01/15/2003 12:00AM

Green Fee may get change of scenery

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NEW ORLEANS - When a horse goes from a close fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile to a close fifth-place finish in an ungraded stakes race, it can leave the trainer scratching his head.

Danny Peitz wasn't actually doing any scratching Wednesday morning in his Fair Grounds barn office, but he has been doing plenty of mulling over when and where Green Fee will make his next start. Winner of the Grade 2 Kelso and beaten less than two lengths in the Breeders' Cup to finish his 2002 season, Green Fee finished fifth at odds of 6-5 here Jan. 5 in the $75,000 Colonel E. R. Bradley.

Even before that race, Peitz wondered if Green Fee would be the same horse this winter as he was last fall, when he thrived racing around one turn at Belmont Park.

"In those one-turn races you'll almost always get a legitimate pace, and that's what he needs," Peitz said.

Green Fee hadn't raced in 10 weeks before the Bradley, but Peitz said he thought his horse went into the race with an adequate level of fitness. But with a dearth of pace in the race, Green Fee wound up close to the early leaders, and after looming at the top of the stretch he flattened out.

"That's not how he wants to run," Peitz said, "and I'm not convinced he's in love with this turf course. He's won on it before, but he's disappointed me enough times that I wonder how much he likes it."

With that in mind, Peitz hasn't committed Green Fee to a start in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup here on Feb. 1. Peitz will consider that spot, but said Green Fee also is possible for the Connally Breeders' Cup at Sam Houston on Feb. 15.

"I hate to ship anytime, but we're thinking about it," Peitz said. "I've never run a horse there, but I've heard for years what a nice grass course they have."

Learned goes on grass if race fills

Trainer Bobby Barnett wavered between running the promising older horse Learned in a turf allowance race Friday or the Diplomat Way Handicap on dirt here Sunday. He eventually settled on the grass race, only to find late Wednesday morning that the race had failed to attract sufficient entries and wouldn't make it onto Friday's program.

Fair Grounds officials said they would bring the race back during Thursday's entries for Saturday, and Learned will be back in it, but if the race fails to fill again Learned will end up in the Diplomat Way, Barnett said.

Learned, who returned from a long layoff in Kentucky this past fall, would already have started at this meet had he not come down with an upper-respiratory infection days before he was to have been entered in the Louisiana Handicap. Learned recovered quickly from his illness and on Tuesday had his second workout since missing training time, breezing a half-mile in 49.40 seconds.

Learned has never raced on turf, but Barnett said he had long ago considered a grass start for the gelding.

"The way he runs, and with his female family, we thought turf would be a good spot for him," Barnett said.

A turf race could set Learned up for the Feb. 9 Whirlaway Handicap on dirt, or Learned could make his stakes debut here Sunday in the Diplomat Way. If he does, Learned will face another impressive allowance horse, Mineshaft, who could be a narrow favorite over Discreet Hero. Discreet Hero was beaten a nose in the Tenacious Handicap, his most recent start.

Training race report

The racing surface here was deep and slow for Wednesday's four training races; the fastest of them was timed in about 1:03, depending on which clocker was running a watch. The quickest heat was the third. That and the second were the two most notable races.

In the Ghetto won the third for trainer Dallas Stewart, showing good early speed and finishing well while running into a strong headwind. She was clear of Red Zinger and Key Approval at the finish, but Red Zinger quickly caught and passed In the Ghetto as the horses galloped out around the clubhouse turn. Neither Red Zinger, a 3-year-old from the Neil Howard barn, nor Key Approval, a 5-year-old trained by Henry Cochran, was ridden hard in the stretch but both finished up well.

Prairie Slam, a 3-year-old colt trained by Wayne Catalano, was the star of the second, which officially was given a slow time of about 1:04. Prairie Slam, who ran with front bandages, was held up at the back of the field for the first quarter-mile, but began moving wide coming off the turn and had passed everyone by the sixteenth pole. He didn't gallop out especially well, but that's okay - Prairie Slam's main work came from the quarter-pole to the finish.

In the same race, Double Slam raced under stout restraint and galloped out strongly for trainer Steve Asmussen.

* Saturday's feature, the $75,000 Crescent City Derby for Louisiana-breds at 1 1/16 miles, will attract a full field, but the race probably boils down to a rematch between Meteor Impact and Witt Ante. Meteor Impact overcame a tough trip to win the Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile in his last start. Witt Ante was second, beaten by six lengths, in the Juvenile, but returned to easily win the Louisiana Futurity here Dec. 27.