06/28/2007 12:00AM

Remarkable News faces Firecracker test


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Being lucky and good is always a fortuitous thing. Remarkable News was lucky when he averted a spill in the Grade 2 Dixie Stakes at Pimlico and found himself all alone on the lead en route to victory. Moreover, the Dixie was the ninth straight race in which Remarkable News earned a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure, a streak that proves the 5-year-old Venezuelan-bred is good, too.

Given the depth of the competition he will face Saturday in the 18th running of the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs, it would behoove him to be both lucky and good again. Remarkable News, the 122-pound highweight in a field of nine, will break from the inside post in the one-mile turf race, which also drew such accomplished turf veterans as Brilliant, Outperformance, and Tiganello.

Remarkable News, based in New York with trainer Angel Penna Jr., was striding along comfortably in second place in the May 19 Dixie when the front-runner, Mending Fences, suddenly broke down. Fortunately for Remarkable News and his jockey, Ramon Dominguez, they were clear of the spill - but several of the trailing horses were not, which allowed Remarkable News to open up a big lead that proved insurmountable.

The Dixie marked the eighth win in 14 career starts for Remarkable News, who will have Dominguez back aboard Saturday and will be spotting Brilliant one pound in the Firecracker, which includes $75,000 in Breeders' Cup funds in its $250,000 purse.

Brilliant was not so lucky in his last race, the May 5 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, nor after it. Days after getting nailed on the wire when losing the Grade 1 Woodford by a nose to Sky Conqueror, Brilliant came down with an abnormally high blood count, forcing trainer Neil Howard to skip the colt's planned next start, the May 26 Connaught Cup at Woodbine. Since then, Howard has been playing catch-up, trying to get Brilliant as fit as possible for the Firecracker. He has breezed him four times in a 15-day span, an extraordinarily busy work pattern for the normally conservative trainer.

"I'm slightly apprehensive, but I think everything's okay," Howard said.

Outperformance is another New York shipper, and Tiganello has been based the last two months with Todd Pletcher's Chicago division. Outperformance was forced to steady before finishing a strong third in the Dixie in his last start, while Tiganello enters off a sharp victory as an odds-on choice in an overnight stakes on the Arlington Park turf.

The balance of the lineup is Hold the Salt, Free Thinking, Obi Wan Kenobi, Vega's Lord, and Crested.

One absentee from the race is Therecomesatiger, winner of the June 2 Opening Verse at Churchill. Trainer Tom Proctor said the gelding missed a scheduled workout this week because of a minor setback, which led him to pass the race.

The Firecracker has been affiliated with the Fourth of July holiday since it was first run at Churchill in 1983. The last two runnings have been won by standout turfers: Kitten's Joy, the 2004 turf champion, won the 2005 Firecracker, while Miesque's Approval, the eventual winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile, won the race last year.

The Firecracker goes as the 10th of 11 races on a solid Saturday card that also includes two allowances (races 8 and 9). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.