07/03/2002 11:00PM

Thomas expands Louisiana presence

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Bret Thomas, who jumped out to the early lead in the trainer standings at Louisiana Downs by winning four races opening weekend, will have a greater presence at Louisiana Downs this year. He built his stable up over the winter, and will have 40 horses on the grounds. Among them are Thomas's recent stakes winners Knight of the Mt., Truly Sunlit, and Screen Idol.

"We geared up and got our stable together last fall," said Thomas, who wintered at Delta Downs in Vinton, La. "Things are starting to pick up here in Louisiana with the slots, and we're getting more involved in the racing part of it."

Thomas, 40, had operated a large regional stable from 1996 to 1998, but for the past few years he has spent the bulk of his time breaking horses at his farm in Benton, located near Louisiana Downs.

At that facility, he has given early training to Kissin Kris, a Grade 1 winner of $1.6 million; Mariah's Storm, a Grade 2 winner of more than $700,000 and the dam of multiple Group 1 winner Giant's Causeway; Scott's Scoundrel, the all-time richest Louisiana-bred with more than $1 million in earnings; and Zarb's Magic, who he saddled to win the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby in 1996.

Thomas has a number of promising young horses in training. One of his best is the John Franks-owned Knight of the Mt., who won the $100,000 Jean Lafitte Futurity in March, and who is being pointed for the $35,000-added Stardust Stakes at Louisiana Downs on Oct. 19.

Truly Sunlit, a 3-year-old filly, is under consideration for the $50,000 Chapel Belle Stakes at Louisiana Downs on July 27, while Screen Idol, who won the $75,000 Northern Spur for

3-year-olds this spring at Oaklawn Park, is being rested until the fall, said Thomas.

Hail to Bag tops Arcadia

Hail to Bag, a winner of six of eight career starts, can bounce back from a rare defeat when he goes in Saturday's $40,000 Arcadia Stakes at Louisiana Downs. The six-furlong race for 3-year-old statebreds has also drawn Rapide and A Walk in the Snow.

Hail to Bag was almost unstoppable last year at 2, when he won the first five starts of his career, including the $100,000 D.S. "Shine" Young Futurity; the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile; and the $50,000 Lafayette Stakes.

He began his 3-year-old season with a win over older horses in the $30,000 Inaugural Handicap at Evangeline Downs on April 13, then in his most recent start finished an uncharacteristic eighth in a wide-open allowance at Lone Star Park near Dallas on May 27.

Trainer Doris Hebert said the allowance, which in the last week has produced subsequent stakes winners Front Nine and Premeditation, is a throwout for Hail to Bag.

"I expect to see a good performance out of him Saturday," said Hebert.

Claiming Crown prep races

Lone Star has carded three prep races for the 2002 Claiming Crown, an annual series of stakes races for claiming horses that this year will be run at Philadelphia Park on Aug. 31.

Glory Trail could control the pace in the first race, a 1 1/16-mile starter allowance for 3-year-olds and up who have started for a claiming price of $5,000 or less since Aug. 31, 2001. The race is a prep for the $50,000 Iron Horse.

The sixth race, a six-furlong starter for 3-year-olds and upward who have started for a claiming price of $7,500 or less since Aug. 31, 2001, matches Mystic Night, who exits a fast race; Cien Seas, who has been claimed out of all five of his races this meet; and Smart Ring, who won six straight races between December and March.

The race is a prep for the $50,000 Express.

Okie I B is looking for his second win of the meet in the eighth race, a 6 1/2-furlong starter allowance for 3-year-olds and upward who have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less since Aug. 31, 2001. The race could produce starters for the $100,000 Rapid Transit.

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