09/20/2002 12:00AM

Come back, Chauffe Au Rouge

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Chauffe Au Rouge will try to make amends Sunday in the $100,000 Louisiana Downs Handicap after finishing fourth at 1-2 in his last start - but his task will not be easy.

Highweighted at 118 pounds for the 1 1/16-mile turf race, he spots his opponents from two to nine pounds each, including the three horses who finished in front of him last out in the $50,000 Barksdale Handicap: Rebridled, Big Hubie, and Big Numbers.

Chauffe Au Rouge had victory in his sights in the Barksdale, run at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 2, but faltered late and was beaten two lengths.

"He was in perfect position coming down the lane," said Cole Norman, who trains Chauffe Au Rouge, a 10-time winner on turf, for James Donnan and Gerald Mackey.

After the race, Norman learned Chauffe Au Rouge had an excuse for not finishing stronger. "He had a little lung infection," the trainer said. "Going into the race, he had scoped clean.

"I'm hoping we'll see the old Chauffe Au Rouge."

The old Chauffe Au Rouge would be tough to handle. Heading into the Barksdale, he had won two straight, taking a Louisiana Downs turf allowance by a half-length July 26, then rolling to a 2 1/4-length win in the $50,000 Retama Park Turf Cup over a soft course Aug. 10.

Gerard Melancon, who has ridden Chauffe Au Rouge in his last three starts, has the mount Sunday.

Tim Doocy will ride Big Hubie, who hit traffic last out and finished second, beaten a neck by Rebridled, in the Barksdale. "Things didn't open up at the right time," said Kenny Smith, who trains Big Hubie for Dream Walkin' Farms.

Big Hubie, a 4-year-old, is bound to break through with a stakes win soon. He has won 6 of his 10 turf starts and is still honing his grass game.

"We've taken our time with him," said Smith. "Grass horses, they improve as they age. They get pretty savvy."

Big Numbers, who finished right behind Big Hubie in third in the Barksdale, has made limited starts on turf, but has improved with each out on the surface. "He ran a good race the other day," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Big Numbers and has given the return call to Luis Quinonez.

Adding depth to the Louisiana Downs Handicap are Rebridled, an eight-time winner on turf, and stakes-winning half-sisters Due to Win and Due to Win Again, who are trained by Eddie Ruiz.

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