02/06/2004 1:00AM

Sir Cherokee tightens up for New Orleans trip


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Sir Cherokee remains on course for the Grade 2, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds on Feb. 29 after breezing four furlongs in 50.40 seconds Thursday under regular rider Terry Thompson.

The work was his first since a powerful three-quarter-length win in the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park on Jan. 17.

"It was very easy for him, but he just needed a little something," said Mike Tomlinson, who trains Sir Cherokee for Domino Stud of Lexington. "We'll move forward next week. Hopefully, the weather is going to start cooperating."

Hot Springs absorbed about two inches of rain Wednesday night, which left the track rated good for morning workouts Thursday.

"The work was altered because of the track condition," said Tomlinson. "We normally would have worked him five-eighths, but we went a half and let him gallop out pretty easy. All we wanted to do was maintain where we're at, and next week we'll start some pretty serious works with him."

Tomlinson said Sir Cherokee will ship to Fair Grounds about three or four days before the New Orleans Handicap in order to gallop over the track. One of his other goals this spring is the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 3.

Sir Cherokee won the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby last year and has won his two subsequent starts, an optional claimer and the Maxxam. Overall, he has won 5 of 12 starts and $488,310.

Gimmeawink tops Ritchey barn

Gimmeawink, who finished second to Grand Hombre in the Grade 3 Pennsylvania Derby last year, is one of a number of quality horses trainer Tim Ritchey has brought to Oaklawn. His other top horses include Docent and Holiday Runner.

Ritchey operates a high percentage stable in the Mid-Atlantic, but this year he decided to send 25 of his 50 horses to Hot Springs. The remainder of his stable is based at Laurel.

"I was here five or six years ago and really liked it," he said. "This is the first year I had a bunch of owners that wanted to send horses somewhere warmer. Usually, I run at Delaware Park in the summer and Maryland in the winter."

Gimmeawink won 6 of 14 starts as a 3-year-old last year, with all of his victories coming in stakes. "He's a horse that's just started getting going again," said Ritchey. "He worked last week, and will run in the 4-year-old and up stakes. I doubt if he'll be ready for the Essex, but he should be ready for the Razorback. He'll run short or long, too."

Gimmeawink, a winner of $515,760, worked three furlongs in 38 seconds last Sunday in his first work since winning the $78,000 Sophomore Championship at Mountaineer Park on Nov. 25. He races for Walter Wienkowitz.

Docent is another older horse Ritchey has brought to Oaklawn for the stakes program. In his last start, Docent, 6, was beaten a nose in an allowance prep for the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex on Feb. 21. "He came out of the race well, and at this point, we'll point him toward the Essex," said Ritchey.

Minnamana, who was expected to be one of the favorites in a $50,000 optional claimer for 3-year-olds Saturday, also could advance to stakes company at Oaklawn. Depending on Saturday's performance, he could run next in the $100,000 Southwest on Feb. 28.

Ritchey's first-call rider is James Lopez, who won the Oaklawn title in 2002.

Ritchey, 52, was a member of the United States Equestrian Team before turning to training. He is a resident of Maryland.

Class move suits Turn to Lass

Turn to Lass, a stakes-placed filly who finished an uncharacteristic eighth in the $50,000 Dixie Belle last out at Oaklawn, returns to overnight competition for the first time since November in the featured ninth race Sunday.

The two-other-than allowance for 3-year-old fillies will be run over six furlongs and for a purse of $33,000.

Turn to Lass has run in stakes in her last four starts, placing second or third in each, except the Dixie Belle. She broke sharply in that race, but fell back. Before that, Turn to Lass finished third in the $60,000 Thelma at Fair Grounds; third in the $250,000 Boyd Gaming Delta Princess; and second in the $112,000 Pocahontas at Churchill Downs. Terry Thompson has the mount for trainer Eugene Brajczewski.