02/25/2004 12:00AM

Swift work good sign for Sir Cherokee

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NEW ORLEANS - Two things about Sir Cherokee's form jump off the page. The first happened last spring: a win in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby at 55-1. The other is Sir Cherokee's work Tuesday at Oaklawn Park, where the colt breezed six furlongs in 1:11.40, faster than many races there.

The breeze came just five days before Sir Cherokee is to start in Sunday's $500,000 New Orleans Handicap, his biggest race since the Arkansas Derby, but trainer Michael Tomlinson said he believes his horse had the necessary backbone to work so swiftly.

"He worked with one other horse that was about 15 lengths in front of him, and we let him go get him," Tomlinson said Wednesday morning. "He did it very easily, with his ears pricked. By the time he came back to the pony and came off the racetrack, he was fully recovered."

Tomlinson said Sir Cherokee needed one more serious breeze because of a missed work in mid-February. Sir Cherokee had bruised the bulb of his left hind foot and developed an abscess there. Tomlinson said Sir Cherokee is "completely sound" right now.

Just how good is a sound and fit Sir Cherokee? That will become clearer after Sunday's race. A field of eight is expected for the Grade 2 New Orleans, the toughest group Sir Cherokee has faced. There was one defection from the race Wednesday, the longshot Country be Gold. During a wet Wednesday morning, two Fair Grounds-based starters, Spanish Empire and Comic Truth, logged maintenance-style half-mile works.

Sir Cherokee was scheduled to travel here by van on Thursday for his first top-level test as a 4-year-old. His 3-year-old season ended on a sour note, when Sir Cherokee fractured his right hind ankle the day before the Kentucky Derby. The injury required rest and patience. Sir Cherokee was treated with both.

The colt was bred and is owned by Kenneth Jones's Domino Stud. Jones, who has lived in Guam since just after World War II, sells many of the horses he breeds, but that didn't work with Sir Cherokee, who failed to reach a $30,000 reserve at a yearling auction. Sir Cherokee is built along the lines of a classic route horse, with a long, lanky frame, and long stride.

"He's not that bulging-muscle, Quarter-Horsey type that catches peoples' eye at sales," Tomlinson said. "He is very correct, very well balanced."

Tomlinson said Sir Cherokee was too immature to show his best at age 2, and it wasn't until the Arkansas Derby that he put together a complete race. The same sort of measured approach has been applied to Sir Cherokee as a 4-year-old. He won a Churchill allowance race in his comeback and the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup by three-quarters of a length Jan. 17 at Sam Houston. That race was completely paceless, taking Sir Cherokee, a natural big-run closer, completely out of his game.

"It showed me a new dimension, that he wouldn't have to be a one-dimensional closer," Tomlinson said.

"We've tried to build a foundation with this horse and give him time. Hopefully, the foundation we've built will get him to this level."

Fire Slam works on deep surface

Fire Slam, one of the top two local candidates for the Louisiana Derby, put in his penultimate work for the race, going a half-mile Wednesday morning in 49.60 seconds.

In a rarity, Fire Slam worked about 20 minutes before the renovation break. Typically, trainers work their best horses first thing in the morning or immediately after the break. But Carroll, dodging rain on yet another sodden morning here, squeezed in the breeze before the track maintenance crew packed down the surface during the break. Carroll said he preferred Fire Slam to work on the deeper, slower going, theorizing a surface of that type would be easier on Fire Slam's damaged hoof.

The hoof, injured before Fire Slam won the Lecomte Stakes, has been patched and specially shod for close to six weeks. The original quarter crack healed well this month, but Carroll said a new fiberglass patch had to be applied Monday. Fire Slam doesn't seem to be in pain, but as Carroll said, "if you have to keep pulling things off, you can leave yourself open to infection."

Fire Slam is scheduled to have his final breeze before the Louisiana Derby on Tuesday.

Grande's Grandslam, another Carroll-trained 3-year-old, is shipping to Sunland Park near El Paso, Texas, for Sunday's $100,000 Borderland Derby.

Howard may have two derby horses

Gradepoint, a definite starter for the Louisiana Derby, and possible candidate Breakaway both worked three furlongs earlier this week. Gradepoint, winner of the Risen Star Stakes, went in 37.20 seconds Monday, while Breakaway, who impressively won an allowance race on the Risen Star undercard, went in 37.80 on Tuesday.

Howard said two other races are being considered for Breakaway, the Tampa Bay Derby and the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. But, said Howard, "We're seriously considering running both of them in the Louisiana Derby. We like to stay on this racetrack as long as we can."

* Shiloh Bound, scratched because of lameness the morning of the Risen Star, is out of training for the time being, trainer Walter Bindner said. Bindner said he jogged Shiloh Bound two days last week, and wasn't happy with the way the horse was moving. The setback will cost Shiloh Bound a chance to run in the Louisiana Derby, but Bindner said, "I don't think it's anything major at all."