02/04/2008 12:00AM

Risen Star card comes up solid


NEW ORLEANS - Even though Curlin's connections have announced that they would race their champion in Dubai rather than in New Orleans, and even though the top-class horse Showing Up will not ship from Florida, as had been hoped, the six stakes races Saturday at Fair Grounds came out sparkling when fields were drawn Monday.

The sequence ends with the day's feature, the Risen Star Stakes, which drew a 12-horse field of exceptional depth. Of greatest note, the race will be the 3-year-old debut of Eclipse Award finalist Pyro, who chased War Pass home in the Champagne Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to finish off a highly promising 2-year-old campaign.

But Pyro, who drew post 8, might not even be the sharpest 3-year-old in trainer Steve Asmussen's barn right now. While Pyro's long-term accomplishments are superior, and he is expected to improve as winter progresses, Z Fortune comes into the Risen Star with a 3-for-3 record, and hardly could have been more impressive winning the Lecomte Stakes here Jan. 12. Shaun Bridgmohan rode Z Fortune in the Lecomte, but this time will be aboard Pyro, whom he has ridden in all four of his races. Garrett Gomez will take over on Z Fortune, and has his work cut out breaking from post 11 with a fairly short run to the first turn.

Check It Twice, an easy winner of the Dec. 1 What a Pleasure at Calder in his most recent start, will ship in from Florida to make his first start after being privately purchased and turned over to trainer Todd Pletcher. He will break from post 1, while next to him will come the Lecomte Stakes third-place finisher Blackberry Road, who should benefit from racing a half-furlong farther Saturday than he did last month.

Next to Blackberry Road is still another promising Florida-based 3-year-old, the Mike Matz-trained Visionaire, a 5 1/2-length allowance-race winner last out at Gulfstream Park. Signature Move, a winner of two straight in Southern California, ships in for trainer Eric Guillot.

The Silverbulletday for 3-year-old fillies drew a field of only seven, but it offers a compelling matchup between Indian Blessing, champion 2-year-old filly of 2007, and Proud Spell, who finished second to Indian Blessing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Proud Spell will be making her first start of the season, and she turned in a solid five-furlong work under jockey Gabriel Saez on Monday at Fair Grounds.

While Showing Up will not make his 2008 debut in the Fair Grounds Handicap, 9-year-old $4 million earner Better Talk Now will. He is to ship in from the Fair Hill training center along with Mineshaft Handicap runner Better than Bonds for trainer Graham Motion.

With Curlin out of the Grade 3 Mineshaft, Grasshopper is in. Trainer Neil Howard said this week that he would find another race for Grasshopper if Curlin were to go in the Mineshaft, but with Curlin out, the Mineshaft offers an appealing spot for Grasshopper to make his first start since he ran second in the Sept. 22 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. Also in the Mineshaft's field of seven are Louisiana Handicap winner Silver Lord and the Pletcher-trained Magna Graduate

The $100,000 Pan Zareta for older female sprinters starts the stakes sequence, and is followed by the Colonel Power at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf. That race drew 12 entries, including the unbeaten Euroears.