02/05/2008 1:00AM

Cloudburst wires rivals in Mardi Gras

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Beads were being thrown all over New Orleans on Tuesday, but no one came close to drawing a bead on Cloudburst in the Mardi Gras Stakes.

Cloudburst burst straight to the lead in the Mardi Gras, and, defying this turf course's reputation for swallowing early-speed horses, led all the way in an impressive 2 1/2-length victory. She ran her record to 2 for 2 on the turf, having won a maiden race here on Jan. 7 in similarly impressive front-running fashion.

"She did it easy today," said winning rider Julien Leparoux.

Cloudburst, a half-brother to Boston Harbor by Storm Cat, was bred and is owned by Overbrook Farm, and trained by Dallas Stewart. She paid $9 to win as the second choice in an eight-horse field, and was timed in 1:05.12 for 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf.

On paper, there appeared to be several front-end types in the Mardi Gras, which used to be carded at 7 1/2 furlongs for older turf horses, but has undergone several alterations in recent seasons.

Instead, Cloudburst quickly went clear, setting fractions of 22.07 seconds for her opening quarter-mile and 46.81 for the half while well in front of her nearest pursuer. The favored Sweepstake, making her first start in the United States, rallied wide from last place, and though she got up for second, she finished nowhere near the winner. Talk Fast stalked the pace and held third.

Cloudburst had debuted with a good second over Keeneland Polytrack last fall, but finished a distant fourth on Nov. 7 on Churchill's traditional dirt track.

"She had a lung infection that day, so we still don't know if she likes dirt or not," Stewart said.

In any case, Stewart said he would consider stretching Cloudburst to two turns when she races next.

"There's not a lot out there for 3-year-old fillies sprinting on turf, right?" Stewart said.