10/11/2005 11:00PM

BC Distaff: Happy Ticket's traveling show makes a second stop at Belmont


Between the two hurricanes that blew through his home state of Louisiana, and the relentless rain that lashed Belmont Park on Wednesday morning, trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. has had his fill of wet weather in recent weeks. "It seems like wherever I go, the rain follows me," he said.

Leggio has been on the go lately, from Louisiana to Illinois, to Florida, and now New York. His itinerary has been shaped by the progress of the filly Happy Ticket, who has developed from a local Louisiana phenomenon into a top contender for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 29 at Belmont Park.

Happy Ticket, 4, won all seven of her starts last year while competing exclusively in Louisiana, mostly in statebred races. This year, she has taken her act on the road, and received rave reviews for her victory in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga, and a second-place finish behind champion Ashado in the recent Beldame Stakes. In 12 starts, she has won 10 times, and finished second in her only two losses. She's the Belle of the Bayou.

"She had beaten the horses in Louisiana so easily that it was time to step her up a notch," Leggio said via telephone. "She won in Chicago, and that was when I thought we had something special."

Happy Ticket suffered her first loss when second to Madcap Escapade in the Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder. She broke slowly and had to steady while going down the backside.

"It was a disappointment, because she had such a bad trip," Leggio said. "I can take the beating part. But not like that. I don't know if we could have beaten the other filly, but it would have been nice to have the opportunity."

Leggio, 71, is a native of New Orleans who has been around the track since he was 15, save for a four-year stint in the Marines during the Korean War. He has been training since 1970. Happy Ticket represents his first Breeders' Cup runner. Happy Ticket was bred and is owned by Stewart Madison, whose Jackson, Miss.-based Malaco Records is a large, independent producer and publisher of blues, gospel, and soul music.

Leggio has been traveling recently between Belmont and Louisiana Downs, where he is based this time of year. He made his first visit to New Orleans since the hurricanes this past week, and was overwhelmed by the devastation.

"Television doesn't do justice to what happened," Leggio said. "You can't believe what you see driving down the street. It's terrible. It looks like a war zone. It's a mess."

Happy Ticket has given Leggio and natives of Louisiana something on which to hitch their hopes. Leggio said he plans to work Happy Ticket on Sunday if the weather cooperates.

In addition to a rematch with Ashado, Happy Ticket is expected to face Society Selection and Stellar Jayne in the Distaff. Pre-entries are due on Monday, and will be announced Wednesday. The Distaff should have a large field, but probably fewer than the maximum of 14.

Distaff Contenders
3-year-olds & up, fillies & mares, 1 1/8 miles. Purse: $2 million.

1Happy TicketA. Leggio Jr.5-1
May have been best when a tough-trip second to Ashado in Beldame
2AshadoT. Pletcher2-1
It's possible that she wasn't wound tight for Beldame, yet she still won
3Society SelectionH. A. Jerkens8-1
Middle-moved when third in Beldame; still looking for pace to run at
4Stellar JayneS. bin Suroor4-1
Won Ruffian off layoff; was a tough-trip third to Ashado in this last year
5Sweet SymphonyW. Mott8-1
Handed first loss in Beldame; 3yo fillies may not be a match for elders
6Healthy AddictionJ. Sadler10-1
Edged weaker in Lady's Secret, but that was her third straight score
7Flying GlitterR. Werner20-1
Indiana Oaks was her fourth straight win; pace for Society Selection?
8In the GoldN. Zito15-1
She is a Gr. 1 winner at distance on the track, but over weak 3yos
9Island FashionM. Polanco15-1
Has some big past races, but was a no-excuse 3rd in Lady's Secret
10Pampered PrincessM. Wolfson15-1
Was very game winning the Spinster, but that was a sub-par Spinster
The top 10 contenders for each of the eight Breeders' Cup races are ranked by Mike Watchmaker, who set the odds and wrote the comments. Actual Breeders' Cup fields will have up to 14 starters.