12/20/2001 1:00AM

Fifty Stars set to return to training


NEW ORLEANS - More than seven months after finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby, during which he suffered an injury, Fifty Stars is ready to begin in earnest his preparations for a 2002 racing campaign. Fifty Stars is scheduled to ship into trainer Steve Asmussen's barn on Sunday and is likely to train over the Fair Grounds racetrack Monday. Asmussen said if Fifty Stars's comeback progresses well, he will point the colt to the New Orleans Handicap in March.

Last season, Fifty Stars scored an upset in Fair Grounds's premier race for 3-year-olds, the Louisiana Derby, and was second in the Lone Star Derby before running in the Kentucky Derby. Fifty Stars was making a strong move on the far turn behind a suicidal pace when he got into trouble and, apparently, hurt himself. "[Jockey] Donnie [Meche] said he got goose bumps when he started moving on the turn," said Asmussen.

After the Derby, Fifty Stars was diagnosed with a displaced bone chip in his right front ankle that required surgery to repair. Asmussen said there had been "a little concern 30 days out" about the ankle's condition, but that the injury had, in the end, healed well.

"We had him at the barn in Churchill after the surgery, then when he was ready to do something more than hand-walking we sent him to Laredo," Asmussen said.

Asmussen's family owns El Primero Training Center in Laredo, and Fifty Stars has been in training under the watchful eye of Asmussen's father, Keith, since the end of October. Asmussen said Fifty Stars has breezed three times at El Primero, once over three furlongs and twice over a half-mile.

"We're extremely pleased with the condition he's kept," said Asmussen. "He's an athlete."

Fifty Stars, a Quiet American colt owned by Jim Cassels and Bob Zollars, was not a precocious horse and began coming around when he began running in route races. Asmussen said Fifty Stars, a closer, only runs hard for about three furlongs when he races, and the colt is not hard on himself when he trains, factors that could quicken his return to racing.

Kwik Kash out with a knee chip

There's a notable absence from Saturday's filly division of the Louisiana Futurity, Kwik Kash, who easily won the Champions Day Lassie here Dec. 8 and would have been an overwhelming favorite in the Futurity. Without Kwik Kash, the Futurity drew a rather nondescript field of six, which will run for a purse of approximately $60,000.

As for Kwik Kash, she may not be ready to begin training again for five or six months, according to trainer B.J. Gilbert. After winning the Lassie, Kwik Kash, who has won both starts of her career, underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from her knee. The filly was a standout winner of a maiden race here Nov. 23.

"We pressed on her to make the last race," Gilbert said. "We don't want to mess her up. Hopefully, we do this now and she can come back and be a good horse."

Sweet Remiss was no match for Kwik Kash in her maiden win, but returned to score a 6 1/2-length victory of her own here Dec. 6 and appears to be the horse to beat in the Futurity.

o L'homme is passing on Saturday's Woodchopper, most likely in favor of a Louisiana-bred allowance sometime after Jan. 1. L'homme was unbeaten and unchallenged in three turf races here last spring, but went to the sidelines over the summer to recover from an injury. He returned on Louisiana Champions Day, Dec. 8, and set the pace in the Turf before tiring in the final furlong to finish third.

o Sunday's feature is the colt and gelding division of the Louisiana Futurity, which like its filly counterpart is likely to attract a short field. Hail to Bag, a blowout winner in the Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile, will start as a very heavy favorite in the Futurity.