01/08/2002 12:00AM

Lake Lady could defy her sprinter's pedigree

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NEW ORLEANS - Lake Lady, perhaps the most talented 3-year-old filly at Fair Grounds, is leaving the ranks of sprinters and heading into two-turn stakes races. And like any unusually talented horse with a sprinter's pedigree, her ability to win a route race will be questioned.

Whatever the depths of her stamina might be, Lake Lady's win Sunday in the Thelma Stakes was exceptionally impressive. Defeated by a half-length in her debut at Keeneland, * came back to win two races at Churchill Downs by a combined 20 lengths. The Thelma was her stakes debut, but she clearly outclassed her opposition, much more so than her 1 1/4-length victory.

Trainer Steve Asmussen wanted Lake Lady to experience some of the obstacles encountered during a race, and to teach her to relax for her rider when running in traffic. So in the six-furlong Thelma, jockey Donnie Meche took Lake Lady off the early pace and steered into traffic on the turn. Though Lake Lady had never been behind horses, she handled the experience with aplomb. When a hole opened up at the top of the stretch, Lake Lady burst to the lead in a matter of strides and never looked back.

"That's the way she does everything," said Asmussen, referring to Lake Lady's adaptability.

It's that quality and her obvious talent that Asmussen thinks will get Lake Lady through her next goal, the Jan. 27 Tiffany Lass, which is run around two turns at one mile. Her pedigree probably will not. Lake Lady is by Salt Lake, a sprinter himself and generally a sire of sprinters, and her dam is Slinkylady, who won several two-turn races, but against suspect quality at Assiniboia Downs. Slinkylady's sire, What a Hoist, was a confirmed sprinter who won only once in his career.

But Asmussen's father, Keith, who purchased Lake Lady for only $45,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale two years ago, does not seek out top pedigrees. "He buys individuals," Asmussen said. "Keith had a great sale that year."

Keith Asmussen, who does not usually keep top racing prospects for himself, sold Lake Lady to Robert Beck between the filly's Churchill allowance win and the Thelma.

Steve Asmussen went down this same road last year with Beloved by All, a freakishly fast sprinter who failed to relax enough to win any of the 3-year-old filly route stakes here. But Lake Lady, Asmussen said, is an entirely different kind of horse.

"I think if we can keep her where she's at mentally, she can at least get the mile," Asmussen said. "Then we'll go from there."

Asmussen finds two more prospects

Asmussen's strength in the 3-year-old colt division grew Monday when he ran one-two in one of the stronger-looking maiden races run so far this meet.

Besides several promising maidens and first-level allowance horses, Asmussen already has Easyfromthegitgo penciled into the Lecomte Stakes later this month, with Black Gold Handicap winner Private Emblem waiting in the wings.

On Monday, his first-time starter Guernica, a 16-1 shot, beat his second-time starter Texan Storm, the 5-2 second choice, by 2 1/2 lengths.

Guernica, a training-race winner here in early December, broke sharply from post 1, turned back a challenge from favored World Trade at the top of the stretch and won going away, running six furlongs in 1:11.78.

"He's always been a good horse from the gates," said Asmussen, who plans to keep Guernica, a son of El Prado, in sprint races for now.

Texan Storm, who's by Tejano Run and bred along the lines of a route horse, probably will make his next start in a two-turn race. Texan Storm debuted with a good third Dec. 10 and Asmussen said he might have stretched him out to a route distance in this start had the colt not lost training time because of bad weather.

Two options for Northcote Road

Trainer Blackie Huffman said Northcote Road came out of his win Saturday in the Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap in great shape and will start in a Fair Grounds turf stakes sometime next month. Huffman and owner Charles Duncker must choose between the $150,000 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup on Feb. 2 and the $75,000 Mardi Gras Handicap on Feb. 12.

The two stakes are so close together because Mardi Gras in New Orleans falls on an early date this year. The races also are separated by distance: The Fair Grounds BC is run at nine furlongs, the Mardi Gras at 7 1/2 furlongs. Northcote Road has never won at nine furlongs, though he lost the Grade 2 Explosive Bid by only a neck last year.

Huffman said he's not concerned about distance, but might be leaning toward the Mardi Gras with Northcote Road, if for no other reason than the gelding has won the race the last two years. "He might have to defend his title there," Huffman said.

The 7-year-old Northcote Road has made a great career running at Fair Grounds. His win in the Bradley, which was moved from turf to a sloppy main track, was his ninth in 16 starts at this track. Later in the meet, if things go well, Northcote Road will try for the third time to win the Explosive Bid.

Tenpins rises from humble beginnings

By Smart Strike out of a Deputy Minister mare, the 4-year-old colt Tenpins has a nice pedigree - especially for a Michigan-bred. And it's hard to believe a colt who has beaten all comers in Kentucky and New Orleans finished fourth in his debut at tiny Great Lakes Downs.

With three consecutive wins, Tenpins is a young horse on the rise, and another strong performance in an allowance race will earn him a stakes berth, trainer Don Winfree said.

Tenpins won the eighth race Sunday - his first start around two turns - by 1 1/2 lengths, crossing the wire first for the fourth time in a row.

Tenpins was disqualified from a maiden win Sept. 9 at Arlington - his first start for Winfree - for interference out of the gate.

Tenpins races for breeder Joseph Vitello, long a fixture in Michigan racing according to Winfree, who also campaigns Tenpins's older brother, It's a Sweep, second in a turf claimer here Monday.

Tenpins won around two turns for the first time Sunday and will start next in a two-turn, third-level allowance race. "If he runs well there, we'll start looking around for stakes," Winfree said.

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