11/25/2006 1:00AM

Fiery Dancer all the way in Pago Hop

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The Fair Grounds turf course, if nothing else, is known for cutting down early-speed horses. Even when front-end types slow down the pace, they often find themselves overwhelmed by stretch-runners. So, in the middle of Saturday's Pago Hop Stakes, trainer Merrill Scherer was tuned into the fractional times jockey Lonnie Meche was setting on the Scherer-trained pace horse, Fiery Dancer.

"When I saw 46 and 4, I was ready to choke him," Scherer said.

But Meche knew what he was doing. While the other pace wilted away, Fiery Dancer went clear in the stretch. Late-running Delicate Dynamite ran up to her at the sixteenth pole, but Fiery Dancer wasn't done. She battled back along the inside, holding on to win the $74,250 Pago Hop by a neck.

How impressive was Fiery Dancer's feat? The horses racing in second, third, and fourth early in the one-mile race wound up sixth, seventh, and eighth in an eight-horse field. Fiery Dancer didn't just survive the testing splits - she appeared to thrive on them.

"She felt real comfortable, and she was well within herself," said Meche. "I just let her do her thing."

Delicate Dynamite broke slowly, but that seemed like a good thing as the fast fractions unfolded.

"I thought I was in good shape the whole race," said Delicate Dynamite's jockey, Gerard Melancon. Delicate Dynamite went past tepid favorite Aly's Vow in midstretch and seemed ready to take down the leader, but couldn't get past.

Fiery Dancer, timed in 1:36.77, paid $9.80 to win. Rolling Sea finished third, Aly's Vow fourth.