03/23/2006 12:00AM

Silver Axe enters off graded placing

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Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Silver Axe will face easier company in the Gulf Coast Classic than he has in his last two starts.

Silver Axe, a rallying third to Rockport Harbor in the Grade 3 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park in his last start, rates as the one to beat in Saturday night's $75,000 Gulf Coast Classic at Evangeline Downs. The winter meeting's closing-night feature drew a solid field of eight to run 1 1/16 miles.

When asked why he chose the Gulf Coast for Silver Axe instead of some of the higher-profile races in the handicap division, trainer Tom Amoss replied: "He has always been a very solid performer. We went ahead and tried Rockport Harbor last time and also the [Grade 2] New Orleans Handicap the start before, but that is not really our game plan with him. Maggi Moss, who is a real hands-on owner, and I have discussed his future, and we are going to get him back into more of a regional-performer status."

That type of strategy worked well in the latter part of 2005, when Silver Axe won the Shecky Greene Stakes at Delaware in mid-November. A 9-year-old Silver Ghost gelding, Silver Axe also finished second in the $75,000 Fall Stakes at Mountaineer in October as well as the $100,000 Zia Park Distance Challenge in December. Jose Riquelme will handle the riding chores on Silver Axe, who will carry 116 pounds under the allowance conditions.

Middleweight also rates highly in the Gulf Coast. Trained by Al Stall Jr., Middleweight is coming off a third-place performance in allowance company over the Sam Houston turf course in his last start, but captured the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston in January in his last dirt try. Gerard Melancon, who rode Middleweight to his last win, will return to the saddle at 123 pounds.

Multiple stakes winners Watchem Smokey and Badtotheboneandrew add local flavor as each attempts to get back into the win column.

Watchem Smokey won the $50,000 Delta Mile here in early February before having to settle for second in an allowance sprint last out on March 1. Trainer Brandon Marks once again has given the call to Kerwin Clark.

Badtotheboneandrew just missed against fellow Louisiana-breds in his last start, the $150,000 Louisiana Premier Championship here on Feb. 18. He has been the model of consistency for trainer Harry Hahn, who will give Steve Bourque a leg up.

Saturday night's card also includes a pair of starter allowance races for Louisiana-breds, the Gentlemen and the Ladies. Each race has a purse of $50,000 and is for horses who have started for a claiming price of $15,000 or less in 2005-06.