02/04/2003 1:00AM

An ideal setup for Noon Affair


Few people enjoy wintering in New Orleans more than Gene Cilio, the veteran Chicago trainer who relishes the mild climate and world-famous cuisine of the Big Easy.

But what makes the winter all that more enjoyable for Cilio is winning races at Fair Grounds, where he annually brings a string of capable horses. Alas, this has been a so-so Fair Grounds meet for Cilio, who has just four wins from his first 34 starters. But things could get better in a hurry Thursday.

That's because Cilio has Noon Affair in a good spot in the Thursday feature, a $36,000 allowance carrying a four-other-than restriction. Scheduled for 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass, the race appears to be full of speed, something that could greatly assist a stalker such as Noon Affair.

Noon Affair, a 6-year-old gelding owned by Jerry Gutzweiler, is one of eight horses entered in the ninth race. Since late August, when he finished second in a $50,000 claiming race at Arlington, Noon Affair has been consistent, finishing in the money each time, including five runner-up finishes.

In this race, Noon Affair figures to wait a few lengths behind the early goers before launching his bid. That style resulted in two second-place finishes in similar races earlier this meet, so clearly Noon Affair is only a jump or two behind where Cilio would like him to be.

If not Noon Affair, then the race could fall to another stalking type, Rahy's Secret. Trained by Tom Amoss for Keith Plaisance, Rahy's Secret actually defeated Noon Affair by three-quarters of a length when they last met in a similar turf sprint Dec. 26. In the interim, Rahy's Secret has posted several sharp workouts for Amoss.

One more closer, Justice for Auston, is entered off an even longer layoff. He last raced Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs. Don Winfree has inherited the training of Justice for Auston from Dale Romans since then.

The primary speed horses are Mickey's Malarkey, Gold Taker, and possibly Mr. Sulu. Of those, Gold Taker probably is the most dangerous, even though he is winless in three career turf tries for trainer Louie Roussel.

Fly Smartly and G.W.'s Deputy complete the field.

The card also includes a two-turn turf allowance that directly precedes the feature.

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