01/10/2008 1:00AM

Tizaqueena looks ready for big step up


A once-started maiden winner seems likely to be favored to win the Tiffany Lass Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds, but if you happened to catch Tizaqueena's career debut, that makes sense.

Tizaqueena debuted in a one-mile dirt race, relaxed into an easy stride behind a runaway pacesetter, took control of the race coming off the far turn, and ran alone through the stretch to win by more than five lengths. A couple of days later, trainer Mike Stidham said Tizaqueena was being pointed to the Tiffany Lass, one of six $100,000 stakes on the Fair Grounds card, and here she is, without having missed a beat.

"Everything's gone well with her," Stidham said.

A Stonerside Stable homebred by Tiznow, Tizaqueena has worked four times since her sparkling debut. She seems as likely to move forward in the Tiffany Lass as to regress, and she is helped by the fact that the race did not come up with an especially strong field.

Diamondaire should be no worse than second choice based on a good one-mile entry-level allowance win on Nov. 30 at Fair Grounds. Diamondaire, a Padua Stables homebred, debuted with a win at Remington Park and had finished a distant second at Delta Downs before improving in her local win.

"She's an overachiever," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "Based on the way she worked over the summer, we thought Remington was the right place for her. She's been a pleasant surprise."

Asmussen also sends out the stretch-out sprinter Jolie the Cat, who might set the pace from the rail. And a quick pace is what Highest Class needs. A Mineshaft filly from the Neil Howard barn, Highest Class won a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Dec. 23. She may be a stakes horse, but probably wants to run farther than she will Saturday.

"We're going in recognizing that a mile is not going to be ideal," Howard said.

Gaudin: Stormin Baghdad facing tougher

Stormin Baghdad already has won two sprint stakes at the Fair Grounds meet, but the division is getting tougher in Saturday's Gaudin Memorial.

Storming Baghdad already has won the Thanksgiving Handicap and an off-the-turf edition of the Bonapaw, but in the Gaudin he faces an especially formidable foe in Semaphore Man.

Semaphore Man hasn't raced since May 19, when he finished third to top-class sprinters Diabolical and Talent Search in Maryland, and he is the most accomplished horse in the race. Moreover, Semaphore Man won his first start back from his last long layoff, and turned in a monster five-furlong gate work last weekend at trainer Kelly Von Hemel's Oaklawn Park base.

"He's worked forwardly, and that was a great work the other day," Von Hemel said. "He's easy to get ready, and he does run well fresh. He's doing awfully good right now."

Steve Asmussen trains Stormin Baghdad, but his other horse in the Gaudin, Gunfight, might have as good a chance. Stormin Baghdad drew the rail, and may find himself in a pace tussle with the unbeaten Euroears and perhaps even Semaphore Man. Gunfight can race effectively from off the pace, and could get a perfect trip in his first stakes start since the Swale last winter at Gulfstream.

"I think he's a brilliant horse, and he's ready to run a huge race," Asmussen said.

Col. Bradley: Sterwins nicely spotted

Sterwins may only have to hold serve in the Grade 3 Colonel E.R. Bradley in order to win his second stakes of the Fair Grounds meet.

Sterwins rallied from behind a slow pace and won the Dec. 15 Buddy Diliberto by a length, and the quality of the opposition on Saturday looks quite similar. Sterwins has come back with two timed workouts since that victory, and trainer Malcolm Pierce said he sees no sign of decline.

"I've been happy with him," Pierce said.

Sterwins has shown speed in the past, but Pierce has focused on getting the horse to relax and come from off the lead. So, even though the Bradley has a distinctive lack of early pace, do not expect to see Sterwins on the lead.

"The way this turf course plays, I'd rather not see that," said Pierce. "It's murder to win on the lead."

It's a rainy week in New Orleans, and there's a decent chance the Bradley will get switched to the main track. No problem for Sterwins, who "handles the dirt fine," Pierce said.

Optimer and Save Big Money, second and third in the Diliberto, return for the Bradley. New players worth noting are Gold Sound, a listed stakes horse in France and a minor Sam Houston stakes winner last out in his second U.S. start, and Silverfoot, a Grade 3 type horse who will be making his first start in 14 months.

"If he's tight enough he'll be right there," trainer Dallas Stewart said of Silverfoot, who is now 8. "I just want to see him lay back and make a run."

Leggio: Smitty's Sunshine seeks repeat

The Leggio Memorial will see the latest face-off between Flying Circle and Smitty's Sunshine, two of the better female turf sprinters in the country.

Smitty's Sunshine has won both her starts over the Fair Grounds grass course, including an easy score in the 2007 Leggio. But this year's edition looks at least a little better, and Smitty's Sunshine will have to fight off an early challenge from Cat on a Cloud if she is to take up her typical position on or just off the early pace.

A sizzling half-mile split would perfectly suit late-running Flying Circle, who ships in from Florida for trainer David Fawkes. Six-year-old Flying Circle made only one start in 2006, but came on strong last year, beating Smitty's Sunshine in turf-sprint stakes at Calder and Churchill.