07/02/2004 12:00AM

Mountaineer: Three $75K stakes


A Group 1 winner from Brazil making his North American debut and an eight-time stakes winner on turf making only his second start since December 2002 headline the one-mile Independence Day Handicap on the grass, one of three $75,000 stakes on the holiday program at Mountaineer.

Ay Caramba, a 4-year-old colt now trained by high-percentage trainer Eduardo Caramori, is 4 for 5 lifetime on grass, including victories at one mile against Group 1 and Group 3 competition. One of the horses he beat, Leroidesanimaux, went on to win the Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park in May.

The 9-year-old La Reine's Terms came off an 18-month layoff to win an allowance race at Colonial Downs three weeks ago. In a career in which he has won 15 times on grass, La Reine's Terms captured the 2002 Labor Day Handicap over Mountaineer's turf course with a 99 Beyer.

Academic Angel should be favored in the turf stakes for fillies and mares, the one-mile Firecracker Handicap. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Academic Angel scored an 11-1 upset in the Grade 3 WinStar Distaff Handicap at Lone Star Park in her most recent start. She must carry high weight of 124 pounds, seven more than in her last race.

Several other runners appear capable of winning, including the front-runner May Gator, who comes off an allowance win at Churchill; Shot Gun Favorite, who captured an allowance at Arlington the last time she raced on turf following a long layoff; and River Flower, a winner in 5 of 8 lifetime starts but the beaten favorite when she prepped for the Firecracker in a one-mile allowance at Mountaineer.

Private Horde, a close second in the Grade 2 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at Keeneland in April, looks like he will be tough to deny in the six-furlong Mountain State Handicap.

Both chief rivals were cross-entered in other races Saturday - Crossing Point in a stakes at Delaware Park and Founding Chairma in an optional claiming sprint at Churchill.