08/10/2005 11:00PM

Norman takes two shots at keeping Mile streak alive


Cole Norman has saddled the last two winners of the $100,000 Evangeline Mile, this meeting's premier race in the handicap division, and he comes into Saturday's edition packing a powerful one-two punch. He will send out Absent Friend, winner of the Grade 3 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park earlier in the year, and Shaky Town, recent winner of the Bobby Johnson Memorial Stakes at Lone Star Park.

The two horses are not coupled in the wagering.

will be the starting highweight in the Mile at 121 pounds. High Strike Zone will be seeking to avenge a nine-length loss to Shaky Town in the Johnson Memorial while favored at odds-on. Before that disappointment, High Strike Zone won the Ark-La-Tex Handicap at Louisiana Downs and also pulled off a mild upset in the Grade 3 Texas Mile at Lone Star in April. High Strike Zone also won the Delta Mile at Delta Downs in March. Regular rider Ricky Faul will again be in the saddle for trainer Amos Laborde.

Although the Essex is Absent Friend's only victory this year, he has three Grade 3 stakes placings. He finished third in the Razorback Breeders' Cup and Fifth Season at Oaklawn and just missed winning the Lone Star Handicap. In his most recent start, Absent Friend was unplaced in the Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star over an unfamiliar surface. The return to dirt on Saturday night will almost surely produce a better result. John Jacinto, the leading rider at Louisiana Downs, will journey down I-49 to ride.

comes into the Mile off a career-best race in the Johnson Memorial, winning by two lengths. The horse he beat, Majestic Thief, returned to win last weekend's Blue Skies Handicap at Louisiana Downs. Jamie Theriot has the return call on Shaky Town.

Noted Midwestern trainer Bernie Flint will run Chippewa Trail in the Mile. Last seen easily defeating allowance foes at Mountaineer, Chippewa Trail also won July 9 at Churchill Downs. Flint has enlisted the meeting's leading rider, C.J. Woodley.

completes the field and owns a strong home field advantage.

While none of his four rivals have raced here, Drill Hall is undefeated in three starts at Evangeline, most recently making short work of allowance foes at Saturday night's one-mile distance.

Steve Bourque, up for all three of those local victories, will again ride Drill Hall for leading trainer Keith Bourgeois.