01/29/2009 12:00AM

Lecomte also-rans try turf sprint


The 3-year-old colts Big Push and Citizen both raced in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 10 at Fair Grounds, but don't remind their connections of that fact. Big Push finished a distant fifth in the race, and Citizen was a fading seventh, but either or both could rebound on Saturday in the Black Gold Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint.

Eight horses in all were entered in the Black Gold, but Extreme Warrior and Citizen are coupled, leaving seven betting interests, and easy toss-outs are not in great supply. Midland Man, a Texas-bred with one start back in June, seems overmatched on paper, but the others look pretty tightly grouped. Unbridle's Dream won his maiden sprinting on turf at Woodbine, while Proteus, making his second career start, won a maiden turf sprint at Fair Grounds by more than five lengths Dec. 27. Four days later, Turfiste was just edged out going long on grass in an allowance. Extreme Warrior is a two-time turf winner over lesser competition.

So, boil the Black Gold down to the two Lecomte horses and Churchill maiden winner Sangre Frio. Big Push, making his first route start after four good sprint races on both Polytrack and dirt, failed even to show early speed in the Lecomte, checking in 12 lengths behind Friesan Fire at the finish.

"I don't even want to talk about his last race," said trainer Richie Scherer. "It just didn't work out the way we foresaw it."

Before the Lecomte, Big Push finished second by a head in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds, a performance that marks him as a major threat Saturday, but only if Big Push's form transfers to turf. Big Push, a son of the Kingmambo stud Black Mambo, debuted with a third-place finish in an Arlington turf sprint.

"He ran pretty green first time out," Scherer said. "I don't think it was the turf. I think it was him making his first start."

One grass start is one more than Citizen has made, but Citizen is by City Zip, whose offspring have won 12 of 80 first-turf starts. A stakes winner at 2, Citizen should benefit from turning back in distance on Saturday, trainer Bernie Flint said.

"He's a sprinter. He likes to come from just off it," said Flint. "He's a beautiful horse, but not all of them can go long."

Also making his first turf start is Sangre Frio, who easily beat impressive Fair Grounds maiden winner Captain Cherokee in a Nov. 22 dirt sprint against maidens at Churchill. By More than Ready, Sangre Frio, like Citizen, has the pedigree to transfer his form to grass.