01/07/2011 4:59PM

Mavericking one to beat if race stays on turf

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After lucking out with weather during November and most of December, Fair Grounds has hit one of its drawn-out off-the-grass periods. Races were rained off turf four of five days last week, and grass racing was canceled again Friday. But rain or shine, turf or dirt, Sunday’s first race should showcase a strong 3-year-old prospect.

Entered main-track-only is twice-started Prime Cut, who is set to make his two-turn debut in an entry-level allowance carded at one mile on grass. In the main body of the field is Mavericking, a sharp maiden turf winner during this meet’s opening week, and more recently a closing second on grass while facing winners for the first time. Sunday’s first is scheduled for one mile, but would move to one mile 70 yards if taken off turf.

It remains to be determined whether Mavericking will start in the event of a surface switch, trainer Neil Pessin said. Mavericking, a Team Block homebred, made his first three starts on Polytrack before switching to grass at Fair Grounds.

“That’s still under discussion,” Pessin said of Mavericking’s main-track participation. “If it’s sloppy it’s going to be a question. If it’s fast, he’ll probably run.”

Mavericking won his maiden by more than three lengths, and was gaining late on talented turfer Perragaux in a Dec. 18 allowance race. Pessin said Mavericking will race in a shadow roll for the first time Sunday in an effort to keep the colt more focused.

“He’s still a little green,” said Pessin. “He still kind of gets in and out a little bit, plays around.”

There are high hopes for Prime Cut, a son of Bernstein purchased for $475,000 as a yearling. Prime Cut is owned by Courtlandt Farm and trained by Neil Howard, the same connections that sent Machen out to a fast debut sprint score last Sunday. Prime Cut, Howard said last week, has been regarded as a more substantive prospect than Machen, which suggests his ceiling is high. Making his second start, Prime Cut was clearly best in a Dec. 12 maiden sprint race in New Orleans, and should only improve with added distance.

Rain also threatens to disrupt Sunday’s other entry-level turf allowance, race 8, this one for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles. Silver La Belle is one horse who should contend on either surface. She finished second last out in the Pago Hop on grass, and was third two back in a Churchill Downs dirt route.