06/21/2001 12:00AM

Megans Bluff back where she thrives


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The name Hennig has become well known in racing circles primarily because of the overwhelming success experienced by Mark Hennig, who has become a high-profile trainer in New York and elsewhere after having served an apprenticeship under D. Wayne Lukas.

But it was John Hennig, Mark's father, who initially put his son on the road to stardom. The father-son training team collaborated in Ohio in the 1980's before Mark, now 36, began working elsewhere at age 22.

On Saturday, it will be John Hennig who will take center stage at Churchill Downs when he runs the likely favorite, Megans Bluff, in the $150,000 Locust Grove Handicap, a Grade 3 race at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Megans Bluff occasionally is cause for John Hennig to reminisce about his days when Mark was growing up. Megans Bluff, a 4-year-old filly by Pine Bluff, is owned by Jim Routsong, a Dayton area resident who has had horses with John Hennig for many years.

Although she drew the far outside post in a field of 11 fillies and mares, Megans Bluff still should prove difficult to defeat in the Locust Grove. In her last two starts over the Churchill turf course, she has captured the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes in November and the Mint Julep Handicap four weeks ago. In between, she lost five races in a row, although one of those defeats was by disqualification.

Megans Bluff, who has earned more than $600,000 from 19 career starts, should find Colstar to be her most formidable rival. Colstar, based in Virginia with trainer Paul Fout, won the Locust Grove last year and has earned over $870,000 from 16 starts. Her outstanding record led Churchill racing secretary and handicapper Jerry Botts to assign her highweight of 121 pounds, two more than Megans Bluff an as many as 14 more than Sassy Sabrina, the race lowweight.

Fringe contenders in a solid field include Solvig, a multiple stakes winner trying to end a five-race skid; Sitka, runner-up to Megans Bluff in the Mint Julep and winner of an allowance race since then; and Clearly a Queen, a dangerous Calder shipper for owner John Franks.

The Locust Grove, named for the historic east Louisville mansion once inhabited by Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark, was inaugurated on dirt in 1982, then moved to the turf five years later.

The Locust Grove is the ninth of 10 races on a Saturday card that also includes two allowances. First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.