01/22/2008 12:00AM

Better start crucial for Sassou

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Sassou lost by a nose last out. And yes, postrace analysis by his trainer, Jean-Pierre Dupuis, may contain a hint of pre-judice.

"He should have won for fun," Dupuis said. The thing is, Dupuis might be right.

It was an allowance route for 3-year-olds at Golden Gate that Sassou blew before takeoff.

"He got stupid in the gate," Dupuis explained. "He's an In Excess; they are very playful."

Rather than getting an alert start and a front-running trip, Sassou broke slowly and immediately was surrounded by traffic. He pulled early while forced into a closer's role, which was something new for a colt whose first three starts - two wins and a second - were pace-pressing trips.

Sassou nearly overcame the early trouble. He rallied inside through the far turn, wore down the pacesetter in deep stretch, made the lead, but then got collared late. It was a winning effort, under compromising circumstances.

The good news is the defeat means Sassou "saved" his first allowance condition, and he is eligible to run back at the same class level Thursday at Santa Anita. Sassou, whose lack of brilliance is compensated by his consistency, meets five others at a mile in the race 7 feature.

Sassou's rivals include Pistol Pete Afleet, Bazzoom, Ghetto, Dr. Au Jus, and King of the City. Sassou and King of the City are statebreds, which does not bother Dupuis.

"We have to run open, but it doesn't look too tough," he said.

Right again, probably.

It has been nearly three weeks since Sassou raced on Jan. 4, and since then he does not have a published workout. "He's a little guy, and he gallops a mile and a half every day," Dupuis said. "That's all he needs."

Brice Blanc replaces Goncalino Almeida, a jockey switch that transpired after Dupuis was unhappy with Almeida's rides on Chamayo, who was eased Jan. 20, and Nostalgie, who lost by 13 lengths on Jan. 18.

Los Angeles-area doctors Michael and Katherine Neumann own and bred Sassou, who finished second in his only other start at Santa Anita.

"He runs on anything, dirt at Pomona, that stuff at Santa Anita, he doesn't care," Dupuis said. "He's just a runner."

Pistol Pete Afleet resented rating tactics last time and could produce more speed Thursday. Ghetto had traffic trouble and finished fourth in his U.S. debut on grass in a $79,000 stakes. Bazzoom and King of the City won maiden races. Dr. Au Jus was second last out to the promising Signature Move.