01/06/2005 12:00AM

Wooden Phone nears first start since 2003

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NEW ORLEANS - Wooden Phone, a multiple graded-stakes winner who has been sidelined since August 2003, is in training at Fair Grounds under the care of Bret Calhoun and is expected to return to the races in the coming weeks.

The 8-year-old gelding, owned by James and Marilyn Helzer and Tom Durant, won the Grade 2 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita in 2001 and the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap in 2002 while in trainer Bob Baffert's barn.

After suffering a tendon injury in a race at Del Mar in August 2003, Wooden Phone was taken out of training. Calhoun has been in charge of his comeback for several months.

"He had tendon problems and they turned him out for a considerable amount of time," said Calhoun. "I picked up the horse in the first part of October. He was just a big fat horse out in the pasture. I knew about his class, and he has has trained real good. You can tell he is a horse that knows how to go about his business."

His latest work was a steady six furlongs in 1:15.

"We'll come back next week with another three-quarter work," said Calhoun, "then look for a race."

Calhoun is not sure what kind of race that will be.

"We really haven't made that decision yet," he said. "As we get closer to racing him we'll figure it out. I'm not sure if we're even going to run him long or short. He's a very good two-turn horse. At this point we would like to find an allowance race to start him out in and we'll see where he goes from there. My job is to keep him sound and healthy."

Ole Rebel ready to roll

Ole Rebel, upset winner of the Thanksgiving Handicap on the opening-day card at Fair Grounds, is ready to take on an even tougher field Sunday in the $60,000 Colonel Power stakes at six furlongs. Two horses who ran in the Breeders' Cup Sprint - Gold Storm and Clock Stopper - head a field that is also expected to include Beau's Town, Mountain General, Artemus Sunrise, Nebraska Moon, and Smooth as Silver.

"He's really good, ready to run," said trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. of Ole Rebel. "He's been in top form for five months now."

The only blemish on Ole Rebel's recent record is a poor performance in the Metroplex Mile at Lone Star Park on Breeders' Cup Day. That race may have been too long for him.

"His last five sprints were all great," said Leggio. "He won four of them and finished second, beaten less than a length, in the other one."

Ole Rebel has been burning up the track in the morning. Last week he turned in a bullet five-furlong work in 1:00.80, nearly three seconds faster than any other horse at the distance that day.

Ole Rebel got a quick pace to run at in the Thanksgiving Day Handicap, and Leggio is expecting more of the same Sunday. "I figure it'll be even a little faster pace," he said. "I think we'll be all right."

Josh Romero retires

Jockey Josh Romero, winner of two races at the 2004-05 Fair Grounds meet, has announced his retirement after six years in the saddle. He battled with his weight as he grew, and at age 22 he is 5-foot-9 and can make only the higher weights of 120 to 122 pounds. The Lafayette, La.-born Romero will hang up his tack, but is not through with the racing business. Romero has taken a job as a placing judge at Evangeline Downs.