12/13/2006 12:00AM

Frankel flexes his muscles in turf route

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In years past, when Bobby Frankel started a horse at Fair Grounds, it required a plane trip from a distant racetrack. Now, Frankel horses can walk over from their own stall on the Fair Grounds backstretch.

Not that the Frankel contingent at Fair Grounds is his A Team, but even a group of Frankel backups can lend some backbone to a racing program. At worst, Frankel has high-priced claiming horses, and from the horses he's entered at the meet so far, he appears to have mostly allowance and listed stakes-type runners for the season.

"I don't want to keep all the horses in the same spot," Frankel said Wednesday, explaining his first full-meet foray to New Orleans. "The purses are good. I've won a ton of stakes down there."

Scott Hansen, who Frankel said oversaw his 2-year-olds at the Saratoga meet, has day-to-day charge of the Fair Grounds string, which now totals 17, but will reach 20 at its peak. One of the horses, Champagne Dream, could easily be favored in Fair Grounds's featured ninth race on Friday, a second-level allowance carded for 1 1/16 miles on turf.

The race drew a field of eight, and if Champagne Dream reproduces her form from Southern California, she stands an excellent chance of winning. But that form has mainly been put together in turf sprints. Champagne Dream has won before at a route trip, but may be a faster horse around one turn.

"I thought she wanted to sprint, but there were no sprints for her, so I'll try her long," Frankel said. "Her numbers are good enough sprinting that if she runs back to those she'd be real tough. She's a year older now than when she last tried, so maybe she can do it."

Actually, Champagne Dream won her maiden race going two turns at Del Mar in the summer of 2005, but two turf courses hardly could be more dissimilar that Del Mar's and the one at Fair Grounds. It will be up to jockey Robby Albarado to keep Champagne Dream settled around the added turn, hoping she can wait to accelerate in the long Fair Grounds stretch.

Bettors will find plenty of other options. Leonor Fini appeared to have won a race at this class level on opening day, only to get nailed at the wire by a longshot that looked highly unlikely on paper. Behind Leonor Fini came Provocative Touch, who had an outside draw that afternoon, and might have been a race away from her best.