01/21/2004 12:00AM

Fire Slam questionable due to quarter crack

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Fire Slam, one of the favorites for the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, is battling a quarter crack that could force him to miss Saturday's race.

Fire Slam's problems began last week, when he kicked the wall of his stall with his left hind leg. A bit sore at first, Fire Slam appeared to have escaped significant injury, but the severity of a hoof bruise often is hidden for several days after the initial incident. Fire Slam worked a half-mile Monday in 47.80 seconds, and worked well, but later that day he showed signs of discomfort in the foot. The bruise had turned into an abscess, which popped through the wall of Fire Slam's hoof: a classic quarter crack.

Trainer David Carroll and his staff have taken the usual measures. Fire Slam has been outfitted with a bar shoe to take pressure off the foot, and the hoof is being soaked in a medicinal solution to draw out the abscess. Fire Slam would also race in the bar shoe if he runs Saturday. But whether everything comes together in time for the Lecomte is uncertain.

"We've made him as comfortable as we can," Carroll said. "It will be a race-day decision if he's going to start. Of course, we'll do what's best for the horse."

The 3-year-old Fire Slam won the first two starts of his career, a maiden race at Keeneland and an allowance at Churchill, and finished second in the $1 million Delta Jackpot - his first two-turn race - in the last start of his 2-year-old season. Carroll is pushing to make the Lecomte because he wants to skip the Risen Star Stakes and use Saturday's race as a springboard to the Louisiana Derby on March 7.

"It makes things more difficult if he can't run in the Lecomte," Carroll said.

Fire Slam and Polish Rifle, who was second to Tapit in the Laurel Futurity, will be the top choices in the Grade 3, one-mile Lecomte if both start. If Fire Slam misses the race, Polish Rifle ought to be a solid favorite, depending on whether Proper Prado ships in from Oaklawn Park. His trainer, Bob Holthus, said Proper Prado's participation hinged on a meeting with the colt's owner.

Others expected for the Lecomte are American Alive, Bogangles, Jaguar Friend, Shadowland, and Two Down Automatic. Monkey Hill and Salt Commander are considered possible starters.

Put Me In's saga bittersweet

Merrill Scherer already had made a statement. He punctuated it with an exclamation point Sunday, when Put Me In cruised to a powerful win in the $60,000 Leggio Handicap. That victory was Scherer's seventh from 14 starts in the last two weeks of racing at Fair Grounds, a streak that gives Scherer 11 victories at the meet and a tie for fourth in the trainer standings.

But Scherer has been around long enough to develop some perspective. "It's been a very good two weeks," he said. "But nobody can tell you why you get so lucky all at once. It just happened to be the races all fell when the horses were on top of their game."

Luck may get an assist, but Scherer clearly was proud of the way Put Me In ran in the Leggio, where she beat Leslie's Love by four lengths and the nice sprinting filly Brown Eyed Beauty by more than eight, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 106.

"I was pretty amazed with the way she ran," Scherer said. "That was by far the best group of horses she's beat."

There is much more to this filly's story. Mary Lou Heleringer, the owner of Put Me In, called Scherer on Jan. 11. The news she passed on was grim: She had lung cancer. "She told me, 'I want you to keep this stable going,' " Scherer said. Two days later, Heleringer died. Scherer said, "I talked to her daughter about going to the wake, and she said, 'Mother told me to tell you to stay with that horse.' I had no idea at all she was so sick."

Put Me In has been extraordinarily good to her owner and trainer. Scherer said Heleringer purchased the filly's dam, Toyaholic, in foal and with a young Put Me In by her side, for just $5,000. That was why Scherer could afford to start Put Me In in a $30,000 maiden claimer when she debuted at Hoosier Park in October 2002. Put Me In easily won that race, took a $50,000 claimer at Churchill a month later, and quickly ran through her first two allowance conditions the next spring. She appeared to tail off later last summer, but Scherer managed to get the filly turned around for the Fair Grounds meet.

"She's got a lot of problems, and she needs time between races," said Scherer. "She's in ice all day, and I hardly ever work her. Giving her time off wouldn't do her any good. I just told the owner, we'll run her until we can't run her anymore."

Put Me In's next start could come March 4 in the $75,000 Marie Krantz Memorial Handicap, Scherer said.

* Spanish Empire, the sharp winner of the Louisiana Handicap in his last start, worked six furlongs Monday in 1:14.40. "He worked really well," said trainer Steve Asmussen. "We're on target for the [Feb. 1] Whirlaway."