02/12/2004 1:00AM

Gill's spending spree filling his barn


NEW ORLEANS - Owner Mike Gill claimed four horses on Monday at Fair Grounds and two more midway through Thursday's card, but Gill's local trainer, Gamaliel Vazquez, said Gill has no intention of going on a long-term claiming spree at Fair Grounds.

In California, Gill and trainer Nick Canani have claimed scores of horses in the last several months, prompting fears that Gill plans to move the recently acquired stock to trainers in other parts of the country. Vazquez said that Gill's operation at Fair Grounds bears little resemblance to his California string and that Gill plans to claim horses and run back during the Fair Grounds meet.

"We're only going to claim horses to fill the barn up and run them right back," Vazquez said.

Gill, who is leasing a Fair Grounds barn owned by Louie Roussel, had 12 empty stalls after claiming Cielo's Garden for $13,500 in Thursday's first race and African Skyline for $35,000 in the fifth race. Gill's claims Monday, ranging from $10,000 he paid for Lord Jones to $50,000 for a maiden filly named Uncork, totaled $97,500.

Through Monday's races, Vazquez had started 17 horses at the Fair Grounds meet, winning five races with a second and a third. Vazquez said various factors had limited his participation at the meet. Several of Gill's Fair Grounds horses have been rained out of intended turf starts, and Vazquez said some horses he had claimed during the Calder meet were barred from running until 90 days from the date of their claim.

Vazquez, who was based at a training center near Calder Race Course before coming to Fair Grounds, said he's uncertain where his string of horses will wind up after the Fair Grounds meet ends in late March. Gill has applied for stalls at several tracks, Vazquez said, and the Fair Grounds horses could ship to Lone Star Park after this meet.

"Wherever we get the most stalls, that's where we're going next," Vazquez said. "We could go to Lone Star and Louisiana Downs, and make it a circuit."

Tiger Heart unable to travel for Risen Star

Florida-based trainer Ken McPeek and Fair Grounds racing officials scrambled much of Thursday trying to find a way to get Tiger Heart, McPeek's promising 3-year-old, to New Orleans for Sunday's Risen Star Stakes. To the disappointment of both parties, no arrangements could be made, and Tiger Heart is likely to start next in an entry-level allowance at Gulfstream.

"I can't get a flight, and it's too far to van him," McPeek said Thursday afternoon.

That leaves a prospective field of six for the Risen Star, with four locals and two shippers. Mr. Jester vanned here from Oaklawn Park, and Oneverycoolcat, a maiden with just one previous start, flew in from California. They will join Polish Rifle, Shiloh Bound, Assault Commander, Gradepoint, and any last-minute entries in the Risen Star.

Thursday morning, over yet another wet track at Fair Grounds, Gradepoint blew out a half-mile in 49.80 seconds. Rain is forecast here through Saturday, but may leave the area before the Risen Star.

Saint Liam preps for New Orleans

Tucked in between horses trained by Mike Pino and Neil Pessin in barn 26 at Fair Grounds is Saint Liam, who arrived about a week ago to prepare for the Feb. 29 New Orleans Handicap. Monday, Saint Liam worked five furlongs in 1:01.20, fifth fastest of 54 works at the distance. Eddie Martin worked Saint Liam, but trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said Edgar Prado will ride Saint Liam in the New Orleans Handicap.

Dutrow has trained Saint Liam only since November, and the 4-year-old colt has won two allowance races, both by four lengths, since joining the stable. Saint Liam had mixed success in stakes races last year, finishing seventh in the Arkansas Derby, second in the Iowa Derby, and 10th in the Hall of Fame Stakes, a turf race at Saratoga.

"I'm thinking if he likes the racetrack and runs his race, the [New Orleans Handicap] will tell us where to go with him this year," Dutrow said.

Dutrow said he shipped Saint Liam to Fair Grounds early "to get him settled in and have a couple breezes over the track."

"We're hoping that works out for us," Dutrow said. "He's training really well over there."

Saint Liam traveled with two of Dutrow's employees. Dutrow is well acquainted with Pino, who was an assistant to his father, Richard Dutrow.

* Timo, the talented 3-year-old grass horse, had his first workout of the year earlier this week, going a very easy three furlongs. Timo hasn't raced since he had a dreadful trip and finished eighth in the Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby on Jan. 1 at Calder. Trainer Bill Badgett said Timo would probably make his 2004 debut in a grass stakes early in the Keeneland meet.