04/16/2008 11:00PM

Fairbanks overdue for trouble-free trip

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STICKNEY, Ill. - On the surface of things, Good and Lucky appears to be a horse on the way up as he enters the Bill Hartack Memorial Handicap on Saturday at Hawthorne Race Course, while Fairbanks looks like he is headed the wrong direction. But don't tell that to Barry Irwin, who heads up the Team Valor syndicate that owns Fairbanks.

"This sucker needs a break in life!" Irwin said, when asked about Fairbanks's recent form.

It's true: Fairbanks had something far worse than golden trips in his two most recent races, and there is no doubt that, in general, Fairbanks has kept stronger company than Good and Lucky. Either could win the Hartack, a $200,000, 1 1/8-mile Grade 3 that was until this year was called the National Jockey Club Handicap.

The race drew only five entries, and Mr. Champ seems overmatched. Ryan's for Real exits the Grade 1 Carter Handicap, but was a non-threatening seventh there, and looks more like a miler than a nine-furlong horse.

Mister Triester is more interesting, having finished second in the 2006 Illinois Derby, and recently underwent a form rejuvenation. Claimed Jan. 10 at Fair Grounds for $25,000 by owner Maggi Moss and trainer Steve Asmussen, Mister Triester won two in a row in New Orleans, and lost all chance when he reared at the start of a race there on March 7.

Mister Triester must hope front-end types Good and Lucky and Fairbanks hook up on a taxing pace. Fairbanks hasn't made the front in his last two starts, but is drawn one stall outside habitual front-runner Good and Lucky, and can get a clean trip this time. Two races ago, he was locked in at the fence for basically the entire Gulfstream Park Handicap, finishing second as the 6-5 favorite, and two weeks ago, Fairbanks was sawed off past the quarter pole before finishing sixth of seven in the Oaklawn Handicap. Fairbanks appeared to be one-paced when the trouble occurred, but Irwin saw things differently.

"It may have looked like he was being outrun at the time, but he was staying on," Irwin said.

Nonetheless, the pick is Good and Lucky, who was scheduled to ship in from Woodbine on Thursday for trainer Josie Carroll. Good and Lucky, a winner of 6 of 13 races, has won both his starts this year after coming back from a long injury layoff. Good and Lucky was fourth in the 2007 New Orleans Handicap, his only prior graded stakes try on dirt, but probably is a better horse now.

"I think this is a horse that's just hitting his stride and improving," Carroll said. "As he's gotten older, he's just really matured."