01/19/2006 12:00AM

The Beter Man Can at her best now

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Happy Ticket was far and away the best Louisiana-bred in 2005, but The Beter Man Can has been one of the best horses, male or female, Louisiana-bred or otherwise, to race this winter during the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs. And the day before Happy Ticket is scheduled to make her 2006 debut, The Beter Man Can starts Saturday in the $100,000 Lagniappe Ladies Stakes.

A meeting between the pair of unusually talented fillies could come next month at Evangeline Downs, but for now, The Beter Man Can appears to be a standout in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile dirt race.

"We're not looking too far ahead right now," said Pat Mouton, who trains The Beter Man Can for owner Stan Seelig. "It's Evangeline Downs, then Hot Springs. That's where it'll get interesting."

The Beter Man Can was one of eight horses entered in the Ladies, but two fillies also went into Sunday's Lagniappe Ladies Sprint. But that is Happy Ticket's race, so there is no soft spot for Louisiana-bred females this weekend.

The Beter Man Can was a nice horse early in 2005, but even her best races then were nowhere near as brilliant as her pair of wins at this meet. After being sidelined from April until November, The Beter Man Can won a seven-furlong allowance race on this meet's opening day by more than seven lengths, running extremely fast. In her next start, she blew away the competition Dec. 10 in the Louisiana Champions Day Ladies, winning off by almost six lengths while appearing well within herself.

"She had some physical things she needed to get over, but she has, and she's doing quite well now," said Mouton.

The Beter Man Can, Mouton said, is an extremely competitive horse. Mouton keeps her by herself in the morning for fear of switching on her competitive fire, but The Beter Man Can still has two exceptionally fast workouts since her last start. Saturday, she has post 1, and should be on or near the lead from the start.

"She hates to see a horse in front of her," Mouton said. "She'll stay a length or two off, but she likes to come get them. Hopefully, there'll be a little speed in there."

If The Beter Man Can should somehow falter, Bonita's Reinbeau and Destiny Calls, the two-three finishers on Champions Day, have the best shot at an upset.

Zarb's Luck grows older - and better

Zarb's Luck turned 9 on Jan. 1, but somebody forgot to tell this horse about the ravages of old age. Zarb's Luck's final two starts of 2005 were his best in a couple seasons, and if he maintains his form Saturday, he's the horse to beat in the $100,000 Lagniappe Sprint.

Zarb's Luck once sat atop the Louisiana-bred sprint division, but he started struggling a couple seasons ago, and won only once in 12 starts during 2005. But in the Louisiana Champions Day Sprint he came to life, coming within a neck of upsetting Louisiana Downs sprint kingpin Zarb's Dahar. And on Dec. 30 at Evangeline Downs, Zarb's Luck lost by just a nose to the talented Nitro Chip.

"I don't know what's happened," said trainer Eddie Johnston, who has had Zarb's Luck for more than six seasons now. "He just started to get good. I think we went through a time with him when he got a little sour. He wasn't interested in doing it. But he's been in the same place for a while now, and he's gotten comfortable again. He's doing really well."

Zarb's Luck once raced on the pace, but he has become a stalker, and should have something to stalk in the six-furlong Lagniappe Sprint.

All Wire Up has Quarter Horse speed, while Mean Butterbean also figures to go for the front from an inside draw, with Kim's Gem and Favorite Minit in the mix. But at the finish, it should come down to Zarb's Luck and Meteor Impact, who finished third in the Champions Day Sprint. Meteor Impact came back with a second-place finish to the sharp sprinter Venomous in an open allowance race on Jan. 6, and seems to be sitting on a peak effort for trainer Connie Tassistro.

Mouton: Nob Hill Deelite can route

Nob Hill Deelite already has won a stakes race and a futurity at this meet, but Mouton, who trains the colt, believes he could run even better Saturday in the Crescent City Derby, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race for Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds. Nob Hill Deelite has not raced beyond six furlongs, but Mouton feels his horse will, if anything, improve over a route of ground.

"I love him going long," Mouton said. "I think that's what he's been wanting to do since we started running him, but all the races happened to be short. I think he'll get the distance okay."

Nob Hill Deelite was one of 11 entered in the Crescent City, and on paper the race appears highly competitive. Desert Wheat finished second to Risen Star Stakes winner Lawyer Ron late last month in an Evangeline Downs stakes, and therefore is taking a class drop. But the Steve Asmussen-trained Willtosucceed has improved since stretching out to two turns and also looks like a contender.