12/27/2002 12:00AM

Is Green Fee really this good?


NEW ORLEANS - Sundays in December have been work days for Green Fee, who is readying for his 2003 debut after capping off last season with a close fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Green Fee took it easy for a couple weeks after the Breeders' Cup, but trainer Danny Peitz picked up the pace of Green Fee's training after the horse had a chance to settle into Fair Grounds during November. A turf horse who must do all his training here on dirt - Fair Grounds doesn't allow training on the turf course - Green Fee has turned in solid five-furlong breezes the last three weeks tuning up for the $75,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap on Jan. 5.

"We've had him on an every Sunday work schedule," said Peitz, who trains Green Fee for owners Robert and Lawana Low. "Everything's been good so far. He seems happy doing things down here."

Green Fee's Breeders' Cup effort, coupled with a win in the Grade 2 Kelso, should make him a heavy favorite in the ungraded Bradley. The question is whether Green Fee, who will turn 7 Wednesday, was riding a hot streak last fall, or if he really is a legitimate graded-stakes caliber turf horse. Before the Kelso, Green Fee had never won a stakes race of any kind and earlier in his career he raced for claiming prices as low as $45,000.

"I don't know," said Peitz, "but I think he's probably just reaching his potential. He's sounder now than he's ever been and we always thought he could be this kind of horse. There's the question of how he'll run away from Belmont, which he loves, and the races here are all farther than a mile. But this is the only other track he's won at besides Belmont, so that's a positive thing."

Rock Slide waits for Whirlaway

The Bradley is the last of four stakes to be run here next week: the Louisiana Handicap is on Thursday, the Truly Bound on Friday, and the Thelma on Saturday.

The Louisiana, for older horses at 1 1/16 miles on dirt, lost its favorite this week when trainer Neil Howard declared Rock Slide from the race. Rock Slide beat Discreet Hero by a nose in an excellent edition of the Tenacious Handicap here Dec. 7, and both are awaiting stakes later in the meet: Discreet Hero perhaps the Diplomat Way, and Rock Slide the Grade 3 Whirlaway, a prep for the New Orleans Handicap.

Howard had been pointing Rock Slide for the Louisiana but became dissatisfied with the progress of a quarter crack Rock Slide has nursed since early fall.

"I have a little bit of concern since he's still fighting the quarter crack," Howard said. "I just want to make sure his hoof has grown down all the way. I thought maybe his coronet band had weakened after his

last race."

Rock Slide will continue training steadily but won't breeze until his foot has improved, Howard said. "There are bigger things down the road, so a couple weeks can't hurt," Howard said. "We want to get him to the New Orleans Handicap in as good a shape as we can."

Rock Slide's absence means the Louisiana won't have a solid favorite. Connected, third in the Tenacious, and the Churchill allowance winner Learned are the top probable starters.

Trujillo in Panama while suspended

Jockey Elvis Trujillo was handed a seven-day suspension earlier this month, but Trujillo has turned it into a vacation. Brent Seward, Trujillo's agent, said a homesick Trujillo had returned to Panama for an indefinite period.

"He went home and I haven't talked to him at all," Seward said. "He said he needed some time away and that he'd be back."

Trujillo, second leading rider at Arlington this summer, had gotten a decent start at Fair Grounds, winning five races from 36 mounts.

o Lakenheath, one of only four horses considered probable starters in the $75,000 Truly Bound Handicap, worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 here Friday. Lakenheath ran poorly in her last start, the Grade 1 Spinster, but won the Grade 3 Arlington Matron in her previous race. As a 3-year-old, Lakenheath won the Silverbulletday Stakes here.