11/14/2005 12:00AM

Nicks looks to keep his perfect local record intact

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Louisiana Downs
Northern Scene, based at Louisiana Downs, will ship in to Sam Houston.

Trainer Morris Nicks means business when he ships to Sam Houston Race Park in Houston.

In the last year, he has started just one horse at the track, and the filly, Countryfide, won the $50,000 Yellow Rose during the 2004 edition of Texas Champions Day. Prior to that race, the only other career start Nicks had made at Sam Houston was during the track's first season in 1994, when he sent out Groovy Jett to win the $40,000 Intercoastal.

Saturday night, Nicks will be back at Sam Houston to start Northern Scene in the $50,000 Richard King, one of eight restricted stakes that will make up the $500,000 Texas Champions Day. With a win, Nicks would run his local record to three stakes wins in three career starts at Sam Houston.

"I'm undefeated, and I'm going to try to leave there that way," Nicks said.

Northern Scene should start as the favorite in the Richard King, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up. In his last start, he faced Texas-breds for the first time, and won the $100,000 Texas Hall of Fame Stakes at Retama Park on Oct. 1.

Northern Scene was not far off Retama's course record for 1 1/16 miles on turf, covering the distance in a sharp 1:40.95. (The record of 1:40.79 belongs to Fly Slama Jama). Northern Scene equaled his career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 93 in the Hall of Fame.

"He came out of it super," said Nicks. "He's very happy right now."

Northern Scene is based at Louisiana Downs, where he breezed five furlongs in 1:01.40 on Sunday in his final prep for the Richard King. He is scheduled to arrive at Sam Houston in the early morning hours on Saturday, the same shipping pattern Nicks followed with Countryfide.

Northern Scene's powerful performance in the Hall of Fame stamped him as a new face to watch among Texas-breds. A 4-year-old, he is a son of Northern Baby, and races for his breeder, Don Eberts, who also raced Countryfide and Groovy Jett.

In the long term, Nicks said that Northern Scene, who is also a stakes winner in open company, could become a candidate for Sam Houston's premier turf race, the $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup, on April 8.

Lonnie Meche has the mount on Saturday.

Other stakes on Texas Champions Day include the featured $100,000 Star of Texas, which is expected to draw multiple stakes winner and defending champ Goosey Moose.

Lightening Ball on display Wednesday

Lightening Ball, who won the Star of Texas in 1999, has been retired and will parade before the public after the fourth race Wednesday night. Lightening Ball will be auctioned to qualified bidders on Saturday, with the proceeds to benefit the organization LOPE, the LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers. The group has transitioned more than 300 former racehorses into other equine careers or pet situations since its start-up in 2003.

Bob Orth owns Lightening Ball, 9, and after claiming him back for $5,000 in July, retired him in September and has decided to donate him to LOPE. Orth was co-owner of Lightening Ball when the horse won the Star of Texas, as well as the Assault Stakes at Lone Star Park. Lightening Ball will highlight a silent auction fundraiser for LOPE on Saturday at Sam Houston.

In all, Lightening Ball won 9 of 59 starts and $302,542.

Set Me Free heads field of 12

Set Me Free will cut back to one turn in Wednesday night's featured ninth race, a 5 1/2-furlong sprint for maiden 2-year-olds that drew 12. Set Me Free finished second the last time he raced around one turn. Trainer Jamie Castellanos has given the mount to Adrian Ramos.

Others of note in the field include My Boy Lucas, a first-time starter by Distorted Humor for trainer Keith Desormeaux, and Jones Choice, who makes his career debut for high-percentage juvenile trainer Steve Asmussen.

* In conjunction with the stakes on Texas Champions Day, there will be a free handicapping contest at Sam Houston's website, www.shrp.com, on Saturday. Registration will begin Thursday, and first prize is $1,000.