02/14/2003 12:00AM

Quick round trip for three jockeys


NEW ORLEANS - Shane Sellers has a live mount in the Risen Star Stakes, although by late Sunday afternoon Sellers may not know quite where he is.

Sellers rides Golden Marlin here Saturday in the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes, then will hop a plane to Sam Houston Race Course to ride in the $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Handicap, where he will be on Freefourinternet for trainer Chuck Simon. Robby Albarado and Calvin Borel are in the same boat as Sellers, with mounts in both Fair Grounds weekend stakes and in the Connally.

"They didn't have any flights Saturday night, so we come back first thing Sunday morning, get back at 10 a.m., and then come ride," Sellers said.

There will be serious decisions for Sellers in the Risen Star. Saintly Look can run, but Sellers had a lot to do with the colt's win in the Lecomte Stakes here last month. Breaking from post 11, Saintly Look left the gate sharply, and even with a short run to the first turn, Sellers neatly steered him in front of most of the field before he lost any ground. Then, he geared Saintly Look down outside the flank of Call Me Lefty, leaving his pace rival at about the quarter-pole and going on to a convincing victory.

This time, Saintly Look drew post 1. The inside is the shortest way around, but a rail draw in a big field like the Risen Star's can be difficult. "I don't know exactly what I'll do," Sellers said, adding that he would talk with Saintly Look's trainer, Dallas Stewart, "and we'll make a plan.

"It's better than being in the 11 hole, though. He'll be forwardly placed. The last one was a flat mile, and nobody really closed on him. He's running with tougher horses now, and he's going to have to answer some questions."

Trust Sellers to do the right thing. There have been 19 open stakes races here this meet, and Sellers has won six of them.

Another try for Valhol

Valhol's efforts to win the New Orleans Handicap have been going in the wrong direction. Third in the race two years ago, Valhol finished a distant eighth last season. But he's back for more this year, and trainer Dallas Keen thinks the 7-year-old Valhol is as good as he has ever been.

Valhol started once after the New Orleans Handicap and was badly beaten in the Lone Star Park Handicap, after which he had surgery to remove a bone chip in his ankle. It was Valhol's second surgery - he also survived a bad case of pneumonia - and he didn't race again until December, when Valhol finished fourth, beaten about seven lengths in the Tenacious Handicap here.

But Valhol wasn't done. Keen sent him to Sam Houston and Valhol easily won the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup last month, the same race Keen used as a springboard for Allen's Oop's New Orleans Handicap win three seasons ago. Two sharp works this month at Fair Grounds have Keen thinking Valhol's next run at the Handicap will be his best.

"He takes a licking and keeps coming back," Keen said. "This horse, after his last surgery, he still has a full range of motion in his ankle. He may even be stronger than he was last year."

Cohn barn solidly built

Alice Cohn has only 10 horses in her stable, but she has cobbled together a strong Fair Grounds meet. Hondo Creek won the eighth race here Thursday, her second straight win and Cohn's fifth winner here with only 19 starters through Thursday.

Steal a Heart was Cohn's stable star here in the late 1990's, but the eight horses she had here last season struggled. The stable has more substance now, and Cohn is getting the most out of her short string.

But she's not doing it by pushing. Cohn still rides most of her own stock during their daily exercise. Once her horses get into racing shape and make a start, Cohn takes a less-is-more approach. Her horses rarely breeze once they are fit, and the works they have are measured, often with Cohn herself riding. Hondo Creek showed one published work here on Nov. 17 before she made her meet debut Dec. 5. She has raced four times this winter, but has yet to post another breeze.

"Everyone seems so concerned with how fast they work," said Cohn. "They don't pay you to go fast in the morning."

No, but Cohn's patient approach has been paying off in the afternoon.