03/01/2004 12:00AM

Pletcher makes up his mind

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NEW ORLEANS - The purse of Saturday's Fair Grounds Oaks is half that of Sunday's Louisiana Derby, so there is some symmetry in the fact the Oaks may lure a field about half the size of the Derby's.

As of Monday, the $600,000 Louisiana Derby seemed headed for something approaching a full field. The Oaks is coming up much shorter, with only a handful of confirmed starters, but the race got a boost when trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed Monday that he will send Ashado for the race. Ashado, second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, has not started since she won the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes last Nov. 29.

Pletcher also will ship two horses here for the Louisiana Derby, Pollard's Vision and Shaniko. Both of those horses worked Monday at Palm Meadows, with Shaniko going five furlongs in 1:01.60, and Pollard's Vision a half-mile in 49.80. Pollard's Vision is coming off a win in a route allowance, Shaniko a second in allowance company to the promising colt, Swingforthefences.

Pletcher said both horses had worked well Monday. About Shaniko, he said, "I thought he breezed super this morning. He's a horse I think has a lot of ability and talent."

Pollard's Vision "already has proven he can go around two turns," Pletcher said. "Now he's got to prove he can step up."

At Fair Grounds, three Louisiana Derby hopefuls are scheduled to work Tuesday. Fire Slam and Gradepoint, stakes winners at the meet, are confirmed starters, while Breakaway, like Gradepoint trained by Neil Howard, remains a possible starter for the race.

Fair Grounds racing officials said trainer Bob Baffert plans to send Wimbledon, and not Preachinatthebar, for the local derby. Baffert also may send Victory U. S. A. to the Oaks. Last year, Baffert saddled Kafwain to a second-place finish in the Derby, but the colt later was disqualified because of a medication positive.

Others expected for the Derby are Indian War Dance, Shadowland, Nightlifeatbigblue, Borrego, and perhaps Stolen Time, another Florida-based horse.

Ashado had her major Fair Grounds work Sunday at Palm Meadows, where she went six furlongs in 1:15. Her chief rivals Saturday could be Shadow Cast and Quick Temper, one-two last out in the Silverbulletday Stakes, and the impressive allowance winner Steady Course. Bending Strings, a northern California-based horse, also is expected to start.

- additional reporting by David Grening