11/28/2002 1:00AM

Coach Rags finally gets his prep

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NEW ORLEANS - With Fair Grounds focusing on field size this season, a slow day at the entry box on Wednesday - just a day into the meet - provided reason for concern, but entries quickly picked up again on Thursday, and Saturday's featured turf allowance drew an encouraging field of 10. In it you will find Fair Grounds staple Coach Rags who will prep for a start two weeks from now in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf, a race he won three seasons ago.

Coach Rags turns 8 on Jan. 1, but trainer Gary Palmisano - by choice and through necessity - has always given him time between starts, and Coach Rags enters this Fair Grounds season with only 25 races under his belt.

"We were looking back, and he must have been rained off turf 20 times," Palmisano said Thursday morning. "He's been training great."

Champions Day is only two weeks away, and Palmisano had hoped to get a race into Coach Rags at Louisiana Downs, but again his start was rained off grass. Saturday's race is the best spot in which to get him ready.

Mr. Sulu, another Louisiana-bred pointing for the Turf, also will get in a prep in this open allowance, but there are many other options, chief among them Candid Glen. Candid Glen had an excellent season here last year for owner Glen Warren and trainer Andy Leggio, coming close to winning two turf stakes. Candid Glen enters on an eight-race losing streak but seems to prefer the Fair Grounds grass course to others.

While Coach Rags is on target for Champions Day, You'llbeinmyheart, also trained by Palmisano, won't be ready to return from a layoff in time for the races.

"We just ran out of time with her," Palmisano said.

Instead, You'llbeinmyheart will point for a comeback sometime after Jan. 1, provided all goes well with her training. When she races, it will be for the first time since July 7, when the 3-year-old finished fourth in a statebred stakes at Louisiana Downs, her second straight loss after beginning her career with four wins. To cap her win streak You'llbeinmyheart won the Battler Star Handicap and the $100,000 Gentilly over colts, but when she faced open stakes horses in the $100,000 Edgewood at Churchill Downs she finished eighth.

That might just have been a case of You'llbeinmyheart racing farther than her best distance against talented open company, but the filly lost at Louisiana Downs because she wasn't doing well physically.

"She came out of the race body sore all over," Palmisano said.

You'llbeinmyheart breezed a sharp half-mile in 48 seconds here Nov. 25, her first timed workout since going to the sidelines.

Hansen a new face locally

Prohibitive workers' compensation insurance costs in California and a deal with Richard Englander have landed trainer Scott Hansen at Fair Grounds for the winter.

Hansen has come to Fair Grounds for the first time with a 15-horse string composed mainly of horses claimed by Englander. Some of his stock, like Impeachable, have demonstrated stakes quality.

"I was just looking to get out of California," Hansen said. "Englander came up with the deal. It was kind of a last-second kind of thing."

Englander loves to claim, but with limited stall space Hansen doesn't have room to add many horses.

"We'll probably claim a few here and there as they come up," he said.

Englander's Fair Grounds horses have been with trainer Mike Pino the last two seasons, but Pino and Englander split earlier this year. Pino is back, however, with more than 30 horses, and said he plans to be active at this meet.

Amoss off to fast start

With seven horses in 10 races on opening day, trainer Tom Amoss figured to make more than a little noise. Indeed, Amoss wasted no time getting off to his typically hot Fair Grounds start, winning the first two races on the day before finishing fourth in the third race with odds-on first-time starter Gettarman.

Rain had been forecast the last two days in New Orleans, but Thanksgiving was sunny and a bit cool. The racing strip was dry and very fast, at least during the day's first few races, with an excellent crowd in attendance.