01/24/2008 12:00AM

Run Like Fire strong on cutback to sprint


The Red Hedeman Mile Handicap at Sunland on Dec. 29 was to be Run Like Fire's coming-out party. The then-2-year-old had won 5 of 6 starts, all sprints, and the Mile was to show that he would be a force in the longer races for New Mexico-breds as well.

But things didn't work out that way. Run Like Fire dueled and faltered to fourth as the 6-5 favorite behind the winner, Our Choice, and on Saturday he gets a shot at redemption - cutting back to a sprint in Sunland's $125,000 Pepsi Cola Handicap.

The six-furlong race for New Mexico-bred 3-year-olds drew a field of 12, including Our Choice.

Trained by Michael Welch, Run Like Fire had a splendid 2007. He began his career with two sprint wins at Sunland, then blew the start and ran wide in the Copper Top Futurity in April, finishing fourth. He came back and won a stakes at SunRay Park in June, a handicap at Ruidoso in September, and confirmed his status as the top New Mexico-bred juvenile sprinter when he whipped Our Choice in the New Mexico Cup Colt and Gelding Stakes at Zia Park on Nov. 11.

Then came the Hedeman Mile, where Run Like Fire dueled early but had no fight in the lane, finishing fourth. On Saturday, regular rider Joe Martinez stays aboard.

Our Choice's Hedeman victory wasn't only a function of distance or Run Like Fire tiring. Trained by Dwain Grissom, Our Choice packs a wallop in the lane, as evidenced by two big victories at Zia Park in October and his rally for second in the New Mexico Cup Colt and Gelding.

And in the Hedeman, he sat back, made a run on the far turn to reach contention, and blasted through along the rail to win going away against the talented filly Etoile de Dome.

With his closing style, Our Choice gives Run Like Fire a tactical edge and a head start on Saturday, but rider Alfredo Juarez Jr. knows how to get him rolling late.

Playingwithchimes was third behind the top two in the New Mexico Cup Colt and Gelding, in his first start in nearly four months. He won four straight sprints in the spring and summer, which shows he can compete on Saturday.