11/26/2003 12:00AM

Small, Meyerhoff revive successful partnership


NEW ORLEANS - About six years ago, trainer Richard Small bought a house near Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, but when he split with the owner Robert Meyerhoff shortly afterward, Small stopped wintering at Fair Grounds.

Now, Small is back with Meyerhoff - and back in his house.

"When I stopped training for Mr. Meyerhoff, I was going to come down here," Small said. "But I had mostly my own horses, and they didn't have conditions. They weren't good enough for stakes, but they were too good to run in claiming races. I wouldn't have had any spots to run them."

Small began training for Meyerhoff again earlier this year, and now has close to 15 horses for him. The pair will be hard-pressed to equal the success they had here in the mid-1990's with horses like Concern, Brushing Gloom, Broad Smile, and Tough Broad. But Small had three 2-year-olds in a pair of training races here Wednesday, and at least one of them, Empty Portrait, looks like a runner. Empty Portrait raced behind horses early in her training race, but came with a wide run and won by two lengths, running five furlongs in 1:01. Empty Portrait is by Coronado's Quest and out of Illeria, making her a half-sister to Meyerhoff's handicap star Include, who won the New Orleans Handicap two seasons ago for trainer Bud Delp.

Small said Empty Portrait is "pretty close" to racing. "She's small, but she has a big engine," he said. "When she gets serious about running, she'll be okay."

Small's glance seems to take in most everything about a horse. He brings his young horses along slowly, and on Wednesday had all three of his maidens sit behind horses and learn something about racing. No detail of their behavior seems to escape him.

"Most of these horses, I trained their mother or their grandmother, and a lot of them their father," Small said. "It's fascinating for me to see them for several generations."

Grendel makes comeback

Phase two of Grendel's career begins Friday at Fair Grounds, where he has eight rivals in a first-level allowance race, a turf sprint at about 5 1/2 furlongs.

The best race in the condition book, a third-level allowance route for fillies, didn't come close to attracting sufficient entries.

But Grendel's presence makes the ninth race more interesting than it might otherwise be. Grendel beat a nice field here Feb. 22 in his career debut, and his connections, owner B. Wayne Hughes and trainer Al Stall, thought enough of the colt to try him in the Lone Star Derby in just his third start. That did not go well, as Grendel had a tough trip and was beaten about six lengths while finishing 10th. Grendel came back to finish third in an entry-level turf allowance at Churchill and a 3-year-old overnight handicap at Arlington in July, at which point Stall said, "enough."

"He's big and strong and sound, and I just gave him a freshening to let him catch up to himself a little bit," Stall said.

If Grendel eventually emerges as a good horse, it probably will be in route races, but he already has demonstrated he can be effective as a late-running sprinter. Grendel has worked sharply for his comeback, and races without blinkers for the first time in three starts.

His strongest rivals may prove to be Cold Truth, from the Bobby Springer barn, and A.J.'s Cafe, a pace horse making his grass debut for trainer Bret Calhoun.

Cilio's stable remains intact

Greg Geier, the longtime assistant trainer for Gene Cilio, who died last weekend, will continue training Cilio's string of horses at Fair Grounds. Andy Hansen, Cilio's other assistant, is handling the Cilio horses that remain in Chicago.

Geier said this week that he has 23 horses at Fair Grounds, including the talented 3-year-old filly Allspice, who is on the way back after having surgery to remove bone chips in her knee. Allspice is galloping and may be ready to breeze in December, Geier said.

Allspice is owned by Jim Tafel, who began sending well-bred young horses to Cilio a few years ago. Geier said that Tafel and Richard Duchossois, another prominent Cilio owner, "want to keep things the way they've been, at least for now."

"I'm doing the same things I've been doing all along," said Geier, "but it's just me talking to the owners now."

Timo headed to Calder

Timo, winner of the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park in his last start, worked five furlongs in 1:02.80 here Tuesday, preparing for his start this weekend in the $100,000 Mecke Stakes at Calder. Trainer Bill Badgett is shipping Timo out of town because Timo needs turf for his best racing, and there are no stakes on that surface here for him until the Black Gold on Jan. 10.

Badgett had a strong run at Fair Grounds last season, and shipped his 30-horse stable in early this year to prepare for the meet.

"I had so many horses to run early on, I thought we'd get down there a little sooner," he said.

LeBlanc ready to go to work

Kirk LeBlanc, the seventh-leading rider here last season, has decided to spend the winter at Fair Grounds after briefly moving his tack to Delta Downs. LeBlanc, who finished second to Gerard Melancon at the Louisiana Downs meet, has mounts here opening day.

"I started the meet at Delta, but I was just testing it out," LeBlanc said. "I'm here to stay."