12/21/2007 1:00AM

Inca King scaring them off

EmailInca King won the $150,000 Bryan Station Stakes in October at Keeneland and the $166,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes in November at Churchill, and maybe - just maybe - there is some correlation between the presence of Inca King and the fact that the $60,000 Woodchopper Handicap on Monday at Fair Grounds drew a field of only six horses.

The Woodchopper usually gets more than that. It comes up a week before the Thoroughbred population's common birthday, but is open only to 3-year-olds, a rare late-season opportunity for age-restricted racing. But really, it's no great bargain facing Inca King, even in a race closed to older horses.

Inca King has won five times this year, all on turf, including capturing the Grade 2 Jefferson Cup at Churchill in his first start for trainer Steve Asmussen this past spring. Why is Inca King in a race at Monday's class level? To see if he can run as well over the Fair Grounds course as he has in Kentucky.

Back in July and September, Inca King hit a rough patch, finishing ninth in the Virginia Derby at Colonial, and ninth in the DeBartolo Handicap at Remington. But back in Kentucky, he scored easily over arguably better horses while racing on turf courses he had previously handled.

"He ran two bad races for I don't know why," Asmussen said. "This is a great spot to see if he's going to run well on this course. If he doesn't, we'll give him a little break and wait for Keeneland."

But if Inca King does as well over the Fair Grounds lawn as he has at Churchill and Keeneland, it is on to bigger and better things, with the $500,000 Mervin Muniz as a long-term goal.

Inca King is a free-runner and won't be far off the pace, but in his last two starts he has rated kindly, and in the Commonwealth was content to sit off a moderate 48.60-second half-mile pace. That sort of relaxed approach would serve Inca King well in the 1 1/16-mile Woodchopper, which, despite the small number of entries, has quite a lot of early pace.

Voy Por Uno Mas appears to be the fastest of the fast. A total runoff early in his career, he has learned to harness his speed, but only to a certain extent. When he won an off-the-turf Churchill allowance race on Nov. 21, Voy Por Uno Mas led through a half-mile in 45.60 seconds.

Stonehouse, more proven on dirt than turf, also races on or near the lead, as does Tactical Weapon, who rated pretty well while winning a 7 1/2-furlong second-level turf allowance just two weeks ago at Fair Grounds.

Coming from farther off the pace will be Jazz Quest, who won the $98,000 Grindstone Stakes over this course last March, but has been no match for Inca King in their last two head-to-head confrontations.