumbres if memories of an actual race have gotten hazy. His most recent start came June 10, 2006, and that was his first race since September 2005. But El Cumbres is a multiple Group 1 turf winner in his native land, and a return to anything like that form would make him formidable in a third-level allowance carded for about one mile on grass.

El Cumbres, owned by the Lael Stable of Barbaro fame, won a pair of Group 1s by a combined 10 lengths in 2005, and was subsequently imported to the United States. He made one start for trainer Mike Matz, finishing third as the favorite in a Laurel allowance race two Junes ago, and that was it.

But as checkered as his racing history appears, El Cumbres's workout pattern is equally flawless. Trained now by Mike Stidham, who has had the horse for several months, El Cumbres shows timed workouts every six or seven days dating to Dec. 5.

"I've had no problems with him," Stidham said. "He hasn't done anything on the dirt that makes me think he's a super-horse, but his works have been good, and off his form, I assume he needs the turf."

Stidham said El Cumbres has displayed a zeal for training, and doubts that El Cumbres will return rusty even after his long absence.

"He's a horse with experience that knows what he's doing," Stidham said. "It's just a matter of if he's as good now as he was back in Chile."

Sadler's Trick comes back from a shorter layoff in the Friday feature, with his break having begun this past June. Formerly trained by Patrick Biancone, Sadler's Trick makes his first start for trainer Greg Fox and his first since being gelded. His gelding, in fact, led to an infection that kept him out of action longer than expected, but Sadler's Trick twice has won his first start after a break and has trained well for his return, Fox said.

"He has gotten fit remarkably quickly, and the way he trains makes me think there's a very good chance that he can run one of his better races," Fox said.