01/20/2011 4:45PM

Newcomers pose threat in Colonel Bradley

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NEW ORLEANS – Strike Again and Gran Estreno, the one-two finishers in the Fair Grounds meet’s first turf-route stakes for older males, the Dec. 4 Diliberto Memorial, are back for the Grade 3, $100,000 Colonel Bradley Handicap on Saturday. Strike Again is 5, Gran Estreno 8, and 7-year-old Dubious Miss returns to turf for the first time since a second-place finish here last season in the Fair Grounds Handicap. But none of these horses really stirs the blood, and it seems possible the Bradley could open the door for a new player such as Red Strike or Joinem.

Red Strike has raced only three times, winning two Woodbine grass races at short odds and in stylish fashion. His maiden victory came by almost four lengths, and Red Strike beat entry-level allowance foes by 1 1/4 lengths. Trainer Mark Frostad kept Red Strike in an off-the-turf edition of the Woodchopper Stakes on Dec. 31, and Red Strike did well to finish a decent third of nine after stumbling badly at the start.

“He’s a nice horse,” said Frostad, who trains Red Strike for owner-breeder Sam-Son Farms. “He seems to just do what you ask him to do. His rider [at Woodbine] said he never got the feel that he’s on the bit.”

Red Strike is from the same family as graded stakes performer Soaring Free, which makes Frostad wonder how far Red Strike wants to run. Frostad said Soaring Free was best at distances of a mile or less. Red Strike’s debut race came at seven furlongs, his second start in a one-turn mile.

“I guess the question is whether he’d get the mile and a sixteenth,” Frostad said. “We’ll find that out on Saturday.”

Joinem has three wins and two seconds from his five career starts, all on turf, and rallied strongly to win a second-level allowance race here Dec. 16.

“I felt like he deserved a chance in the stakes after that,” trainer David Carroll said.

Gran Estreno was claimed some 20 months ago for $20,000 but shows no sign of losing his stakes-class form.

“With him, you start thinking, ‘Well that was fun, but now it’s over,’ and then he just keeps coming back,” trainer Mike Stidham said.

Louisiana a critical test for Apart

In November at Churchill Downs, Apart was drawing comparisons to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame. Both horses were bred and are owned by Adele Dilschneider, though Claiborne Farm, co-owner and breeder of Blame, is not listed as an owner of Apart. Blame had finished second in the 2009 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, and Apart won the race last summer. That was his second straight win, and when Apart went on to win the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap on Nov. 5, it seemed possible he was following the trail Blame had blazed.

But the Clark Handicap put a stop to such thoughts. Apart finished eighth with no apparent excuse, other than Stall wondering if he’d run Apart back to quickly – three weeks – after the Ack Ack.

Apart got a little break after the Clark but was back breezing again Dec. 21 at Fair Grounds and is set to make his 2011 debut in the $60,000 Louisiana Handicap. It is a big step down in class from the Clark, but Stall said he thinks the race will help tell him whether it will be worth aiming Apart to the New Orleans Handicap later this meet.

Apart has worked four times prepping for the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana, including a near-bullet drill Jan. 8 in company with 3-year-old filly Aide. Garrett Gomez is in to ride Apart for the third time, and Apart, breaking from post six in a seven-horse field, figures to be a solid favorite.

There is plenty of early speed in the Louisiana, with Royal Express, Mad Flatter, and Z Humor all likely to be on the pace. Country Flavor won the Tenacious Handicap here Dec. 18, and Flat Out returned from a 20-month layoff to win a second-level allowance race by two lengths here Dec. 5.

Weather could help Mullins Beach

A potential key to the $60,000 Leggio Memorial Stakes? A high temperature in the mid-50s. Mullins Beach, a fast-closing winner of a turf-sprint allowance race here Dec. 4, wilts in the heat but loves cool weather, her trainer, Malcolm Pierce, said this week.

Mullins Beach is edging toward a half-million dollars in career earnings and at her best can win the Leggio, a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint. Mullins Beach has raced far more recently than her main rivals Saturday. Mimi’s Bling hasn’t been out since last October at Keeneland, nor has Chantilly Nayla. Sheer Beauty is making her first start since March.

Only four horses to run in Gaudin

With Hawaiian Dream a likely scratch, there are four horses in the $60,000 Gaudin, a six-furlong dirt race for older horses. Sweetsouthernmoon would be an upset winner, and Le Grand Cru makes his first start away from the East Coast and may prefer longer distances. That should leave the Gaudin to Early Return and Mambo Galliano, with an edge to Mambo Galliano.