03/18/2008 12:00AM

Sterwins should offer square Lecombe price

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Most signals point to Inca King performing significantly better in Saturday's Allen Lecombe Memorial at Fair Grounds than he did in finishing eighth in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup on Feb. 9. Dropped in class and returned to his best distance of a mile for the Lecombe, he looks to be sitting on one of his better efforts.

For a horse who won four stakes last year, including the Grade 2 Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs, that means a top-level effort.

Yet it might not be enough. Inca King, although classy, is a front-runner, and a headstrong one at that. He regularly pulls at his rider, eager to do more early.

His headstrong manner has not always hampered his finish, but against a good field in the Lecombe, over a course that typically proves taxing on front-runners, I expect Sterwins to catch him in the stretch.

Sterwins, third in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, 3 1/2 lengths in front of Inca King on the wire, has the class and numbers to prevail.

Working in his favor is his fondness for the Fair Grounds course. In three starts this meet, he has won the Buddy Diliberto Memorial with a wide trip around both turns, and run third in the Colonel E.R. Bradley before his third-place finish in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup.

He was just inches away from being second in those last two. He fell a nose short of runner-up Major Rhythm in the Colonel E.R. Bradley, and last time in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, he got stuck in traffic on the second turn, closed furiously once clear, and lost a head-bobbing photo for the place with Jazz Quest.

Had he run second in those races, he would likely be a tick or two lower on the odds board for the Allen Lecombe. Instead, he seems likely to start at or around his morning-line price of 7-2.

Inca King, and to a lesser extent Save Big Money, should give him a test, but Sterwins looks up to the challenge.

Tejano Run: Jade's Revenge can take it

An absence of pace in Saturday's Tejano Run Stakes at Turfway Park will likely attract horseplayers to the front-running Self Made Man, believing he is positioned to steal the race.

I, too, see him enjoying the luxury of setting a slow pace. But I don't see him being the only horse benefiting from soft splits.

I believe that scenario could also play to the strength of Jade's Revenge, who won the Ben Ali at Keeneland last year over Polytrack in a race that unfolded with little early pace. He won that 1 1/8-mile race by closely tracking fractions of 49.84 seconds and 1:13.84, before quickening through the stretch to repel bids from such classy runners as Minister's Joy, Mustanfar, and Stream Cat.

He will face horses of lesser quality in the Tejano Run, and he should outclass the field.

Admittedly, he fell 1 3/4 lengths short of victorious Self Made Man when he was fourth in the Dust Commander on Feb. 16, but a layoff and troubled trip proved his undoing. Making his first start since running seventh in the Eclipse Stakes at Woodbine last May, Jade's Revenge was steadied and squeezed back between rivals entering the first turn, and then raced behind horses for the remainder of the race, taking kickback in his face. He should improve from that troubled effort

Adding to the appeal of Jade's Revenge is that Graham Motion trains him. Motion has won with 18 of his last 69 starters over synthetic surfaces (26 percent winners). A $2 wager on each would have generated a return of $4.18.

San Felipe: Southwest a live longshot

Saturday's San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita is not the strongest Derby prep run this year, but it might provide more answers than some of the others, particularly with regard to the distance capabilities of some of the leading West Coast 3-year-old prospects.

Gayego, Bob Black Jack, and Georgie Boy have run Beyer Speed Figures of 102 or greater as 3-year-olds - higher numbers than Pyro and War Pass have posted this year - but none of the three has raced beyond seven furlongs. Additionally, all three are by sires whose offspring are typically most effective sprinting.

So the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe should shed light on whether any of the three can become major players in routes leading toward the Kentucky Derby.

Georgie Boy, winner of the Del Mar Futurity and the San Vincente, has a closing style that hints he can handle more ground. Combine that with his class, and he is therefore the most probable winner.

Clouding the picture is his pedigree. Georgie Boy is by Tribal Rule - a Storm Cat sire whose offspring's average winning distance is merely six furlongs - and is out of a stakes-winning dam whose six victories all came sprinting.

With Georgie Boy expected to take heavy betting action, I will back longshot Southwest, a proven router who ran a deceptively good third in an allowance Feb. 22 when he was far off a slow early pace and hung wide.

With quicker fractions expected for the San Felipe, he looks poised for an improved effort.