02/25/2003 1:00AM

Plan B for Caucus's return


NEW ORLEANS - Two 3-year-old fillies, one sprinting, the other routing, make Thursday's program at Fair Grounds required viewing. Bayou Mist turned in an extremely sharp debut here Feb. 1, and she runs back in the seventh race, a first-level allowance at six furlongs. Two races later, Caucus starts for the first time since a disastrous trip at Keeneland in last October's Alcibiades Stakes obscured her tremendous natural ability.

Mike Stidham, who trains Caucus for owners Arthur Hancock and James Stone, had marked Thursday on his calendar as the date for Caucus's comeback. But the race he planned to enter, a first-level dirt allowance at two turns on dirt, failed to attract sufficient entries.

Plan B is this 1 1/16-mile grass race. But with rain in the forecast Caucus could run on dirt after all. If not, fine. Caucus has plenty of turf blood in her pedigree, and fits in Thursday's race on talent alone.

Caucus stumbled a couple strides into her six-furlong career debut, and it cost her the race. Stretched out to one mile in her next start, which like her debut came at Arlington, there were no such mistakes. Caucus won in 1:37 - a fast time for a 2-year-old filly at Arlington - and the horse who finished five lengths behind her in second, Belle of Perintown, romped in the Grade 2 Silverbulletday here earlier this month.

"We thought a lot of her to take her to Keeneland," Stidham said. "She's coming back well, and we're hoping for good things."

Caucus is hot-blooded and wants to do everything in high gear, but maturity is starting to settle her down. Stidham has devised a training schedule mixing gallops and riderless trips around the track with a pony.

"She's very hard on herself galloping and wants to do more than she should," Stidham said. "This gives her a time when she can be relaxed out on the racetrack."

Bayou Mist has some of the same tendencies, and that's one reason trainer Neil Howard is running her in another sprint race rather than stretching her out to two turns. Routes, Howard thinks, could be in Bayou Mist's future, but Howard first wants her to gain seasoning.

Bayou Mist, a Silver Deputy filly owned by Helen Groves and Helen Alexander, dragged jockey Robby Albarado to the lead shortly after the start of her debut. She set a fast pace and won easily, looking like a filly with a world of talent. Thursday, she'll face six rivals, the best of whom are the comebacking You Glitter Girl and Strolling Kris. Strolling Kris finished third behind two nice fillies in her last start.

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