05/05/2004 11:00PM

Fire Slam cuts back in Matt Winn

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer David Carroll would love to win Saturday's $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs with Fire Slam. His goal, however, is the Grade 2 Riva Ridge Stakes at Belmont Park on June 5.

The Matt Winn is a prep for the Riva Ridge at seven furlongs, which Carroll believes is an ideal distance for Fire Slam. Following four consecutive two-turn routes, the prospect of running Fire Slam in the six-furlong Matt Winn against the likes of Cuvee and Wildcat Shoes has Carroll less than enthusiastic.

"I hate to bring him back to six furlongs," Carroll said. "Absolutely hate it."

Carroll said his instructions to jockey Pat Day will be to keep Fire Slam back early and let him run late.

"I want him to settle and make a run if he can," he said. "And if he can't, then he has got no business going to the Riva Ridge in the first place. I just want to see him finish well and gallop out well."

has the class to compete in the Matt Winn. He is perfect in three starts at a mile or under, including a win in the Grade 3 Lecomte Handicap at Fair Grounds. Running a distance a bit beyond his best in the 1 1/16-mile Lexington Stakes last month, Fire Slam made a mild rally from fifth to grab second, 2 3/4 lengths behind Quintons Gold Rush.

Cuvee, making his first start since finishing last as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, won the Grade 1 Futurity by 8 1/2 lengths last fall at Belmont Park. He also won two other graded stakes last year by large margins, taking the Saratoga Special by 7 1/2 lengths and the Kentucky Breeders' Cup by 8 1/4 lengths.

Trainer Steve Asmussen says he is excited to get started with Cuvee's 3-year-old season, although he acknowledged his horse may return at less than peak fitness following surgery to remove an ankle chip.

"He isn't a horse that is very generous with his training," he said.

Shane Sellers rides.

, a 3-year-old son of Forest Wildcat, has run his best races at six furlongs and is fit, having won the Lost Code Breeders' Cup at Hawthorne by 3 1/2 lengths April 3. Late last year he set a stakes record when he won the six-furlong Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds in 1:09.78.

Nightlifeatbigblue, Western Roar, and Hasslefree round out the six-horse Matt Winn.