11/11/2009 12:00AM

So far, so good in Sellers's latest comeback


NEW ORLEANS - Shane Sellers hails from central Louisiana, and his history at Fair Grounds goes back to the early 1980s. And it was at Fair Grounds in December 2000 that Sellers's excellent riding career took a bad turn.

Sellers had been wintering at Gulfstream Park in previous seasons, but now he was back at Fair Grounds. A main reason was trainer Frank Brothers, and Sellers was aboard a Brothers-trained first-timer named Hike on Dec. 21. Just after the post parade, as the horses began warming up in earnest, Hike acted up and threw Sellers. Sellers tried to corral the young horse, to keep him from running off, and wound up getting entangled in Hike's equipment. Bang. Sellers blew out his knee, an injury that required reconstructive surgery and a long layoff.

Sure, Sellers made it back to the races, but things were never really right again. Twice he retired, appearing to step away from racing for good late in 2004.

"It was a freak accident, that's all," Sellers said last weekend in the Fair Grounds paddock. "That's so far in the past. So many things have happened since then."

And while he said it, his face was spotted with flecks of dirt. That dirt had come from the racetrack at Fair Grounds, where Sellers has returned again this season. And after one three-day racing week, Sellers is back on top again, tied with Corey Lanerie for leading rider with four victories.

Sellers made his comeback in July at Evangeline Downs. He had been out of racing about four years, and the 43-year-old human body is not really made for a combination of heavy dieting and all-out exercise.

"It hasn't been easy," Sellers said.

Not easy - but so far, successful. At Evangeline, Sellers rode 42 winners from just 160 mounts, fourth-best during a meet that ended Sept. 7. Sellers battled through a herniated disk earlier this fall, but said his back feels fine now. Outwardly, he does not look much different than the rider who was hurt late in 2000. And on horseback, Sellers gave much the same appearance during Fair Grounds's opening week. In Saturday's Pontalba Stakes, he gave Right to Rule a perfectly timed ride to win by a nose.

Steve Asmussen trains Right to Rule. It was Asmussen who gave Sellers the business that got him rolling at Evangeline, and three of Sellers's four opening-week victories came on Asmussen-trained horses. That pipeline isn't likely to dry up entirely, but Shaun Bridgmohan has been Asmussen's go-to Fair Grounds rider for a couple years now, and Bridgmohan is expected here when the Churchill Downs meet ends later this month. It's an eventuality, however, for which Sellers is prepared.

"I understand the situation," Sellers said. "I know it's Shaun's outfit."

But at Evangeline, when Sellers showed that he really meant business, his business expanded. Few would be surprised if something similar happened in New Orleans.

Upperline gets first feel for dirt

In Upperline, trainer Mike Stidham has one of the more promising 2-year-old fillies scheduled to winter in New Orleans. But whether Upperline winds up on the Fair Grounds Oaks trail or sticks to synthetic and turf racing has yet to be determined.

Upperline has won 2 of 3 starts, and she finished second in her lone loss. The horse that beat her? Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner She Be Wild, in an overnight stakes race at Arlington Park. In October, Upperline faced males in a Keeneland two-turn allowance race, though the horse she edged to win that day was Vivid Colors, another filly.

Last week, Stidham mentioned the Miesque Stakes on turf at Hollywood Park later this month as a possible next stop for Upperline. But while that race still is under consideration, travel arrangements do not appear ideal, Stidham said, and Upperline also is being considered for the Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill, which would be her first dirt start. Monday at Fair Grounds, Upperline had her first-ever work on dirt, breezing a half-mile in 49 seconds.

"She looked very comfortable," said Stidham. "We're going to work her again on the dirt, and if we think she's capable of handling the dirt, we may consider [the Golden Rod]."

The Stidham-trained Tizaqueena, meanwhile, already had her California trip. She finished 10th as the tepid favorite last Friday in the Las Palmas Handicap, a somewhat disappointing conclusion to an otherwise strong 2009 campaign.

"She's on her way back to New Orleans from California," Stidham said. "We're planning on looking for spots for her."

The Stidham barn also sent out probably the single sharpest winner of opening week, Comedero, an Arkansas-bred 2-year-old who ran his record to 3 for 3 winning the Old Hickory Stakes on Saturday. Comedero had been privately purchased by owner Peter Redekop after his second race. Stidham said immediate plans for Comedero are uncertain.

Apprentice tumbles twice

Apprentice rider Anna Roberts had a tough day Saturday at Fair Grounds - a really tough day. Roberts's mount in race 5, Kelly'spremonition, clipped heels on the far turn and went down, sending Roberts flying. Uninjured, Roberts honored her last call of the day, riding Ipilee in the nightcap, race 11. But no sooner had Ipilee left the gate than the horse took a funny step. And down went Roberts again - mercifully unscathed.

Roberts, who launched her career as a jockey this past summer, is the daughter of Fair Grounds assistant track photographer Lynn Roberts.

* The featured race on Friday's tricky nine-race card is the eighth, a second-level filly and mare allowance carded for 1 1/16 miles on turf. Dancin Perfect won her maiden over the Fair Grounds course about one year ago, but give an edge here to Chartreux, who ran well winning an entry-level turf allowance at Arlington in her first start for trainer Richie Scherer.