02/05/2009 1:00AM

French Beret talented but erratic turfer


NEW ORLEANS - An inconsistent favorite and a live longshot are among the puzzles handicappers must sort through in the Gradeo3, $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap, the seventh race on a six-stakes Fair Grounds card on Saturday.

Going 1 1/8 miles over the turf, the logical favorite is French Beret, who has been the definition of inconsistent, to the point where his trainer never knows what to expect.

In his last outing, it was the tough version of French Beret who raced, as he came from 10 lengths back to win the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley on Jan. 10. It was an impressive win, but it was his first in a year, and he has never won back-to-back races.

Even his trainer, Mark Frostad, seems resigned to French Beret's lack of predictability.

"French Beret will do what he is going to do," said Frostad. "We hope he becomes consistent, but at this point, we don't expect it."

French Beret is coupled in the betting with Windward Islands, who was fifth in the Colonel Bradley but only beaten 2 1/2 lengths. His best races have come at longer distances, and if he improves in his third start off a layoff, he could give Frostad the victory.

"I think the added distance will help him," said Frostad.

There are six other horses, including Demarcation, who has been off since dead-heating for the win at 33-1 in the Grade 3 River City Handicap at Churchill on Nov. 22.

"We waited on this race," said trainer Paul McGee. "He's a very versatile horse, but with him having won a Grade 3 last out on the grass at this distance, it made sense."

Jimmy Simms won his last race here, the Dec. 20 Woodchopper, and has been on the improve since moving to Steve Asmussen's barn and being switched to turf.

Colonel Power: Storm Treasure one to fear

Storm Treasure won the Bonapaw Stakes on Dec. 20 by running a final quarter-mile about as fast as a horse can run. The favored Chamberlain Bridge had opened a clear lead while setting a slow pace in the Bonapaw, a 5o1/2-furlong turf sprint, and Storm Treasure easily outfinished him - but not without stopping briefly to engage in one of his favorite activities, cozying up to his opponents.

"He loves to lay on them," said trainer Steve Asmussen.

Storm Treasure was the 2-1 second choice in the Bonapaw, but figures to be favored in the $75,000 Colonel Power, another 5 1/2-furlong grass race.

"I think the horse that was third in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint has enough ability to win in this spot," Asmussen said of Storm Treasure. "With him, it's just a question of if he will do it."

Storm Treasure does seem to have found a niche going one turn on turf. He has worked six times since the Bonapaw, and can save ground breaking from the fence under Shaun Bridgmohan.

Rouse the Cat, in from Maryland, twice beat Storm Treasure at Woodbine last summer - once on Polytrack, once on turf - and finished third or better in 11 of 14 races during a highly productive 2008 campaign.

- Marcus Hersh

Pan Zareta: Secret Gypsy a standout

Secret Gypsy won the $60,000 Esplanade Stakes here on Dec. 20 by four lengths, and appeared to barely take a deep breath in so doing. She went off at odds of 3-5 that afternoon, and the price could drop even lower in the $75,000 Pan Zareta.

A winner in 4 of 8 career starts, Secret Gypsy set a track record going 5 1/2 furlongs in her career debut two summers ago, but right now, she's in the midst of the best sustained form cycle of her career. After a sharp Saratoga allowance win last August, Secret Gypsy finished second to the good filly Informed Decision in the Grade 2 Raven Run at Keeneland, then won a high-end Churchill allowance race by more than eight lengths before coming to Fair Grounds for the Esplanade. Secret Gypsy shows a good work pattern between starts, and should be difficult to beat in the six-furlong Pan Zareta.

Asmussen has two horses for the race: Classify looked good winning a turf sprint stakes last out, while P.S.U. Grad was a noteworthy allowance winner on Dec. 28 in her first start on the circuit.

- Marcus Hersh