12/17/2008 12:00AM

Proud Spell may not retire


A promising 2-year-old by the sire Proud Citizen, owned by Brereton Jones, and wintering at Fair Grounds with trainer Larry Jones. Ring any bells? It should, for those were the circumstances that one year ago described Proud Spell, who has a good chance to win an Eclipse award as the top 3-year-old filly of 2008. But they also apply to It Happened Again, who races Saturday at Fair Grounds in a strikingly deep edition of the Sugar Bowl Stakes. And while the Sugar Bowl will be contested at six furlongs, and so far It Happened Again has only a Philadelphia Park maiden win to his credit, Jones is not afraid to look down the road with this colt.

"He's a very talented horse, and we've got a lot of expectations for him, and not so much at six furlongs," Jones said. "We think he's a mile-and-a-quarter horse."

As for Proud Spell, she is at Brereton Jones's Airdrie Stud near Midway, Ky., where she was expected to begin life as a broodmare this winter. But Larry Jones said Brereton Jones is now considering a 2009 campaign for Proud Spell, rather than breeding her this season.

"We don't know for sure yet what's going to happen," said Larry Jones. "I'm sure [Jones] will make a decision in the next couple weeks. The initial deal was she would be retired, but the last time I talked to him, a few days ago, he said he still wasn't real satisfied the way she was taking the let-down from the track. He thought she was acting like she wanted to go back and do something."

As for It Happened Again, he finished second in his career debut Sept. 6 at Delaware, a loss that neither surprised nor disappointed Jones.

"We've always liked this colt," Jones said. "He does come out of a Quiet American mare, and none of the Quiet American horses I've had have raced well their first start or two. When he came out and was second, we were very pleased, and his second race, he showed us we were right in our confidence."

Facing seven rivals in an Oct. 14 maiden race at Philadelphia Park, It Happened Again contested a sub-45-second half-mile pace, and drew away to win by more than three lengths, going 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.43.

"That's pretty quick for a horse that we think can go farther," said Jones.

The Sugar Bowl is one of five $60,000 stakes races Saturday, several of which possess quality that belies the modest purses. Also especially interesting is the Woodchopper, a restricted grass stakes in which the 3-year-old Macho Again makes his first start since the Super Derby.

Unlikely trio of leading riders

Quick: Name the current top three riders at Fair Grounds.

Fans not regularly following the meet would be lucky to get even one.

Cisco Torres is the surprise leader, with 20 wins through last week's racing, while James Graham sits second, with 17 wins. Perhaps even more unlikely, however, is third-place Brian Hernandez Jr., who in fewer than 20 racing days has won twice as many races, 14, than he did riding here throughout the 2006-2007 season. Going even further, Hernandez already has four stakes wins this meet, topping the three he had won in all his previous Fair Grounds mounts.

Hernandez, 23, and the son of active Louisiana jockey Brian Hernandez, won 243 races as an apprentice in 2004. In 2006, his win total slid to just 65, but Hernandez has picked up the pace again the last two seasons, and so far in 2008 has 107 winners. Still, there was no way to forecast his recent success. At the Keeneland fall meet, Hernandez won 5 races from 82 mounts, and in one week of the Churchill fall meet, before he came to Louisiana, Hernandez went 1 for 30.

"It helps when you're riding for the right people," said Hernandez, who got several Fair Grounds chances for trainer Steve Asmussen before Shaun Bridgmohan arrived in New Orleans. "We're getting lucky and landing in some good spots."

Lucky, indeed. Hernandez's lone Churchill win this fall came on top 2-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra in the Pocahontas Stakes. Taken off that mount for the Golden Rod Stakes in favor of Calvin Borel, Hernandez had to watch Rachel Alexandra win like a Kentucky Oaks contender.

"But we ended up winning six races and two stakes here, instead," Hernandez said.

Tizaqueena returns in allowance

About this time last year, Tizaqueena looked like a filly to consider for the Fair Grounds Oaks. On Dec. 2, 2007, she made her career debut and won a one-mile maiden race by more than five lengths, but six weeks later, Tizaqueena finished a well-beaten second as the strong favorite in the Tiffany Lass, and Friday's 11th race marks her first start since.

Tizaqueena was one of eight entered in a one-mile entry-level allowance race, and with strong works and the promising start to her career a year ago, she figures to be an odds-on favorite.

"She's coming back great," trainer Mike Stidham said.

Tizaqueena was out with a fractured tibia, an injury that required several months rest. She legged up for her comeback in Aiken, S.C., and has been under Stidham's care for about three months. Tizaqueena became the property of the Darley Stable when Darley acquired most of Stonerside Stable's equine holdings.

Also in the Stidham barn, Secret Getaway had his first work this week since his impressive victory in the Tenacious Handicap. Stidham said the Sunday drill, a half-mile in 49.80 seconds, was "just maintenance."