01/31/2003 1:00AM

Full field of unproven performers at Fair Grounds


NEW ORLEANS - The horses in Sunday's stakes race at Fair Grounds did not make it here on merit. What they did to qualify for a $75,000 purse was to go through the Fair Grounds Sale of 2-year-olds in training last season. The heavy restrictions makes the Sales Stakes light on quality - and tough to figure.

To top it all off a full field of 12, including two couplings, were entered in the one-mile dirt race. Eight of the entries are maidens, three have won only their maiden, and the horse with three wins, Mighty Merlin, specializes in five-furlong races and may not make this distance.

Mighty Merlin is 3 for 3 at five furlongs and 0 for 4 at longer distance, and even if you think he might win the Sales Stakes on talent alone, the short price is all wrong. Better to go fishing for something more obscure, a lightly raced horse who might get the trip.

Fourchon is one of those, and with only one race in his career, an eighth-place finish on turf, Fourchon should offer long odds. But Fourchon fetched $35,000 at a Keeneland yearling sale of 2001, and he stayed close to open maidens in his only start, which should move him up for this switch to dirt.

Cypress Cove was a $50,000 yearling purchase, and he comes out of a third-place finish in an open sprint allowance race here Jan. 10. But like Mighty Merlin, the question here is of distance, since Cypress Cove is no lock to get two turns.

Other apparent contenders are Lucky Lief, Bridlestone, and Antsy.

Most Feared has stress fracture

A bone scan has revealed that the Louisiana Derby hopeful Most Feared has a stress fracture in his leg, an injury that almost certainly will force him to miss the rest of the Fair Grounds meet.

A Grade 3 winner last season, Most Feared came back from a layoff in the Jan. 25 Lecomte Stakes, but tired to finish 10th of 11 as the betting favorite. Trainer Ronny Werner said extensive tests had been conducted on Most Feared after the race, but nothing turned up until Friday.

Werner said Most Feared has a stress fracture of the radius in his right front leg, an area right above the knee. "It's a bad thing because it means he's going to be on hold for a while," Werner said. "But it could have been a lot worse."

Werner said veterinarians suggested re-examining Most Feared in 30 days. "If I had to guess, I'd say he's going to have about 60 days off," said Werner.

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