01/29/2002 12:00AM

'Extolled' pick of odd litter

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NEW ORLEANS - Eight horses with disparate backgrounds clash in Fair Grounds's Thursday feature, an optional-claiming sprint that might better be called an optional allowance.

Six of the eight were entered for a $75,000 claiming price, an unusually high percentage, but then there's not much that isn't unusual about this field. Prince Slew and Early Goer are Louisiana-breds who blazed through the statebred stakes ranks in seasons past as precocious 2-year-old sprinters. My Extolled Honor was a conditioned claiming loser three starts ago. Cajun Cliff has been bouncing around the Midwest for a couple years running in races like this, and he finished right next to another entrant, Lac Grand, last fall at Churchill.

Baker Road and Bet on Joe hail from the same region. Baker Road has spent his days battling Illinois-breds and mid-level claimers on the Illinois circuit, where Bet on Joe rose to prominence with consecutive wins at Arlington this summer. And toss in White Star, an acclaimed Louisiana-bred route stakes horse at Louisiana Downs, but an 0-for-7 flop at Fair Grounds.

That's the field. Make of it what you can.

The pick here is My Extolled Honor, who has run like crazy since trainer Mike Stidham claimed him Nov. 29 for $25,000 on behalf of the Three Kings Stable, a fledgling trio of boisterous Chicago owners. My Extolled Honor ran in sprint races for the first time in his career in his two starts for Stidham, and the colt responded with sharp efforts.

He was going away at the finish of an optional claiming win at the class level below this one Dec. 28. Running back 16 days later, he closed fastest once again to miss the accomplished sprinter Don't Be Long Z by two lengths in a fast 5 1/2-furlong race. An extra half-furlong Thursday should do nothing but help My Extolled Honor, who will be ridden by Corey Lanerie, who quietly has put together a strong Fair Grounds meet.

Bet on Joe, second in his last three starts, adds blinkers for trainer Hugh Robertson, who has been plagued by seconditis during his first full Fair Grounds meet. Robertson has racked up seven second-place finishes and only one win in 21 starts here, with Bet on Joe, twice second, doing his part to enhance the frustration. A strapping 4-year-old, Bet on Joe has run fast enough in his last three starts to win a race at this class level and poses a serious threat to break through this time.

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