01/08/2003 12:00AM

Jury still out on Lone Star Sky

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NEW ORLEANS - Lone Star Sky, the 3-year-old colt who won the Cradle Stakes last summer, had his first breeze of the season this week at Fair Grounds. Lone Star Sky hasn't raced since running poorly in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and he returned to the racetrack only a couple weeks ago, but trainer Tom Amoss still isn't ruling out a comeback in the Jan. 25 Lecomte Stakes.

Lone Star Sky worked a half-mile here Monday in 50.20 seconds, his first work since leaving an Ocala, Fla., farm, where he rested for 30 to 45 days after the Breeders' Cup. "This was what we call a get-acquainted work," said Amoss, "just to make sure all the parts are in working order."

Plans for Lone Star Sky's comeback aren't definite, but Amoss deemed the Lecomte a possibility. At one mile, the race features a short stretch run, which can help a layoff horse like Lone Star Sky who might be getting tired at the end of a race.

It's hard even for Amoss to know what he has in Lone Star Sky right now. Lone Star Sky easily won the Grade 3 Bashford Manor at five furlongs, and after finishing second in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special he stretched out to two turns and won the $200,000 Cradle Stakes at River Downs. But Lone Star Sky was an uninspiring second to Sky Mesa in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, and then threw in a clunker in the Breeders' Cup, where he was beaten more than 20 lengths.

So, was Lone Star Sky a precocious 2-year-old whose peak came during his juvenile season, or can he develop further in his 3-year-old year.

"That's the million-dollar question," said Amoss. "We don't have an answer to it yet."

Midway Road makes turf debut in Black Gold

Midway Road will make his turf debut Saturday in the $75,000 Black Gold Handicap, a 7 1/2-furlong grass race for 3-year-olds, but trainer Neil Howard still hopes the colt's future is on dirt. Midway Road looked good winning an Arlington maiden sprint last summer and a Keeneland route allowance in the fall, though he lost both of his stakes starts.

Midway Road lost his air when he finished seventh in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to wind up his 2-year-old season, but he underwent minor throat surgery late last year to correct the problem. Midway Road "has trained beautifully," according to Howard, who still is optimistic the colt can become a stakes horse on dirt later this year. If he performs well Saturday, his chance probably will come in the Feb. 16 Risen Star Stakes.

Midway Road will be part of a solid if short field in the Black Gold, which could have the multiple turf stakes winner Zydeco Dancer as a favorite. Also expected to enter are Canaan Land, who won a turf allowance earlier this meet, his stablemate Catalissa, Prince Alphie, Larry B, and Oak Hill.

Turf fields held to nine

Only nine are allowed to run in the Black Gold, which is the case in all turf races here since Fair Grounds moved its inner turf rail out two positions on Wednesday, drastically cutting down on the width of the course. This meet, the rail has been positioned only in lanes 1 and 2. In lane 1, the course can accommodate as many as 14 starters.

Director of racing Mervin Muniz said that last year the track didn't use the third lane until March, and by then the course had deteriorated badly. With fewer rain-offs than normal this year, the grass already is showing signs of wear, and the early move this year is intended to preserve the inner portion of the course for big races later in the meet.

"You can only get nine in right now, and that's a disadvantage," Muniz said. "But the total thing is a plus because we still have the other two lanes to use and can let the inside of the grass course heal."

One training race stands out

Wednesday's four training races produced several horses of note, and most of them ran in the day's second five-furlong race. That race went in a fast time, 1:00.80, and the top three finishers all bear watching.

Ashmore, a Saint Ballado colt from the Mike Pino barn, won the race by two lengths after showing speed. Ashmore didn't change leads on cue in the stretch and lugged in a bit, but he galloped out decently and looks very fast. The Frank Brothers-trained Battle Won was off very slowly, but moved up quickly around the turn and finished well. He and Political Risk, a Neil Howard-trained colt, finished together and galloped out well.

Howard trains the winner of the first race, a Silver Deputy filly named Bayou Risk, who was steadied several times on the turn but finished fast under light urging and galloped out very well.

* Discreet Hero, an intended starter in the Jan. 19 Diplomat Way Handicap, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 here Monday. Discreet Hero was beaten a head in the Tenacious Handicap, but skipped the Louisiana Handicap this month to prepare for the Diplomat Way. "Everything's fine. I don't foresee any regression," said trainer Al Stall.