03/27/2012 1:05PM

Fair Grounds: Zeb getting some class relief

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NEW ORLEANS – Halfway through the Colonel Power, a turf-sprint stakes on Feb. 25 at Fair Grounds, Zeb was winning, and his trainer, Greg Foley, wasn’t liking it.

“He bounced right out of there onto the lead, and he probably didn’t really want to be there,” Foley said.

The circumstances weren’t really the fault of horse or rider. Zeb was a good-looking winner of a second-level turf-sprint allowance on Dec. 11, but after waiting fruitlessly for a third-level allowance to fill, Foley had little choice but to try Zeb against the likes of Country Day and Chamberlain Bridge in the Colonel Power.

“He hadn’t run in two months, and he was just sharp and fresh that day,” Foley said.

Racing on the inside part of the course, generally the worst part of the Fair Grounds turf this season, Zeb retreated through the stretch, but though he finished ninth, he was beaten less than four lengths. Zeb’s edge now has been taken off, and he ought to rate more comfortably while getting some class relief in the featured eighth race Thursday at Fair Grounds, a third-level turf-sprint allowance also open to $62,500 claimers.

Zeb, who has scored all three career wins in Fair Grounds turf sprints, is one of six horses in the main body of the field, with Bergman and Southern Dude entered main-track-only. The local weather forecast calls for a chance of isolated thunderstorms throughout the rest of the week, and Southern Dude, if not Bergman, would be a major player if the race is rained onto dirt. Four for seven in his career, Southern Dude exits a convincing win on Feb. 5 and has since worked steadily.

Heir Joe finished a couple lengths in front of Zeb in the Colonel Power, checking in a close fourth, and he has finished worse than second only once in five turf-sprint starts. If he breaks sharply, rail-drawn Trelawny might make the lead, and he scored a front-running second-level turf-sprint allowance win here two starts ago.

Three other entrants – Delano, Red Strike, and Close Ally – return from lengthy layoffs. Graded-stakes-placed Close Ally won his career debut last winter at Fair Grounds in an off-the-turf 5 1/2-furlong race, but trainer Neil Howard cautions that Thursday’s race, the colt’s first since September, does not figure to be his best.

“We’re using this as a starting point,” Howard said. “He’s meant for two turns.”