12/20/2008 12:00AM

Ask Joe upsets Sugar Bowl

Lynn Roberts
Ask Joe covered six furlongs in 1:10.53, paying $24.80 to win.

Last-start 2-year-old maiden winner Leigh McLovin successfully made the jump into stakes competition as she was favored to do Saturday, winning the Letellier Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on Saturday's five-stakes racing program in New Orleans. But things did not come as easily for last-start maiden winner It Happened Again, who was never a factor as the mild favorite in the $60,000 Sugar Bowl for 2-year-old males, a race in which Ask Joe gave trainer Steve Klesaris his first win of the Fair Grounds meeting.

The Sugar Bowl and Letellier serve as preps for the meet's first major stakes day, Jan. 10, when the Lecomte and Tiffany Lass mark the beginning of the local road for 3-year-olds to the Louisiana Derby and Fair Grounds Oaks in March.

Racing just in behind the pacesetters, Ask Joe wore down game front-running Big Push to win by a neck. Ask Joe covered six furlongs in 1:10.53, paying $24.80 to win.

Ask Joe, a Najran colt owned by Puglisi Racing, won his career debut sprinting at Delaware Park, finished third in the two-turn Dover Stakes there, and came back Nov. 10 with an entry-level sprint allowance victory, also at Delaware. He ran right back to that race Saturday, breaking with the leaders, settling nicely, and finishing well for jockey Miguel Mena.

Valid Stripes, another early front-runner, was third, a half-length behind Big Push and 1 3/4 lengths ahead of longshot fourth-place finisher Citizen. The favored It Happened Again raced in behind horses, had a little trouble, and made no impression. Merkel, who had plenty of betting support, stumbled at the start, almost unseating Shaun Bridgmohan, and never contended.

Earlier in the day, Leigh McLovin disposed of her opponents in the $60,000 Letellier more easily than she had shrugged off a stretch challenge in her Nov. 16 maiden win. Home by 1 3/4 lengths in the maiden race, Leigh McLovin pulled away to win the six-furlong Letellier by four lengths over late-running A Day for Dancing. She paid $5.60 to win as the favorite, ran six furlongs in a fine 1:10.47, and gave trainer Ronny Werner and jockey Robby Albarado the first of two stakes wins on the card.

Werner said this week that he feared Leigh McLovin would bounce after her recent win, but the filly, a strapping daughter of Flame Thrower, went the other direction, moving forward. Breaking fifth from the fence, Leigh McLovin moved up to contest the early pace, going an opening quarter-mile in 21.80 seconds and a half-mile in 45.69 while racing inside Linnea and She's Extreme. Those fillies faded, but in just her third career start, Leigh McLovin ran on nicely, looking like a filly with some sort of future.