12/02/2008 1:00AM

Secret Getaway's best may be yet to come

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No doubt, not all talented 3-year-olds are created equal. Mambo in Seattle, a little slow to get started in 2008, had an excellent late spring and summer, almost winning the Travers Stakes in August. But last Saturday at Fair Grounds, it was late-season 3-year-old Secret Getaway who burst onto the scene, capturing the Tenacious Stakes by almost three lengths, with Mambo in Seattle third.

Now, Mambo in Seattle will get a period of rest, while Secret Getaway will move onto the next Fair Grounds route stakes, his connections hoping the colt can evolve into a New Orleans Handicap contender.

"Right now, we're planning to keep him right here at Fair Grounds and work our way to the New Orleans Handicap," said Mike Stidham, who trains Secret Getaway for the Sand and Cee Stables.

The Louisiana Handicap on Jan. 10 is likely to mark the next start for Secret Getaway. The Grade 3 Mineshaft is on Feb. 7, followed by the New Orleans Handicap on March 14.

Secret Getaway, a son of Skip Away, still has room for growth. Before the Tenacious, Secret Getaway had only sprinted on dirt, winning a five-furlong Canterbury Park maiden race in August 2007. Transferred into Stidham's barn this year, Secret Getaway won $150,000 stakes races on turf and Polytrack at Woodbine, but Saturday's performance might have been a career best. Secret Getaway earned a top Beyer Speed Figure of 102, and Stidham, a follower of the Ragozin sheets, said Secret Getaway also got a career-top number by that measure.

"He is moving in the right direction," Stidham said.

That movement could continue now that Secret Getaway is training and racing on dirt.

"The interesting thing to me, having watched all his races, he looked better doing it [Saturday] than in his turf or Polytrack wins," said Stidham. "He just seemed to travel better. He won like a horse is supposed to."

For Mambo in Seattle, the race marked his second subpar performance on a sloppy track, but trainer Neil Howard said an extended and demanding campaign might also have affected Mambo in Seattle's showing.

"I still think he's going to come back and be a pretty nice horse for us," said Howard, who will periodically jog Mambo in Seattle over the next several weeks before plotting a 2009 campaign.

Calhoun, Duhon off to good starts

Four was the magic number for two Fair Grounds trainers this past weekend. Bret Calhoun won four races on Sunday's card alone, and on Sunday, Joe Duhon won his fourth race of the meet.

Disregard the raw numbers: Duhon's accomplishment is just about as meaningful. Duhon has started fewer horses this season (162) than the far-flung Calhoun stable has won races (218). Moreover, Duhon's win total after 10 racing days this meet nearly equals his combined wins the last two Fair Grounds seasons: two last year, and three in 2006-07.

"The only other time I did this good at Fair Grounds was one time when in December I said I was going to get out and quit the next March," Duhon said. "I started running everything where they belonged, and I won 14 races."

Duhon won races Friday and Sunday with long-priced first-time starters in $25,000 maiden-claimers, both of them homebreds owned by country singer Toby Keith's Dream Walkin Farms. On Sunday, 2-year-old filly Rusty's Jury won by a head and paid $41.40; Friday, the filly Seeking Miss Shelley paid $78.40 to win at first asking. Duhon said he previously had trained one horse for Keith about three years ago. He has a connection to Dream Walkin's farm manager, and said Keith sent him three maidens over the summer.

"He told me to put them in where they can win," Duhon said.

As for Calhoun, his four Sunday winners included only one strong favorite, Antrim County.

"I thought he'd win," Calhoun said. "The rest of them, they had chances, but they were far from a cinch."

Antrim County won a starter-allowance race making his first start since Calhoun's owners claimed the horse for $50,000 at Churchill Downs. Overcoming serious stretch trouble, Antrim County won for the ninth time in 2008; only one horse in the country, a low-level claimer named Chickster, has won 10 times this year. Calhoun also trains King of Speed, who is entered Saturday and has eight 2008 wins.

Calhoun's Fair Grounds barn added another good horse Tuesday with the arrival of Euroears. Previously unbeaten in six starts, Euroears finished fifth Nov. 22 in the Bet on Sunshine at Churchill.

Euroears hadn't raced in eight months, and Calhoun said the colt simply got tired after setting a fast pace. Euroears had trained for his comeback over the glib Polytrack at Keeneland, and was not fit to run over what Calhoun termed a deep, demanding dirt track.

"I was a little embarrassed," Calhoun said. "I thought I really had him ready, but he just got exhausted."

Euroears will be considered for two upcoming Fair Grounds sprint stakes: the Dec. 20 Bonapaw on turf, or the Jan. 10 Gaudin on dirt.

P. Val will return Saturday

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela was off his mounts last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday because of illness, but rode Sunday's card, and will be back in regular action Saturday.

Valenzuela could not be named on horses for Thursday's program, according to his agent, Danny Gargan, because when those races were drawn, Valenzuela had yet to provide a doctor's excuse for his absence.

Valenzuela has no Friday mounts at Fair Grounds, Gargan said, because he is riding that night at Delta Downs on the other side of Louisiana. Valenzuela landed mounts in the majority of races Saturday.