12/12/2006 12:00AM

Spotsgone presents solid option


The Tom Amoss barn has shipped south with its usual stock of astute claims from the Kentucky circuit, horses like Smoke Mountain, who was taken by Amoss for $30,000 on Sept. 22 at Turfway Park, and who comes into Thursday's featured ninth race at Fair Grounds after a pair of explosive wins at Mountaineer Park.

But it's worth noting - it's a long way from Chester, West Virginia, to New Orleans.

Smoke Mountain was one of seven entered in race 9, which was carded for third-level allowance horses or $50,000 claimers at six furlongs. Amoss has another horse for the race, too, Rungius, whose form doesn't jump off the page the way Smoke Mountain's does. Smoke Mountain, who lost his seventh straight race the day Amoss and owner Maggi Moss claimed him, ran back at Mountaineer three weeks after he was taken, and won an entry-level allowance race by almost 14 lengths. Back in a second-level allowance Nov.o6, Smoke Mountain won by more than four.

But while you cannot blame a horse for the company he has kept, you can question the quality of the five rivals Smoke Mountain had in that recent win. Also, both Mountaineer races were at 5 1/2 furlongs and came over a completely different kind of racetrack than Fair Grounds, where Smoke Mountain has worked twice since shipping in. In other words, those put off by a short price on Smoke Mountain might land elsewhere.

Some might land on Spotsgone, who was to ship from trainer Jinks Fires's base at Oaklawn Park to Fair Grounds on Wednesday. The trip alone seems positive: Why take an eight-hour van ride for an allowance race unless you mean business?

"He's pretty much on top of his game," Fires said Tuesday afternoon. "We blew him out three-eighths this morning - he went okay."

Spotsgone almost won the Derby Trial last spring, and he did win a small Prairie Meadows stakes race the next time he started. Two races since a break from mid-July to late October have not produced the type of form Spotsgone showed during late spring and early summer, but Fires gives him excuses.

"At Keeneland, I think he got tired over there," Fires said. "We gave him the summer off pretty much. The race at Churchill, he hit the gate, wound up on the front end, and that's not where he wanted to be."