01/22/2002 1:00AM

Sky Terrace is looking for experience in Lecomte

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NEW ORLEANS - Saturday's $100,000 Lecomte Stakes has a lot to offer for an emerging 3-year-old. Contested at a flat mile with a short stretch run, it's a bridge to longer races for unproven route horses. And with the division's stars awaiting more glamorous spots, it can help measure a 3-year-old's quality without grinding him to dust early in the year.

It's the perfect race for a horse like Sky Terrace, who makes his seasonal debut in the Lecomte, a jumping off point for horses who could head to the Grade 3 Risen Star Stakes and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby later this meet.

Sky Terrace has raced only three times, and only once over a route of ground and in stakes company. After easily winning sprint races at Turfway Park and Keeneland, he finished a promising fourth in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. Racing in mud for the first time, Sky Terrace set the pace into the stretch and was beaten less than three lengths by Repent, a colt at the top of many Kentucky Derby hopeful lists.

"Those horses were more seasoned than he was," said trainer Vickie Foley. "I think he's better now than he was. He's definitely one of the most promising 3-year-olds I've had, and if he stays healthy and sound, I think you'll be hearing from him."

Foley said she backed off Sky Terrace's training after the Kentucky Jockey Club, then shipped him from her Churchill Downs base to Fair Grounds about a month ago. "We're trying to get him to relax and settle," said Foley, who nevertheless expects Sky Terrace to be among the early leaders in the Lecomte.

Sky Terrace has logged two bullet works here, the first a Jan. 12 five-furlong drill in 1:00.80, and, on Saturday, a six-furlong move timed in an exceptional 1:13.60. His regular jockey, Craig Perret, rides again Saturday.

Nine horses are considered likely starters in the Lecomte. Jeremiah Jack, who could wind up the race favorite, breezed a half-mile here Monday in 50.20 seconds.

Still thinking dirt for Rylstone

Trainer Lynn Whiting has not given up on Rylstone's potential as a dirt horse. And a good thing, too, since Rylstone is a grand looking 3-year-old colt with stamina in his blood and a long smooth stride. Whiting knows the type - he won the Kentucky Derby with Lil E Tee.

But so far, Rylstone, a pricey son of the versatile runner Mecke, has made his mark on grass. Rylstone scored an impressive win in a Fair Grounds turf allowance race last week, going from last to first in the length of the stretch despite closing behind a slow pace. And though he could not win his maiden in a pair of dirt races at Saratoga this summer, he broke through the first time he tried turf, though it was in a stakes race at Arlington.

Rylstone is headed back to the main track for his next start, which Whiting said is likely to come in Oaklawn Park's Southwest Stakes. On Monday, Rylstone, who has been based at Fair Grounds in trainer Al Stall's barn for several weeks, was headed by van to Whiting's Oaklawn barn.

Whiting has valid reasons to believe the jury's still out on Rylstone's limitations. When Rylstone ran on the main track this summer at Saratoga it was in fast-paced sprint races, and he's a horse with stamina and a finishing kick, not brilliant speed. Rylstone's lone route try on dirt came in a sea of slop when he raced in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall and finished unplaced.

"That wasn't a fair test for him," Whiting said. "He was slipping all over the place and not getting a hold of the track. He's a horse that's always traveled well on dirt, and I'm not viewing him as a one-dimensional horse right now. We'll give him a chance, and if not, we'll put him away and wait for [a turf race at] Keeneland."

Teaching old horse old tricks

Louie Roussel summed it up well. "Coming back on 12 days' rest," Roussel said, "you can't do that with an old horse."

How about an ageless one?

Nine-year-old Zarb's Magic won a starter-allowance race here Saturday for his trainer and co-owner Roussel, the gelding's second win in less than two weeks. Before his recent streak, it had been six years since Zarb's Magic won a local race.

A top 3-year-old of 1996, the Louisiana-bred Zarb's Magic won the Risen Star Stakes, finished second to Grindstone in the Louisiana Derby, then came back to beat Grindstone in the Arkansas Derby. Before a $20,000 claiming win here Jan. 7, the Risen Star was Zarb's Magic's last Fair Grounds victory.

Poor health and declining form threatened to consign Zarb's Magic to history last season. Before Roussel took over his training, Zarb's Magic had fallen so far that he could not win a $10,000 Fair Grounds claiming race.

Roussel lavished veterinary care on Zarb's Magic and cut back on the intensity of his morning exercise. Assistant trainer Lara Van Daren doted on him around the barn. And the old gelding responded with renewed vitality and improved form last spring and summer. He's won six of his last 11 races, and somewhat miraculously has held his form for almost a year.

"It's not the money that's important," Roussel said. "He's winning again and he's happy again. All of a sudden, he thinks he's King Kong."

Up and down Thursday's card

There are no 600-pound gorillas on Fair Grounds's Thursday card, which starts slowly with an assortment of low-end claiming races before three allowances near the end of the card. The seventh is a second-level turf-sprint allowance for females; the eighth a first-level turf-route allowance; and the ninth a third-level dirt-sprint allowance for females.

Call the ninth the feature, and give Roussel a strong chance to pick up the win. He entered a pair of fillies for the race, Extended View and Bold Diva, but both have Eddie Martin named to ride, and Roussel's last two-pronged entry scratched down to one on race day.

Extended View is the clear speed of the field, and her poor local record should not necessarily be held against her since she only found her best form after last season's Fair Grounds meet.

But the race goes through Mike's Sister, who comes out of the strongest races and is the horse to beat. She finished second in her most recent start, one of the fastest six-furlong races this meet, and though she was beaten more than four lengths by Serena's Tune, Mike's Sister finished ahead of Hattiesburg, a graded stakes winning sprinter.