07/26/2005 11:00PM

Maiden shows no ill effects of fall

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. - The best thing about Puff of Smoke's debut was that trainer Greg Gilchrist was in Florida and didn't see the race.

Breaking from the rail as the 3-5 favorite in a $25,000 maiden claimer at Pleasanton on July 6, Puff of Smoke was bothered at the start and ending up clipping heels and falling.

He returns Friday at the Sonoma County Fair in a $32,000 maiden claimer against five rival 2-year-olds.

Gilchrist has been careful in bringing Puff of Smoke back to the races.

"The first thing you want to do is immediately that day check for injuries," Gilchrist said. "He had some cuts, but they were all superficial. Then you watch the next two or three days for body soreness, just as you would if you took a bad fall. After you've done that, you can go back to easy training."

Following that pattern, Gilchrist gave Puff of Smoke a work on July 21. Puff of Smoke, who had proven a willing worker in the morning prior to his debut, had a 48-second half-mile bullet that was the best of 21 works that day.

In preparation for Friday's race, Gilchrist broke Puff of Smoke from between a pair of horses Wednesday.

"I wanted to see if anything was bothering him from his first start, but he handled it fine," Gilchrist said.

Puff of Smoke is an $8,500 yearling purchase, and Gilchrist isn't sure how good he is.

"He breezed well going into his first race, but I have better in my barn," he said. "I don't know how good he is, but I feel fortunate this is a small field and he happened to draw the 5-hole. I don't know how I would have felt if he had drawn [post 1]. After this race, we will have a better idea about him."

Puff of Smoke is one of three members of the field to have raced. Ghost Town Meeting ran fourth at 8-1 when he and Puff of Smoke debuted on July 6. Blazing Desert was beaten 25 3/4 lengths in his debut in a straight maiden race.

First-timers include Duforspitze, Truluck Pirate, and Out of the Barn.

Truluck Pirate appears the most interesting with a fast 46.20 half-mile gate work that hints he has good speed. Trainer Don Collins gave Roberto Gonzalez, northern California's top speed jockey, the mount.

Truluck Pirate's young sire, multiple Grade 3 stakes winner Truluck, has yet to have a debut winner among his six previous 2-year-old first-timers.