01/20/2006 12:00AM

Race hinges on Desert Wheat

Lou Hodges Jr.
Desert Wheat, winning the Gentilly, was likely to run in Saturday's Crescent City Derby instead of the Black Gold.

Desert Wheat looks like the horse to beat Sunday in the $75,000 Black Gold Handicap. But as the saying goes, you gotta be in it to win it, and in that respect Desert Wheat might not qualify.

Owner Jerry Lee and trainer Tony Richey also entered Desert Wheat in Saturday's Crescent City Derby, and as of Friday afternoon, Richey said he was leaning toward running in that 1 1/16-mile dirt race rather than the Black Gold, a 7 1/2-furlong turf race.

"It's not cast in stone, but it's probably 80 percent that we'll run there," Richey said.

While has never won a dirt race, he has gone 4-2-1-1 in his turf tries and won the Gentilly Stakes over this grass course on the meet's opening weekend. In his most recent race, Desert Wheat finished a distant second in a $100,000 stakes at Evangeline Downs, but the horse who beat him was Lawyer Ron, a standout winner of the Risen Star last weekend.

"He beat those horses in the Risen Star like he beat me, so it did make me feel better," Richey said.

If not Desert Wheat, then perhaps . Should Kingsfield prevail, it would mark the first victory for trainer Thad Keller, a longtime assistant to trainer Don Von Hemel. Kingsfield has never tried turf or two turns, but fits the spot based on a closing third-place finish in the Sugar Bowl Stakes on Jan. 1 at this meet. Winner of the Prairie Meadows Freshman late last summer, Kingsfield has a route pedigree and should at least be able to handle the distance, if not the surface.

Warwick Wonder, from the barn of Tom Amoss, won a Dec. 31 entry-level turf allowance with a snappy turn of foot. He has progressive form and looks dangerous in his stakes debut.

Lagniappe Classic: Nitro Chip a force

When Nitro Chip is on top of his game, he lets his human connections know about it.

"He's always been on the muscle," said trainer Sam Breaux. "If he's not, there's something wrong with him. And right now, he's a handful. He's feeling pretty cocky where he's at right now."

A good-feeling Nitro Chip figures to be difficult to beat in Sunday's $100,000 Lagniappe Classic, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race for older Louisiana-bred route horses. Nitro Chip has six opponents, including Badtotheboneandrew, to whom he finished second on Dec. 10 in the Louisiana Champions Day Classic.

But on Champions Day, Nitro Chip was making just his second start after a nine-month gap between races. The layoff came when Nitro Chip, a 5-year-old gelding with earnings of more than $400,000, was at the top of the game, but Breaux said Nitro Chip had no serious physical issues.

"We had turned him out and freshened him up, and instead of bringing him back in the heat of the summer, just waited for the fall," said Breaux. "There were no major problems."

While Badtotheboneandrew was awaiting this spot, Nitro Chip won a six-furlong allowance race at Evangeline Downs, beating Zarb's Luck. No doubt, Nitro Chip is a better horse at longer distances, and the sprint victory points out a horse at the top of his game.

"In the six-furlong race, he came up to the lead real easy," said Breaux, who trains Nitro Chip for owner Emmit Pickett. "He's a competitor."

Spritely Walker just won the Dixie Poker Ace, but seems better on turf at the moment. The horse with a chance at an upset might be Prince T., who came on strong during the spring of his 3-year-old season, finishing second in the Northern Spur at Oaklawn last April. Trainer Andy Leggio got Prince T. a seemingly useful turf allowance comeback race on Dec. 30, and Prince T. appears ready to step forward.

Crescent City Oaks: Mouton has ace

Surely no trainer will be more sorry to see the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs come to a close Sunday than Pat Mouton. Mouton has been strong from start to finish, sending out winners of quality from opening day onward. In Sunday's $100,000 Crescent City Oaks, Mouton sends out Carl's Frosty Girl, who in her debut scored an impressive victory in a seven-furlong dirt race on Dec. 30. Breaking from post 9, Carl's Frosty Girl made a wide turn move and had another gear for deep stretch to beat favored Grand Facile by a neck. Grand Facile, who also starts in the Crescent City Oaks, came back to win a maiden race by six lengths.

The Crescent City Oaks is at 1 1/16 miles on turf, but Mouton said he believes that shouldn't slow her down.

"She's doing real nice, and the way she acts and runs, I don't think two turns is going to be a problem for her," Mouton said.

The one to beat in an eight-horse field is Leestown Light, who is 2 for 2 on turf but benefited from a sluggish early pace in a Jan. 5 Louisiana-bred turf allowance race.