06/20/2005 11:00PM

High Strike Zone gives trainer ray of hope

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Lone Star
High Strike Zone won the Texas Mile in April, a month before his trainer was told he had cancer.

High Strike Zone ran like a horse with more on the line than just victory Saturday, when he repulsed two stretch bids and pulled clear to win the $50,000 Ark-La-Tex Handicap at Louisiana Downs. It was a gutsy, front-running effort, and an image that his trainer, Amos Laborde, surely carried with him into surgery on Tuesday.

Laborde was to have surgery for cancer, a diagnosis he was hit with in late May. The word came about a month after High Strike Zone gave the 71-year-old his first graded win with a rousing victory over millionaire Supah Blitz in the Grade 3, $300,000 Texas Mile.

That race stamped High Strike Zone as one of the top handicap horses in the region, and he furthered his reputation Saturday with his victory under Ricky Faul in the Ark-La-Tex. It was a satisfying win, said Laborde, because of the admiration he has for High Strike Zone, who is one of the best horses he has trained in a career that dates back to the late 1960's.

"I didn't worry too much about the money - it was just the glory of him winning, because he's been so good," said Laborde. "He was a horse who, like me, he went to surgery and he came back, and he looks like he's running good now. I hope I come back as good as him."

High Strike Zone, a 5-year-old gelding, had bone chips removed as a younger horse. He has now won four stakes and earned $425,160 - not bad for a $20,000 purchase at auction by owner Donald Erickson.

Laborde said he watched the Ark-La-Tex on simulcast, at Delta Downs in Vinton, La. He has a home near that track, and was there late last week because he was having tests Thursday and Friday at nearby M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston. Laborde's stable is based at Lone Star Park near Dallas, and that is where High Strike Zone returned after the Ark-La-Tex.

"That's the first time we ever hauled him and ran him, and it looked like it didn't bother him at all," said Laborde. "He ran a good race. He ran real strong. It looked like he relaxed good all the way around, and Ricky said when the other horses got even with him, he went on on his own. He didn't even ask him. He just pulled away from them."

High Strike Zone, who earned a Beyer Figure of 97 for his win in the Ark-La-Tex, will now be pointed for the $75,000 Bob Johnson Memorial at one mile on July 17. Laborde said he hopes to be back training from five to seven days following surgery Tuesday.

"I feel pretty good. I'm just weak," he said Monday. "They'll try to fix it up, and I should get back my strength, and everything ought to be rolling. I've got to get back and put another notch on [High Strike Zone's] belt."

Sale graduates can compete for bonus

There are now higher stakes tied to the yearling sale that will be held at Louisiana Downs on Oct. 15. A total of $200,000 in bonuses for accredited Louisiana-bred graduates of the annual auction will be awarded in what is being called the Bayou State Bonus.

There is a $100,000 bonus awaiting the eligible colt or gelding sales graduate who can sweep the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile in 2006, the $75,000 Crescent City Derby in 2007, and the A.L. "Red" Erwin Memorial in 2007.

For fillies, $100,000 is available to the eligible statebred who sweeps the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Lassie in 2006, the $75,000 Crescent City Oaks, a new race to be held at Fair Grounds in 2007, and the Elge Raspberry Memorial in 2007.

The bonus is funded by the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

Hawley and Jacinto have two top contenders

Three allowance races are on the card Thursday at Louisiana Downs, and they will be run as the final three offerings on the 11-race program. The richest is the 10th race, a six-furlong allowance for Louisiana-breds worth $31,5000. Trainer Wes Hawley will saddle top contender Z Storm, who will be ridden by John Jacinto.

Hawley and Jacinto also have one of the top choices in the 11th race, a six-furlong open-company allowance for fillies and mares worth $28,000. The pair will team with Keep This Cat, while another contender in the field is Cookin's Cast.

Fillies and mares will route in the ninth, and the top choices include Foist, for trainer Al Stall Jr., and Sumkindablonde, for trainer Dwight Viator.

* This weekend, Louisiana Downs puts on its first 2-year-old stakes of the meet. The $40,000 Rebel for fillies is on Saturday, and the $40,000 Pioneer for colts and geldings is on Sunday.