01/03/2009 1:00AM

Patena the likely favorite in a solid Lecomte


NEW ORLEANS - The first big 3-year-old stakes of the Fair Grounds meet are set for this coming Saturday, and trainers are evaluating if their horses fit the competition.

The Grade 3 Lecomte, the traditional prep for the Feb. 7 Risen Star, tops the six stakes on the card and is shaping up as a seven- or eight-horse event, with many of the best 3-year-olds on the grounds expected.

The likely favorite for the one-mile Lecomte is the Josie Carroll-trained Patena, who enters off two straight wins, including the Display Stakes at Woodbine on Dec. 6.

The race also features a probable rematch between Friesan Fire and Uno Mas, who met in an allowance race on Dec. 18 with Uno Mas upsetting the heavily favored Friesan Fire.

Au Moon enters the one-mile Lecomte off a victory in a maiden special weight in the last race of the Churchill Downs season.

He went 1 1/8 miles that day, rating before taking over on the turn and winning by 5 3/4 lengths.

His trainer, David Carroll, was looking for a longer allowance race for him, but when he could only find a race at a mile and 40 yards, he decided to send Au Moon in the Lecomte.

"He's bred to run all day," Carroll said. "The Lecomte is too short for him, but he's training well, and he's an improving type of horse."

Indygo Mountain, who missed a race and several days of training with an abscessed foot, has been back in training with another work scheduled for Monday. He will be fresh off the unintended layoff, and won his maiden going a mile.

The other likely entrants are Citizen, trained by Bernie Flint, and the Amos Laborde-trained Valid Stripes.

The Tiffany Lass, which begins the local stakes series for 3-year-old fillies, has at least six probable starters, including Four Gifts, who won the Grade 3, $500,000 Delta Princess at Delta Downs, and Leigh McLovin. Leigh McLovin won the Letellier Stakes at Fair Grounds on Dec. 20 and will be supplemented into the field by her trainer, Ronny Werner.

'Runaway' comes off career best

The highlight of Monday's card is the ninth race, a second-level optional claimer that will be run at about a mile on the turf for older Louisiana-breds .

With most of the horses familiar with each other, and many of them capable on any given day, the question becomes which is likely to be on his game.

Runaway From Itall seems to be the most likely candidate, coming into the race off a four-length allowance victory Dec. 5 over the Fair Grounds turf.

Trainer Sam Breaux sent Runaway From Itall to Fair Grounds after a few months off, and she has been in the money in all of her turf races in New Orleans.

"I believe that she likes the Fair Grounds grass," said Breaux. "The turf in Shreveport is kind of hard, and she prefers the softer turf."

Her last race was also her first with blinkers and with jockey Eddie Martin Jr. She'll have both back for this race.

Slim margin to make Sunshine Millions

The effects of the equine herpes scare continue to bring headaches to horsemen who are faced with shipping restrictions that limit where they can send their horses. Trainers Dallas Stewart and Richie Scherer want to send horses to Gulfstream Park for the Sunshine Millions, but they must meet the requirements of Gulfstream's policy.

Gulfstream Park requires that 30 days have passed since a diagnosis of equine herpes, leaving the smallest of margins before the Jan. 24 Sunshine Millions if no further positive tests are received.

Stewart's filly Diamond Song fell ill on Dec. 22 and received the test results on Dec. 24, so the 30-day requirement would allow horses to arrive just before the Sunshine Millions. Stewart's horses will undergo a second round of testing on Jan. 13.

According to Gulfstream racing secretary Doug Bredar, a flight is scheduled to bring horses to Miami on Jan. 20 or 21, and the Fair Grounds horses would be allowed to arrive, then be quartered off-premises until the 30 days have expired.

Stewart is pointing Preakness runner-up Macho Again for the Sunshine Millions Classic, while Scherer is considering Big Push for the Sunshine Millions Dash.