01/13/2007 12:00AM

Ackel likes high on Skyward Exchange

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NEW ORLEANS – Thad Ackel is best known for training Great Communicator to win the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Now an owner, Ackel has a promising prospect in Skyward Exchange, the probable favorite in Monday’s feature race at Fair Grounds, a second-level $35,000 optional claimer for fillies and mares at a mile and 40 yards.

“She’s got a lot of quality in her,” said Ackel. “She seems to be sitting ready for this race.”

Skyward Exchange was impressive winning a first-level allowance race Dec. 17 at Fair Grounds, a result that was flattered when the runner-up, Burletta, returned to win her next race. Skyward Exchange rated off the pace that day after showing raw speed in previous races.

“She’s versatile,” said Ackel. “Corey Lanerie said he could have dropped her back to last if he wanted to in that last race. She’s a pretty intelligent filly and has the right disposition.”

Skyward Exchange was trained by Kenny Smith when she tried two turns last February at Oaklawn Park in her second lifetime start, finishing second to Ermine, but she chipped her right ankle in the race. After undergoing surgery and several months of recovery, she returned in November and won her maiden for trainer Bill Mott at Churchill Downs. Skyward Exchange is now trained by Pat Herbert, and her owner knows a thing or two about training himself.

“I decided to take some extra time with her this time before I sent her around two turns again,” said Ackel. “So we ran her in the sprint, and now we’re going to try the two turns again. I feel like she can take another step forward. She’s got a lot more than we’ve seen so far.”

Skyward Exchange’s versatility could be important in a race that doesn’t have a clear pace scenario. Exploit Me may provide the biggest obstacle after finishing second at this condition in her first race over the track last month. She led in the stretch before being headed by Christmas Lily that day, and has been knocking on the door at this level for several races after winning a first-level allowance race at Arlington Park in August.

Superb Ravi, who won an off-the-turf route last month at Fair Grounds, and Ringo’s Cat are possible pace prospects, but Skyward Exchange could also find herself loose on the lead. Looks Lucky is the wild card in here, a strong closer coming off a 15-month layoff.

Cha Ching the Green is the only horse in the field being offered for the $35,000 claiming tag.