06/23/2004 11:00PM

Fairmount: Entry likely to be favored

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COLLINSVILLE, Ill. - An entry from owner William Stiritz will be favored in the $30,000 Roman Colonel Stakes, a six-furlong race for 3-year-old colts and geldings at Fairmount Park.

Stiritz, the former CEO of Ralston-Purina, has entered both Chipotle and Wildwood Graduate. Chipotle showed ability by winning his career debut May 1, but finished sixth and last when he stretched out to a mile in his second start.

"Last race, he came back with shins and a bad case of laryngitis," said Jimmy Zook, trainer of Chipotle. "He worked pretty nice the other day. If he's tight enough, he'll be a factor. The other colt is definitely a factor. He had a blistering work here the other day. He's actually the horse I like best."

Wildwood Graduate regressed in his second career race at Oaklawn Park and has yet to win his maiden. Furthermore, Stiritz's entry is rolling up against trainer Eddie Essenpreis' formidable Punch Bag, who easily defeated fellow Roman Colonel entrants Jaygar Dancer and Matthew's Blessing in last October's Buckpasser Stakes at Fairmount.

Punch Bag, a Kentucky-bred, hasn't seen the winner's circle since the Buckpasser, his lone race at Fairmount, but has been racing in the $35,000-$50,000 purse range in Chicago lately and has the swiftest Beyer Speed Figures in the field.

"I'm going give him a little quarter-mile blowout before he runs, because he's going from long back to short," said Essenpreis, referring to the fact that Punch Bag has raced at a mile in his last two starts at Arlington. "I'm just hoping he likes Fairmount's surface. It's unpredictable."

On the undercard, leading trainer Ralph Martinez's City Kitty will square off against number two trainer Steve Manley's Gritty Kitty in a six-furlong, $5,000 claiming race, which will seek to determine which classification of feline, gritty or city, is better equipped to handle Fairmount's vaunted Midwestern humidity.