05/07/2004 11:00PM

Fire Slam gets great setup in Matt Winn

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer David Carroll had expressed concern that six furlongs might not be enough distance for Fire Slam before the $103,499 Matt Winn Stakes was run Saturday at Churchill Downs.

No worries.

Assisted partly by a speed duel that carried two front-runners through a wind-aided opening quarter of 20.68 seconds, Fire Slam, ridden by Pat Day, rallied from a few lengths off the pace to post an easy 5 1/4-length triumph in the third running of the Matt Winn. Fire Slam returned $4.20 as the favorite in a field of just four starters.

Cuvee, making his 3-year-old debut, contested the pace while racing inside of Wildcat Shoes. After that pair went a half-mile in 43.69 seconds, Fire Slam was ready to roll, and he went past with little trouble, finishing in 1:09.64 over a fast track. Cuvee, the 8-5 second choice under Shane Sellers, lasted for second, another 2 1/4 lengths before Hasslefree, who had a neck on a tired Wildcat Shoes.

Carroll had eyed the Matt Winn as a prep for the Grade 2 Riva Ridge Stakes, a seven-furlong race on the June 5 Belmont Stakes undercard, for Fire Slam, a Grand Slam colt owned by Stan Fulton.

"He's such a nice horse," said Carroll. "We're glad to get this race behind us and look forward to the Riva Ridge."

Fire Slam finished second to Quintons Gold Rush in the 1 1/16-mile Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in his previous race, but Fulton and Carroll resisted running the colt in the Kentucky Derby. Carroll praised Fulton for his patience Saturday; although Fulton had entered St Averil as a starter in the Derby, that colt was scratched because of persistent foot problems. "Mr. Fulton took all of it in stride," said Carroll.

The Matt Winn field had numbered six until Nightlifeatbigblue and Western Roar were early scratches.