12/08/2006 1:00AM

Pair of Rebel veterans return

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NEW ORLEANS - Red Raymond and Well Said, the second- and fourth-place finishers in the Grade 3 Rebel at Oaklawn Park last March, head the field in Sunday's feature race at Fair Grounds, a second-level optional claimer at a mile and 40 yards on the main track.

Red Raymond filled out the exacta in the Rebel for trainer Robert Holthus, who saddled Lawyer Ron to win the race. A 3-year-old chestnut son of Deputy Commander, Red Raymond finished 10th in the Arkansas Derby, then shipped to Texas for the Lone Star Derby. He ran last in that race and got a long rest.

"We gave him some time off last summer after he raced in Texas," said Holthus by phone Friday from his training base at Oaklawn Park.

Holthus brought Red Raymond back into training at Churchill Downs in the fall. After turning in several solid works at Churchill, the colt tuned up in an allowance route, making a strong middle move before tiring.

"I thought it was a decent effort," said Holthus. "He got a little tired. He should run a pretty good race Sunday. He worked here at Oaklawn a week ago. He worked five-eighths in 1:01, which is pretty good over this track, 'cause it don't have a lot of water on it, it's kind of loose. I thought it was a very good work. It should set him up good for this."

Trainer Walter Bindner stopped on Well Said, a son of Aptitude, after he finished fourth in the Rebel, but the colt has been indicating his readiness to return to action with solid morning works at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and a pair of breezes over the Fair Grounds strip.

Several other horses in the field could pose problems for Red Raymond and Well Said. Mr. Meso is the likely pacesetter from post 2 on a track that has been favoring speed early in the meet. Mr. Meso is the only horse in the field being offered at the optional $35,000 claiming price. He might get pace pressure from Superstone, Old Colony, and Saint Anddan, one of two Robert Frankel-trained horses in the race. Sir Halory should be the longer-odds half of the uncoupled Frankel entry. Da Cardinal, trained by Josie Carroll, turned in a bullet half-mile work in 48 seconds the other day. The ever-dangerous Neil Howard has entered Crossword, who finished third in the Grade 3 Lexington on the Belmont inner grass course.

* Sunday's card also features a competitive allowance race for 2-year-old fillies at a mile on the grass. Whisper to Me, a winner at first asking for trainer Malcolm Pierce at Woodbine, will take on Dawn After Dawn, second in the Lady Luck at Louisiana Downs; Ashley's Pick, a well-bred runner from Merrill Scherer's barn; and eight other rivals.