12/14/2001 12:00AM

Bourgeois's banner year continues


NEW ORLEANS - Keith Bourgeois, who took out his trainer's license in the early 1980's, has never had a year like this. Nor has Bourgeois had such a good start to a Fair Grounds meet.

Through Thursday, Bourgeois had won seven races from 23 Fair Grounds starts, with two seconds and three thirds. That's a far cry from the last Fair Grounds season, when Bourgeois needed 171 starters to post 14 wins, but his fast start is representative of the way Bourgeois's whole year has gone.

Bourgeois ranks 10th in the nation in wins with 169, and has scored at a 22-percent rate. His stable has earned $1.3 million in purses. Bourgeois is the leading trainer at Delta Downs in Vinton, La.

"I think it's the best year I've ever had," Bourgeois said.

Bourgeois races year-round in Louisiana, and his strong meets generally have come at Delta, Louisiana Downs, and particularly Evangeline Downs, where he's based throughout the year. But this year, Bourgeois pointed a group of horses to the Fair Grounds meet. Louisiana-breds, maidens, claimers - Bourgeois's Fair Grounds stock came here fresh and sharp, and he's placed them in realistic spots.

"We've had a lot of racing luck, too," said Bourgeois. "But that's the way the whole year has gone."

French Assault takes a break

French Assault, the second-place finisher in the Texan Juvenile at Sam Houston in his last start, is being freshened and is unlikely to start in the Jan. 26 Lecomte Stakes, the first race in Fair Grounds's series of stakes races for 3-year-olds. But trainer Keith Desormeaux said he intends to run French Assault in the newly graded Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 17.

Desormeaux said that French Assault came out of the Texan Juvenile in good physical condition, and that the colt's trip to the Elite Training Center in Folsom, La., across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, comes in an effort to preserve him for a 2002 campaign.

"We want to have a horse for later," he said.

French Assault was sent to the training center Dec. 7 and is scheduled to stay there for about a month. He remains in light training.

French Assault was second to Repent in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile and sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile this fall, and was the even-money favorite in the Texan Juvenile. French Assault rallied strongly in that race but was beaten five lengths by the Fair Grounds-based Jeremiah Jack.

"My first feeling was one of disappointment," Desormeaux said. "But looking back, our horse ran his race, and [Jeremiah Jack] just ran a better race."

Lakenheath's plans on hold

Trainer Gene Cilio's pair of stakes-class 3-year-old fillies are sitting on hold at Fair Grounds. Scoop and Lakenheath, both owned by Jim Tafel, are ready to run, but Cilio has not found them a race this meet. Lakenheath won the Grade 3 Silverbulletday here last season, while Scoop won the Indiana Oaks at Hoosier Park in her last start.

Lakenheath was entered in Saturday's Pago Hop Stakes, a turf race, and would have been one of the favorites if the race were rained off grass. But Lakenheath was excluded from the field. The Dec. 30 Truly Bound, for fillies and mares, is probably not an option for Lakenheath, according to Cilio's assistant Greg Geier, because Scoop is running in that race.

L'homme may return in Woodchopper

Trainer Richie Scherer said he is considering bringing back L'homme on two weeks' rest next Saturday in the $100,000 Woodchopper Handicap, the last Fair Grounds stakes of the year restricted to 3-year-olds. Because of the age restriction, the Woodchopper, at about 1 1/16 miles on grass, is likely to attract a full gate.

Even with the defection of Learned, who was injured last week, the race is coming up strong, with horses like Bowman Mill, Dynameaux, and Fan Club's Mister expected to start. Scherer also has another horse for the race, the Illinois-bred Mystery Giver.

L'homme is a Louisiana-bred who returned from an eight-month layoff and finished third here in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf. He set a quick early pace in that race, and Scherer said L'homme simply tired in the final furlong. "He just wasn't quite fit," Scherer said.

L'homme gave positive physical signs a couple of days after his comeback race, and Scherer likes the way the colt is acting.