02/11/2004 12:00AM

Fire Slam works through ailment

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NEW ORLEANS - Traffic was light during training hours Wednesday at Fair Grounds, where low clouds and a steady rain turned the morning miserable and the track soupy. Braving the elements just after the renovation break was the Louisiana Derby hopeful Fire Slam, who worked a strong five furlongs with jockey Shane Sellers aboard.

Fire Slam was timed in 1:01.60, much the fastest of 15 works at the distance Wednesday. It was a key breeze for Fire Slam, who is battling a nasty quarter crack, and trainer David Carroll was pleased with it.

"It's the best he's ever worked by himself," said Carroll. "If you put him in company, he'll do more. He's competitive."

Fire Slam was the second horse to work after the track reopened at 8:30. He broke off smoothly, appeared to handle the wet going with ease, and finished strongly without being asked for much by Sellers.

"Shane said he felt very comfortable," Carroll said. "He seemed to come back fine. I'm relieved to get the work behind me."

Wednesday's work was Fire Slam's first since he won the Jan. 24 Lecomte Stakes here by two lengths. Fire Slam has won 3 of 4 starts with a close second in the $1 million Delta Jackpot. Shortly before the Lecomte, Fire Slam suffered a serious quarter crack, and he won the race in a bar shoe - and in pain. Fire Slam still is training in a Z-bar shoe, and Carroll said the colt's rear hoof probably wouldn't fully heal for a couple months. But the injury doesn't appear to be bothering Fire Slam right now, and he remains in a position to make the Louisiana Derby.

Risen Star count at six

Fire Slam is passing Sunday's Grade 3, $150,000 Risen Star Stakes, which lost another possible starter Wednesday when Proper Prado was entered in an allowance race Friday at Oaklawn Park, his home base. That leaves the Risen Star with only six probable starters, at least as of Thursday. There Goes Rocket is considered possible for the race, while Mr. Jester, Gradepoint, Polish Rifle, One Very Cool Cat, Shiloh Bound, and Assault Commander are likely to run.

Saturday, Gradepoint turned in a major work for the Risen Star, his stakes debut, breezing six furlongs in 1:15.20, the fastest of five works at the distance. By A.P. Indy and out of the Kris S. mare Class Kris, Gradepoint won a maiden race last October at Keeneland and came back Jan. 2 with a half-length allowance win here. Both times, Gradepoint raced far behind a fast pace, closing with a late rush as the leaders tired.

Neil Howard, Gradepoint's trainer, said the Risen Star would help determine the trajectory of Gradepoint's campaign.

"This is kind of a good spot to see if we need to be thinking about the Triple Crown races with him," Howard said. "I'm looking for him to finish up well and gallop out strong."

If that is how Gradepoint performs, he can take the next step up and compete in the Louisiana Derby, Howard said. But Howard cautioned that with Gradepoint, what you see is what you get. The colt simply lacks speed, and may need a swift pace to race effectively, at least at 1 1/16 miles.

Blowout for Mr. Ron

Mr. Ron won a $15,000 nonwinners-of-two claiming race in Monday's sixth race, but he won it like a stakes horse. Stretching out from sprints to race at one mile and 40 yards, Mr. Ron made a clear lead on the backstretch, opened up on the far turn, and was 21 1/4 lengths in front at the finish. His final time was an excellent 1:39.60, and he was assigned a Beyer Speed Figure of 103.

"He's capable of that," said trainer Jeff Thornbury, who pointed out Mr. Ron's 9 3/4-length win last fall at Keeneland.

Thornbury broke Mr. Ron as a yearling and helped ready him for the Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in April, where Mr. Ron turned in one of the fastest works. But poor conformation kept him from selling, and it has hamstrung his career.

"He's calf-kneed, real straight through the pastern, and has bad feet," Thornbury said.

Thornbury raced the 4-year-old Mr. Ron without blinkers Monday, an equipment change, and tried him in a dirt route for the first time. The results were remarkable. Mr. Ron is likely to make his next start in an entry-level allowance.

Mountain General to return

Mountain General worked five furlongs in a bullet 59.80 seconds here Monday, and is scheduled to start Feb. 22 in the $75,000 Taylor's Special Handicap. Mountain General, who set a track record here last season in the Thanksgiving Handicap, hasn't started since he finished second Aug. 10 in the Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga.

Mountain General missed time because of a broken splint bone in his leg, an injury that required a long rest. He recuperated at owner Keith Asmussen's farm near Laredo, Texas, and began breezing there late last year.

"He's just a very solid sprinter," said trainer Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen also gave Louisiana Handicap winner Spanish Empire a breeze Monday, but Spanish Empire's work fell on the other side of the spectrum, five furlongs in 1:05.40. The work was strictly maintenance, and Asmussen said Spanish Empire soon would work a more serious six furlongs as he prepares for a start in the New Orleans Handicap.

* Trainer Ronny Werner said Wednesday that Badge of Silver would travel from Fair Grounds to Laurel Park on Friday. Werner was able to arrange a direct flight for Badge of Silver, who runs Monday in the General George Handicap.