03/24/2004 12:00AM

Allowance looks like a stakes


Friday's featured ninth race at Fair Grounds is a $38,500 Louisiana-bred allowance with no conditions. It just happens to resemble a stakes race.

Three of the 11 entrants in the 1 1/16-mile turf race are past winners of the Dixie Poker Ace Handicap at Fair Grounds: 2002 winner . It also includes several of the horses who finished behind Bebe Garcon in this year's running.

Although Bebe Garcon is the most recent winner of the Dixie Poker Ace, Mr. Sulu is expected to start as a clear favorite Friday under leading jockey Robby Albarado. A winner of six races and over $330,000, Mr. Sulu comes off a productive winter campaign. After finishing second in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf - a race he won in 2001 - Mr. Sulu returned to win an optional claiming race against open company and later finished sixth in another optional claimer Jan. 29.

In the Jan. 29 race, Mr. Sulu was beaten only 3 1/2 lengths by the winner, Herculated, who finished second in the Grade 2, $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handi-cap at Fair Grounds Sunday.

Beyond the company he has kept, Mr. Sulu has other factors in his favor. He is 4 for 11 on the Fair Grounds turf course, stakes-placed in open stakes company, and capable of running Beyer Speed Figures in the low 90's.

The obstacle Mr. Sulu faces is a two-month break from his last race. He shows no recorded works for over a month following his sixth-place finish Jan. 29, and he missed the Feb. 29 Dixie Poker Ace. Trainer Josie Carroll has twice worked him a swift five furlongs this month.

Bebe Garcon is sharp. Perfect in two starts on grass, he won an entry-level allowance Feb. 9 at Fair Grounds in his turf debut and repeated with a hard-fought nose victory in the Dixie Poker Ace.

Yet Bebe Garcon ranks far behind Mr. Sulu in top Beyer Speed Figures. Bebe Garcon's career- best number, an 84, came in the Dixie Poker Ace. Mr. Sulu has earned Beyers of 90 or higher in five of his last 10 races.

Billy Smith rides Bebe Garcon for trainer Noral Tate.

Coach Rags, the leading money earner with a bankroll of over $444,000 from 38 starts, has disappointed at short prices in his last two starts, but has consistently been one of the top statebred turf horses at Fair Grounds over the last few years. An 11-time winner on turf, he took a pair of similar statebred allowances earlier this meet.