12/29/2007 12:00AM

Rock Gold holds edge in rematch

EmailRacing 5 1/2 furlongs over the Fair Grounds turf course Dec. 2, Rock Gold outperformed Panel and Ball Hall, finishing second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of third-place Panel and 3 1/2 lengths in front of fourth-place Ball Hall.

On Tuesday, Fair Grounds horseplayers must weigh whether a quarter-mile increase in distance to 7 1/2 furlongs will result in a reshuffling in that order of finish.

Rock Gold, Panel, and Ball Hall are all prominent players in Tuesday's featured ninth race, a $40,000 first-level allowance that drew of a full field of 12. But they are not the only contenders. European invader Funmaker looms a threat, as do It's a Danzig, Nereus, and Winchester Bay.

On form, Rock Gold, Panel, and Ball Hall appear strongest. And Rock Gold, having just outrun the latter two rivals, would appear to rate a narrow edge.

Besides running second at Fair Grounds Dec. 2, Rock Gold has consistently performed well since the summer, recording six straight top-four finishes. Prior to the Fair Grounds race, he ran fourth, beaten 3 3/4 lengths, after setting the pace in a mile grass race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 7.

Corey Lanerie, who rode the El Prado gelding to a maiden win going 7 1/2 furlongs over the Fair Grounds turf course last March, has the mount. Walter Bindner trains him for his owner, Mrs. S.K. Johnson Jr.

Panel and Ball Hall have also proven themselves capable around two turns, each winning at a mile over the Louisiana Downs turf course.

The lightly raced Panel won at Louisiana Downs on Oct. 5 in his race preceding his third-place finish at Fair Grounds on Dec. 2. That followed a runner-up finish at 7 1/2 furlongs.

Ball Hall, in contrast, raced exclusively in sprints in 2007, although his lone win did come at a mile in September 2006. Unlike Rock Gold and Panel, he has raced since Dec. 2, returning in a 5 1/2-furlong turf race Dec. 13 and finishing second.

Of the nine other entrants, It's a Danzig may attract the most support. Purchased for $45,000 at Keeneland's November breeding stock sale, he starts for the first time for the hot Steve Asmussen stable.

A Danzig colt, he has finished among the top three in 8 of 9 races, with the exception being a seventh-place finish in the Plate Trial. That race over Woodbine's Polytrack surface serves as a prep for the Queen's Plate.