11/08/2001 12:00AM

Front Nine seeking Friendship, money

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Front Nine, a 2-year-old colt who has won two of his last three starts by a combined 33 lengths, looks for his second career stakes win Saturday in the colts and geldings division of the Friendship Stakes at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La.

The six-furlong race is restricted to Texas-breds nominated to the Friendship series, and if all seven horses entered start, the purse for the race will be $72,274.

In addition to Front Nine, others of note in the race are $6,500 supplemental entry Balkan, a recent maiden winner and half-brother to stakes winner Charlie's Beau; and two-time winner Devious Deed, who hails from the barn of leading trainer Cole Norman.

But Front Nine appears the one to beat. He earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his 15 1/4-length romp in last month's $25,000 Riverside Stakes, a six-furlong race for state-breds at Retama Park. Before that, he finished a distant third to eventual Breeders' Cup starter French Assault in the $100,000 El Joven on Sept. 1, two weeks after winning his maiden by 17 3/4 lengths.

Trainer Tommie Morgan is hopeful the colt will not regress following his big win in the Riverside.

"He's been training just like he was before he went into that race," said Morgan, who has given the mount to Cathleen Garner. "We put an easy five-eighths work into him the other day, and he came back real good."

Front Nine, who has shown high speed in his works as well as his races, does not need the lead to succeed Saturday. "He's got speed, yet you can get him to relax," said Morgan, who has won three past runnings of the Friendship.

Balkan won his maiden by 6 1/2 lengths in his debut Sept. 2 over Proud and Steady, who returned to place third in the Sport of Kings Futurity at Louisiana Downs. Trainer Steve Asmussen has given the mount to Gerard Melancon.