12/28/2006 12:00AM

Weight piled on Arbuckle Bandit


NEW ORLEANS - Arbuckle Bandit and Storm Treasure, who were separated by a head at the end of their last race, will go at it again Saturday in the $75,000 Woodchopper Handicap at about 1 1/16 miles over the Fair Grounds turf course.

Arbuckle Bandit came rolling seven wide in the late stages to win the $169,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs in his last start. Storm Treasure closed inside of Arbuckle Bandit and just missed in a blanket finish that saw the top four hit the wire two heads and a neck apart. In a finish that close a significant shift in weight could well reverse the outcome, and that's exactly what happens Saturday. Arbuckle Bandit has been installed as the 124-pound highweight, while Storm Treasure will carry 116, a six-pound shift in Storm Treasure's favor.

Mike Stidham, who trains Arbuckle Bandit, was less than pleased with the weight assignments.

"It's to my disliking," he said, "but that's what happens when you get penalized. The shift in weights is very worrisome but we don't have a choice if we're going to run, and that's what we're going to decide when we look at the race. We'll decide if we want to stay in and take our shot."

Arbuckle Bandit earned his highweight status with a 3-0-2 record in 5 grass starts, with both thirds coming in Grade 3 races. Storm Treasure has yet to win in six grass starts, but he has finished second in his last three starts, all grass stakes. Earlier this year, he finished up the track in the Kentucky Derby after running second in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland.

Stradivinsky is the most accomplished grass runner outside of the top two. A speedster trained by Malcolm Pierce, Stradivinsky may be able to set a soft pace. International Cat, the Illinois Futurity winner Creative Force, and stakes-placed Electric Chant are the only other grass winners in the field.

The Bobby Frankel-trained Nascar Guy was hung out to dry racing wide over the Fair Grounds grass in his first effort on the turf and could improve. Flanders Fields, a winner earlier at the meet on dirt, could run better in his second grass start, but trainer Dallas Stewart is probably hoping for the race to come off the turf. Good and Lucky and Malameeze also would benefit if the race comes off the grass.