03/03/2011 4:30PM

Willcox Inn makes 3-year-old debut in Grindstone at Fair Grounds

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Barbara D. Livingston
Willcox Inn will make his first start as a 3-year-old in Saturday’s $60,000 Grindstone Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Wholly ready or not, Willcox Inn is set to make his 2011 debut Saturday at Fair Grounds in the $60,000 Grindstone Stakes, a 7 1/2-furlong turf race restricted to 3-year-olds. Willcox Inn was one of nine horses entered in the Grindstone and will go to the post only if the race remains on turf, trainer Mike Stidham said.

Willcox Inn hasn’t raced since rallying up the inside to finish third of 12 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs, just the third start of his career. Willcox Inn was an impressive debut maiden winner in a two-turn Arlington Polytrack race and finished third behind J.B.’s Thunder and Santiva in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in his second start.

A Harlan’s Holiday colt owned by the All In Stable, Willcox Inn has been breezing steadily on the Fair Grounds main track in preparation for his comeback, but Stidham said Willcox Inn is in no way cranked up for his return.

“It’s not like he’s going into the race 100 percent,” Stidham said. “I’d say he’s 85-90 percent ready in terms of fitness. But for the races we have in mind, we need to get a race in him.”

Possible April goals for Willcox Inn include the Blue Grass or Lexington Stakes on Keeneland’s Polytrack.

The field also includes Action Ready and Mavericking, the one-two finishers in an entry-level turf allowance Jan. 9 at Fair Grounds. While Action Ready went on to race in the Lecomte and Risen Star stakes, finishing third and seventh, Mavericking was given a freshening to point to the Grindstone. A series of sharp February workouts suggest Mavericking is ready.

Shipping in from Florida is Cafe Elektric, a Roger Attfield-trained horse who made all five his starts last year in England.

Friesan Fire, Stay Put return in optional claimer

Friesan Fire, the favorite in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, is scheduled to make his first start since last summer at Saratoga in a high-end optional claimer Saturday.

Friesan Fire, 5, was one of five horses entered in race 9, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race with several allowance conditions and also open to $62,500 claimers. Among his rivals is Stay Put, who hasn’t raced since finishing sixth behind Drosselmeyer in the 2010 Belmont Stakes.

Friesan Fire swept the 3-year-old route stakes series in 2009 at Fair Grounds while trained by Larry Jones but has never really gotten back to the performance level he attained winning the Louisiana Derby by more than seven lengths. Trained since last fall by Steve Asmussen, he hasn’t raced since finishing ninth in a minor stakes race in July at Saratoga.

Stay Put has never won a stakes, though he rallied decently a year ago in both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby.

Rail-drawn Glenwood Canyon is the 2-1 morning-line favorite, while Fast Alex, scratched with a reported illness from the Feb. 19 Mineshaft Handicap, also is in with a chance.

◗ Trainer Paul McGee said last week that sharp Fair Grounds maiden winner Majestic Harbor might be entered main-track-only in the Grindstone, but that idea was scrapped, and McGee said earlier this week that Majestic Harbor was being pointed to the March 26 Louisiana Derby.