02/08/2008 1:00AM

Ketchikan launching a comeback


NEW ORLEANS - Ketchikan, one of the more exciting 3-year-old prospects at this time last year, has returned to trainer Al Stall's Fair Grounds barn following a long layoff, and is training toward his first start since the Louisiana Derby on March 10 last year.

Ketchikan won a maiden race a year ago January, impressively captured a two-turn entry-level allowance race here, and then was a fine second behind Circular Quay and in front of Zanjero in the Louisiana Derby. But while training toward a final Kentucky Derby prep, Ketchikan came up with a problem in his leg - some sort of bone bruising - and went on a long, long holiday.

"He's big and starting to look athletic," Stall said. "All that time off, Mother Nature took care of whatever was bothering him."

Stall said that Ketchikan came into his Fair Grounds barn on Dec. 26, and that the colt is galloping 1 1/2 miles every day. If he continues moving forward in his training, Ketchikan could have his first breeze sometime around March 1, Stall said.

Denis of Cork ready for stakes debut

Denis of Cork, who is headed for his stakes debut in the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18 at Oaklawn, has continued moving forward following a hard-fought two-turn allowance win here Jan. 19. On Monday, Denis of Cork had his first breeze since his victory, working in company with one other horse. Fair Grounds clockers timed Denis of Cork in 49.20 seconds for a half-mile, while trainer David Carroll got the drill in 1:00.80 for five furlongs.

"He did it in hand," Carroll said. "It was a work for Robby [Albarado] to get a feel for him. Robby loved the way he went and felt."

Albarado will take over the mount on Denis of Cork in the Southwest after Calvin Borel rode the colt in his first two starts. Borel has elected to ride Turf War in the Southwest.

Denis of Cork debuted with an impressive seven-furlong victory on closing day of the Churchill Downs meet. The colt took some time to come back to himself after shipping to Fair Grounds, but has been on a steady upswing the last several weeks, Carroll said.

"You can really see him coming around physically now," said Carroll.

Graham surpassing expectations

Jamie Theriot (68 Fair Grounds wins) has trainer Cody Autrey's hyperactive claiming operation in his corner. Shaun Bridgmohan (51 wins) is riding pretty much everything for Steve Asmussen, who has more wins than most jockeys at the ongoing meet here. Robby Albarado (51 wins), is, well, Robby Albarado, the most well-known jockey in Louisiana. But there in fourth place in the jockey standings, with 38 wins and $1.2 million in purse earnings, is James Graham, who rides for just about everyone, and will ride in just about any kind of race.

Graham, an Irishman, actually got his start at Fair Grounds several years ago, and he has solid meets here every year. Asked for his goals coming into this season, Graham said: "To be able to go home safe and sound."

More seriously, Graham said he hoped for a top-five finish this meet. He works as many horses as anyone at the track, and is regularly named to ride horses in cheaper races, since he rides every race with such vigor.

"I try my heart out every time," Graham said.

Graham has managed to boot home two stakes winners at the meet - the Mark Frostad-trained French Beret in the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley Handicap, and the Asmussen-trained Jolie the Cat in the Tiffany Lass. He also won the Louisiana Champions Day Starter with Z Storm.