01/10/2009 1:00AM

Lecomte first taste of dirt for Patena


NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Josie Carroll seems to have the Lecomte Stakes figured about right.

"This is the next stepping-stone," Carroll said. "It's a place to evaluate, and see where to go from here."

Carroll's horse for the Grade 3, $100,000 Lecomte is Patena, one of eight likely starters in the one-mile race for 3-year-olds. None has won more than twice, and on paper, the horses are difficult to separate. Whoever wins or shows spark is likely to go on to the Risen Star Stakes, with the Louisiana Derby about two months away.

The Lecomte goes as race 9 on an 11-race, six-stakes card Saturday at Fair Grounds. A $2 all-stakes pick six ends on the Lecomte, as does a 50-cent pick five. The Tiffany Lass for 3-year-old fillies directly precedes the Lecomte; the day's second graded race is the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley.

Patena won the $152,000 Display Stakes at Woodbine on Dec. 6, and though he has raced only on Polytrack and turf, Patena is out of the mare Handpainted, who won the Pan Zareta at Fair Grounds.

"There's no reason he shouldn't handle dirt," Carroll said.

Friesan Fire was the 2-5 favorite here in a Dec. 18 allowance prep for the Lecomte, but racing in blinkers for the first time, he got caught up in a furious speed duel, and was run down late by Lecomte rival Uno Mas.

"He was just too rank," said Friesan Fire's trainer, Larry Jones. "Hopefully this time he'll be more relaxed and not tugging on the bit. I don't care if he's in front, as long as he's not tugging."

Friesan Fire has post 1, with stretch-out sprinters Citizen and Big Push drawn to his outside. A fast pace is possible.

Steve Asmussen, Uno Mas's trainer, was impressed with his colt's one-mile win last month. "He handled well," Asmussen said.

But that race was run a week later than scheduled because it was originally snowed out. "I'm a little worried about a step back on short notice," said Asmussen.

Scratched lame on the track before the Dec. 18 allowance was Indygo Mountain, an impressive maiden winner at Churchill Downs who has since recovered from the foot ailment that troubled him last month.

"I'm not saying he's not going to win, but he's not 100 percent," said trainer Bret Calhoun. "It's going to be tough after all he's been through."

The others in the Lecomte are Au Moon, who might need a longer distance, and Dynamic Force, another dirt debuter. Professor Z will be scratched.