03/22/2007 12:00AM

Thanksgiving Cap rivals meet again


NEW ORLEANS - The refurbished Fair Grounds racecourse, one of the brightest spots in this storm-battered city's efforts to renew itself in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, concludes its 2006-07 meeting this weekend with two days of stakes-packed racecards.

Saturday's card includes five stakes races, topped by the $150,000 Duncan F. Kenner for older horses at six furlongs on dirt. The race is headed by several horses that competed in the meet's opening day feature, the Thanksgiving Day Handicap.

Gaff was well-bet in the Thanksgiving off his Grade 3 victory in the Mr. Prospector Handicap at Gulfstream in January 2006, but finished seventh, a continuation of the poor form he had exhibited since shipping to Dubai last March. Gaff rebounded over the course of the meet, however, winning the off-the-turf Bonapaw, then the Taylor's Special on turf. Gaff's trainer, Steve Asmussen, has also entered Santana Strings, who finished third in the Taylor's Special.

Venomous finished fourth in the Thanksgiving, then third in a blanket finish in the Bonapaw before winning the Colonel Power on the dirt Jan. 13. Venomous finished fifth in the Taylor's Special, but returns to his preferred surface Saturday.

"The only reason he was in the Taylor's Special is that we had no other place to run him," said trainer Patrick Mouton. "We wanted to keep him occupied, keep his mind on racing, but the dirt allowance races we tried to enter him in didn't fill."

Mouton tried the 5-year-old Venomous on the grass earlier last year and he ran poorly, so he wasn't surprised by the subpar effort in the Taylor's Special.

"I trained his dam, Rare Tradition, who was strictly turf," said Mouton, "so we took a chance at maybe getting a piece of it, but he clearly doesn't care for the turf. He's training very well and he's in excellent shape. We're looking forward to Saturday."

Smalltown Slew closed well to finish second in the Thanksgiving as the favorite. The 6-year-old Smalltown Slew competed in several subsequent stakes without winning before being claimed by trainer Steve Flint when Tom Amoss dropped him in for $75,000. Another former Amoss trainee, Smoke Mountain, will be saddled by Cody Autrey in the Kenner.

Amoss has entered course specialist Monkey Hill, who finished fourth, beaten only a half-length, in the Bonapaw. Monkey Hill is 3-3-0 in 8 lifetime starts at Fair Grounds.