02/03/2007 12:00AM

Smitty's Sunshine may try males

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NEW ORLEANS - Next Saturday's Taylor's Special Handicap at 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass may be overshadowed by the four Grade 3 stakes on the Fair Grounds card but it is shaping up as a good betting event featuring several quality horses.

The Steve Asmussen-trained Gaff, winner of the Bonapaw Stakes on Dec. 23, is the likely favorite against such challengers as Gigawatt, Storm Surge, Venomous, and Yucatan.

Smitty's Sunshine, a Louisiana-bred filly, is an intriguing prospect in this spot. The 4-year-old Smitty's Sunshine, trained by Morris Nicks, is 4 for 5 on the grass after winning three straight sprints against open company, the last two stakes. Taking on males, especially an accomplished field like this, would be a challenge, but Nicks has not ruled it out.

"I haven't decided yet," said Nicks. "She'll work this week, and I'm watching the track. I'm probably leaning toward waiting a little more, but I wouldn't say we're not going to run her."

Nicks was more definite about Northern Scene, his 6-year-old gelding who is nominated to the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

"He's doing very well," said Nicks. "When I breeze him I'll make a final decision, but I'm 90 percent sure he's going."

That race has attracted a strong field, headed by multiple Grade 1 winner English Channel, who will have John Velazquez in the saddle. Velazquez is also named on Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Circular Quay in the Grade 3 Risen Star and on Master Command in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap.

"I don't get to come to Fair Grounds too often," Velazquez said, "but I always enjoy coming there to ride. I think that I will have some really good chances with these horses."

Velazquez, winner of the Eclipse award for leading rider in two of the last three years, is the regular rider of English Channel and won the Grade 2 Meadowlands Breeders' Cup aboard Master Command last October. He has never ridden Circular Quay in a race but worked him last summer at Saratoga.

Sweetening returns on the grass

Trainer Joe Duhon is bringing multiple stakes-placed Sweetening back to the races in Monday's feature. The 4-year-old Sweetening will be running at the shortest distance he has ever tried, 5 1/2 furlongs, and on an unfamiliar surface, grass. Duhon said he thinks the surface and distance are appropriate for a horse coming back off a 10-month layoff.

"He had some minor damage to his right ankle," Duhon said. "We wanted to give him enough time to recover and make sure he came back sound. I think the grass is a little easier on horses coming back from surgery.

"I didn't want to work him to death. A race is worth three workouts so this will be a good little start for him. We're just trying to give him a race. I think his future is probably going longer on the dirt but he might take to the grass."