02/04/2004 12:00AM

Fire Slam still getting over hurt hoof


NEW ORLEANS - Fire Slam trained Wednesday for the first time since his gritty victory Jan. 24 in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, but concern lingers about the injured hoof that nearly forced him out of that race.

Fire Slam bruised his hoof - probably by kicking his stall - about 10 days before the Lecomte, and the bruise developed into an abscess, which turned into a quarter crack. The injury was ugly, and Fire Slam was sore. He missed training before the Lecomte but improved enough to run, and win. But the race aggravated the hind hoof, and Fire Slam spent the next seven days in his stall or walking under tack around trainer David Carroll's barn.

Tuesday, the hoof had dried and healed enough that a new patch could be applied. Mark Dewey, Carroll's Kentucky blacksmith, flew to New Orleans from south Florida to apply an Equilox patch, and Fire Slam was well enough to exercise Wednesday morning. Fire Slam wore a bar shoe in the Lecomte, and jogged with one Wednesday.

"He went fine jogging today, but we'll know more tomorrow," Carroll said. "He seems like he's been very comfortable on it."

But Carroll knows he has a limited margin of error, with Fire Slam's major goal for the meet, the March 7 Louisiana Derby, quickly approaching.

"We're still concerned, and he's not out of the woods yet because of the severity of the crack," said Carroll. "Hopefully, this patch will keep us going a couple weeks. I don't want to miss much more time with him."

Lady Tak works, but next start still far off

Lady Tak, who was a contender for the 2003 Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly, had her first timed workout of 2004 on Tuesday, breezing an easy half-mile in 52.80 seconds.

Lady Tak hasn't started since she ran poorly in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last October, and trainer Steve Asmussen continues to tread lightly with her. Lady Tak lost weight coming out of the Breeders' Cup, and Asmussen gave her plenty of time to get back on her feet. Lady Tak had perked up by the first of the year, and now she looks like her old self again, racy and athletic.

Asmussen nominated Lady Tak for Saturday's Pan Zareta Handicap, but had no intention of starting. He wanted to see how much weight Lady Tak would be assigned - 122 pounds, it turned out - to help him plot the course of her season.

Lady Tak won't start for a while. Her first major goal is the Churchill Downs Distaff in early May, and Asmussen said Lady Tak might prep for that start in a stakes race at Keeneland.

Distinctive Code should rebound in Pan Zareta

The turn came up so fast on Distinctive Code in a Dec. 6 grass sprint here that she was totally unprepared to corner. Uncomfortable, she wrestled jockey Shane Sellers and tried to get out. The race was over, and Distinctive Code still hadn't really run.

That is the story expounded by Larry Robideaux, Distinctive Code's trainer, and after training the mare for 2 1/2 years and 22 starts, Robideaux has more than a passing familiarity with her.

The turf failure is close to ancient history now. Distinctive Code started training well soon after that race, and she comes into Saturday's $60,000 Pan Zareta prepared to put forth a more typical performance.

That would make Distinctive Code a major player in the Pan Zareta, a six-furlong dirt race expected to attract a field of eight. Also considered likely to start are Adopted Daughter, Cashmere Miss, Put Me In, Raymond's Dream, Tina Bull, Vicki Vallencourt, and Handpainted - one of Canada's best 2-year-olds of 2002, but unraced since last May.

Robideaux entered Distinctive Code in a prep for the Pan Zareta, but the race failed to fill, forcing Robideaux to bring her into the race off works, a difficult task.

"She's a tough filly to gallop," Robideaux said. "She wants to get aggressive. She's not a stupid filly or anything, but you have to do some unorthodox things to get her to train right. I've got to improvise."

But Robideaux likes the way Distinctive Code is coming into the Pan Zareta. Her recent works, with the 160-pound exercise rider Satch Lawrence aboard, have been especially strong.

"She did everything as kind as could be," Robideaux said.

Werner has pair of winners in training races

Ronny Werner had a pair of training race winners here Wednesday morning. They were not as brilliant as Touch Tone was when he won a training race here a few years ago for Werner, but Heartbreaker and especially Yankee Mon bear watching in their career debuts. So does Allison Rose, who won the day's third and final race by seven lengths for trainer Greg Geier.