07/09/2006 11:00PM

European filly class addition to Nicks barn

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ten years ago this week, Ralph Nicks was working at what then was known as Arlington International Racecourse in Chicago, helping to prepare Cigar for a shot at immortality. Cigar, trained by eventual Hall of Famer Bill Mott, would win the Citation Challenge on July 13, 1996, equaling the modern record for consecutive wins with 16.

Nicks was the main assistant to Mott at the time, and he can forever claim to have been an integral part of one of racing's truly great feats. Eventually, though, after 13 years under Mott, Nicks went out on his own in January 2004 and has not looked back since.

In those last 2 1/2 years, Nicks, 39, has trained such stakes winners as Cool Conductor, Southern Surprise, Onthedeanslist, and Deputy Storm, and his stable has grown to the point that he will make his first solo Saratoga meet when the Spa opens July 26. Nicks will take 15 horses to Saratoga while keeping a string at Churchill Downs, where the final five-day stretch of the 57-day spring meet begins Wednesday.

Nicks could play a major role in the Wednesday feature, a $58,000 second-level turf allowance for fillies and mares. He will saddle Cours de la Reine, an Irish-bred 4-year-old who went through her first allowance condition on June 22 in her second start since having been purchased by a new client, Gary Chervenell of Washington.

kept rugged company in Europe at 2. Her first victory came in a Group 3 race at Deauville in August 2004, and after finishing 10th against the likes of Divine Proportions in a Group 1 event, she raced just three more times before Chervenell brought her to the United States. Following a six-month layoff and a failed effort in an off-the-turf race at Churchill on April 30, she won her next start as the favorite.

"She's a nice filly, but she's going to have to show us whether she's going to be able to keep the same kind of company she kept overseas," said Nicks.

Robby Albarado retains the mount on Cours de la Reine, who will start from post 7 in a field of eight in the one-mile feature. Other logical contenders include , and Maidens Prayer.

The finals of Churchill's meet-long handicapping contest will be held during the nine-race Wednesday card, which begins at 1:15 p.m. Eastern. There is no pick six carryover.