03/13/2008 12:00AM

Lattice lands in tough spot


The purse structure in Thoroughbred racing is supposed to separate animals into appropriate classes. The higher the purse, the better the horse.

But that is not the way things have worked in the Allen Lacombe Memorial Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds. The Lacombe, carded for about one mile on turf, offers a modest purse of $60,000, but has attracted a field befitting a much larger pot.

"I thought for $60,000 it'd come up a little easier, but I guess everyone was thinking the same thing," said trainer Al Stall, who selected the Lacombe as the comeback spot for the talented grass horse Lattice.

Lattice is among 10 horses entered in the Lacombe for turf. The old warrior Sandburr will start only if the race is rained onto dirt, and will be a factor if it is.

Lattice hasn't started since he turned in a disappointing performance in the Secretariat Stakes last August at Arlington, and in a race that includes Sterwins and Inca King, and even Save Big Money and Storm Treasure, Lattice would need a bang-up effort off the shelf to come back with a win.

"He's a big, heavy horse who's going to need racing, most probably," Stall said.

Lattice won the American Derby at Arlington before he failed to fire in the Secretariat, and earlier last year he was defeated in the Jefferson Cup at Churchill by Inca King. Inca King won the age-restricted Woodchopper Handicap in December at Fair Grounds, but most recently faded to eighth after chasing Daytona in the Fair Grounds Handicap. Saturday's shorter distance may help Inca King, but his tendency to pull hard early in his races appears to have hurt him on the Fair Grounds course.

Sterwins was a possible starter in last weekend's $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap right up until entry day, but his connections in the end chose a course of lesser resistance.

"We thought it was coming up a really tough race, and that's how it seemed to happen," trainer Malcolm Pierce said. "This is a lot less money, but there are lot of races for him later in the year."

Sterwins won the Diliberto Handicap in December while making his Fair Grounds debut, and was a troubled third in the Bradley Handicap before closing well for third in the Fair Grounds Handicap. With Patrick Husbands named to ride, Sterwins turns back to a mile, but may have a decent pace at which to run, and probably can adapt.

"I think the distance suits him," Pierce said. "Patrick's just going to have to ask him a little bit earlier."