03/29/2004 12:00AM

Saint Liam set for big rematch

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Saint Liam looks to be sitting on a big season. An up-and-coming colt, he was a game second to Peace Rules in the controversial New Orleans Handicap, and will get a rematch with Peace Rules Saturday in the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap.

The race will share a card with the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom, and its list of probables grew to five on Monday when officials said Ole Faunty has joined the lineup, to be ridden by Mike Smith. The field is expected to be completed by Private Emblem and Sir Cherokee.

Saint Liam has been settled in at Oaklawn for about a month.

"We went from New Orleans straight there," said Richard Dutrow Jr., who trains Saint Liam for Mr. and Mrs. William Warren Jr. "It cuts out shipping time. We didn't go back to New York knowing we were going to go to Oaklawn."

Saint Liam, who has won 4 of 11 career starts, has been with Dutrow for his last three starts and has won two of them. He won a two-other-than allowance on Dec. 12, and followed up that race with a four-length score in an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 18.

Saint Liam earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 108 for that win, but a little over a month later topped himself again when he was beaten a head in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap. He earned a Beyer Figure of 113.

The race included a stellar group of older horses such as Funny Cide and Ten Most Wanted, but the drive turned out to be an all-out battle between Peace Rules, a winner of $2.4 million, and Saint Liam, who still is looking for his first stakes win. In the end, some felt a crowding incident on the first turn and bumping in the stretch cost Saint Liam the win in the New Orleans Handicap.

A claim of foul by Saint Liam's rider, Edgar Prado, was disallowed.

"There's nothing you can do about it, so I'm not going to complain," said Dutrow. "It's out of my control. I'm not upset in any way. I was thrilled our horse told us he could run with those kind of horses. He told a lot of people he could run with those kind."

Saint Liam seems to be blossoming, and there are several reasons for that. For one, Dutrow said, he is simply maturing. Another contributing factor to his sharp form is that Dutrow has used glue-on shoes with Saint Liam in his past three starts. The colt will also wear them Saturday.

"He's a thin-walled horse, and it doesn't help if you have to nail his shoes on," said Dutrow.

Nails are driven into the wall of a horse's foot, which is not sensitive, but when a horse has a thin wall, there is less margin for error when nailing on the shoes. So some horses wear glue-on shoes, which are identical to regular racing plates except that carefully applied glue holds the shoe in place rather than nails.

Some horses are more comfortable in glue-on shoes, and that appears to be the case with Saint Liam.

Saint Liam has turned in some strong works at Oaklawn, including a bullet six-furlong move in 1:13. He was scheduled to work four furlongs under leading rider John McKee on Tuesday, and will be ridden on Saturday by Prado.

Long-term, Saint Liam should prove to be a nice fit in the handicap division. But for now, the focus is on getting his first stakes win in the Oaklawn Handicap.

"We're concentrating on and concerned with his next race," said Dutrow. "If he keeps going forward, then we'll be picking out nice races like that."

The Oaklawn will be run after the Apple Blossom, which had six probables as of Monday, according to track officials. They are Azeri, Island Fashion, Wild Spirit, Star Parade, Golden Sonata, and Keys to the Heart.

Puffy Shirt euthanized

Puffy Shirt, who was one of the most promising sprinters on the grounds, sustained three fractures to a forearm during a spill in the $50,000 Carousel Stakes on Saturday and was euthanized, said her trainer, Sonny Wigginton.

Puffy Shirt was dueling on the lead in the Carousel when she fell. She was ridden by Tim Doocy, who took off his later mounts on Sunday. Doocy said on Monday that he was fine and will ride on Wednesday.

Wigginton, who was to ship his stable to Keeneland on Tuesday, said he hates leaving Oaklawn without Puffy Shirt.

"She was a sweetheart," he said. "There are not many horses with her disposition, and it kills everybody in this barn."

Puffy Shirt, who was 4, won two allowance races powerfully at the meet before making her stakes debut in the Carousel.

* There is a $104,075 pick six carryover at Oaklawn on Wednesday.