02/03/2010 1:00AM

Friesan Fire looks set for Mineshaft

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Friesan Fire's owners, the Vinery Stable and Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farms, brought Friesan Fire back for a 2010 campaign to try and add a Grade 1 victory to the 4-year-old colt's resume. But the path to the Grade 1 apparently will pass through the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap on Feb. 20 at Fair Grounds, Friesan Fire's probable next start, according to trainer Steve Asmussen.

After a somewhat disappointing third-place finish in his Dec. 3 allowance-race comeback from a long injury-related layoff, Friesan Fire rebounded nicely to capture the Louisiana Handicap by almost two lengths Jan. 23.

"It looks like he'll run in the Mineshaft," Asmussen said Tuesday. "I'm very pleased with how he's acting and how he came out of his last race. I thought it was a step in the right direction, and I like where we're at, but it's still one race."

The hope in the Friesan Fire camp had been to ready the colt for a start in the Donn Handicap this weekend in Florida, but between the lackluster comeback and the loss of several training days to bad weather, the first Grade 1 dirt race of the season will go without Friesan Fire. Asmussen said that consideration had been given to sitting out the Mineshaft and awaiting the New Orleans Handicap on March 27.

"I was thinking about waiting, but we're here, and we don't have to move to run," he said.

On Monday, Friesan Fire worked a slow half-mile in 52.60 seconds, his first breeze since his front-running win in the Louisiana Handicap.

On Tuesday, Asmussen put the 4-year-old filly War Echo through a much more serious drill, six furlongs in 1:14, and Asmussen said War Echo is a possible starter in the $60,000 Pelleteri Stakes on Feb. 13 at Fair Grounds. War Echo was injured last spring after winning the Silverbulletday Stakes and was slow to get back into form after returning to the races late last summer. But War Echo won an allowance race at Churchill in November and looked good capturing the Daily Racing Form Distaff on Dec. 19 at Fair Grounds. Asmussen said the Pelleteri could serve as a prep race for the March 6 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Hotep eyeing Risen Star after win

Hotep tossed his hat into the Risen Star Stakes circle with an impressive entry-level route allowance win Monday at Fair Grounds. A Sam-Son Farms homebred by A.P. Indy, Hotep made a sharp far-turn move into a slow pace and drew off to win the mile and 40-yard race by 1 3/4 lengths for trainer Mark Frostad.

Hotep made two starts at Woodbine last fall, winning his maiden at first asking before finishing fifth in a restricted stakes race. Frostad said Hotep was a short horse when he made the lead at the stretch call and faded to fourth in a Jan. 3 Fair Grounds allowance race, but on Monday, Hotep sustained a flashy run.

"I was concerned because the fractions were so slow, but man, he made a big move," Frostad said.

Hotep would be running back in 19 days if his connections elect to target the Feb. 20 Risen Star.

"I'm not sure it's too soon at all," Frostad said late Monday afternoon. "We're definitely looking at that as a logical spot for him."

Lukas's Fair Grounds string ships out

When the 2009-2010 Fair Grounds meet began in November, D. Wayne Lukas had 25 stalls at the track. Now he has none, but Lukas insisted this week that economic practicality, and not any dissatisfaction with Fair Grounds, had led him to move his entire winter string to Oaklawn Park.

"We combined everything up here [at Oaklawn] because we had some horses we sent home, and economically it didn't make any sense to stay there with the number we had," Lukas said. "We're going to continue to shuttle down there for various stakes and other races, but to keep paying everyone there, it didn't make sense. It had no bearing on New Orleans. We were doing well there, and we enjoyed being there."

Lukas has sent out 31 starters so far this Fair Grounds meet and has won three races.