04/12/2006 12:00AM

'Wheat' is done trying dirt for now

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If it's early winter and you happen to be a person with a talented 3-year-old racehorse, and if that racehorse shows even a trace of an affinity for dirt racing, that 3-year-old will be given a chance to become a dirt horse. It's not just Kentucky Derby fever. There are plenty of plump purses scattered throughout the country - every track worth its salt wants to have its own derby - and even a horse a couple of notches below the best in his class can make a lot of money at 3.

All of which relates to Desert Wheat, who may be the horse to beat Friday night in the featured ninth race at Lone Star Park. Desert Wheat won his maiden on turf, finished third in a Keeneland stakes race on turf, and won the Gentilly Handicap on turf, but he is not inept on the main track, so owner Jerry Lee and trainer Tony Richey gave Desert Wheat a couple shots in dirt races over the winter. What happened to Desert Wheat when he finished second in the Diamond Jo Stakes on Dec. 31 at Evangeline Downs was a force of nature known as Lawyer Ron. What happened to him three weeks later when he finished fourth in the Crescent City Derby at Louisiana Downs was that by all appearances Desert Wheat simply was outrun.

So Friday it is back to the turf for Desert Wheat, and quite possibly, back to the winner's circle. Richey trains off a farm in east Texas, so the lack of published workouts on Desert Wheat's form should not arouse undue concern. Rather look to his third last fall at Keeneland behind the talented (on that day, at least) Yankee Master in a $125,000 stakes race. Desert Wheat is by Wheaton, who typically sires dirt horses, many of them sprinters, but he is out of an Irish-bred mare by Royal Academy, and clearly takes after his mother's side of the family.

Among Desert Wheat's six rivals in this second-level allowance race at 7 1/2 furlongs is Unruly, who was rained off turf in his last race and showed turf ability in a trio of starts last fall.

* Race 6, a second-level Texas-bred sprint allowance, marks the first start in many months for Final Trick, who won a division of the Texas Stallion Stakes last July at Lone Star.