12/05/2007 1:00AM

Costa Rising sticks with La.-breds

EmailLooking at pure speed - pure speed figures, that is - Costa Rising ranks among the nation's best horses in 2007. A 115 Beyer Speed Figure in the Evangeline Mile on Aug. 11 and a 118 Beyer in an allowance race a few weeks later are among the top figures earned by any horse anywhere in the country this year.

But speed does not exist in a vacuum, and Costa Rising's connections have no immediate plans of matching their horse against anything like the nation's best runners. Costa Rising is a Louisiana-bred, and the state is rife with rich stakes races in which Costa Rising has proved dominant. To try something different at this point, trainer Glenn Delahoussaye believes, just wouldn't make good sense.

"I always try to maximize my earning potential," Delahoussaye said, reached Wednesday by phone. "If I can get him a six-figure race against easier competition, that's where I've got to go."

Just so happens there's one of those Saturday at Fair Grounds, and Costa Rising looks like an odds-on favorite to win the $150,000 Champions Day Classic for the second straight year.

Costa Rising is the best horse entered on an 11-race Champions Day card, but because of that, the Classic won't be the best race on which to bet. It drew only seven entries, and the presence of Costa Rising has pushed Tortuga Straits into the Champions Day Sprint. Both Tortuga Straits and Liquid Silver were cross-entered in the Classic and the Sprint, and if Liquid Silver also would defect to the shorter race, Costa Rising would face only four rivals.

That'd be fine with Delahoussaye, who took over Costa Rising's training for owner Charles Castille early this year. Right now, Costa Rising is on a push to hit the $1 million mark in earnings - his total currently stands at more than $771,000 - and the Champions Day race is one of three Louisiana-bred stakes Delahoussaye picked out as certain winter spots. He already won the first of those races, the Gold Cup three weeks ago at Delta, and Costa Rising is scheduled to be back at Delta in February for Louisiana Premiere Night. After that, Delahoussaye and Castille might entertain the idea of seeing where Costa Rising - and those big Beyers - fit in on a more national scale.

"We'll re-evaluate," Delahoussauye said. "If he goes through those races and he's impressive, seems to have the form he had in the summertime, there are some options at Fair Grounds, or maybe we could go to Oaklawn with him."

Right now, Delahoussaye, a lifelong horseman based at the Evangeline Downs training center, just feels pleased to wake up and remember that the best Louisiana-bred in training is housed in his barn.

"I'll tell you, I'm having a lot of fun right now," he said. "Being a regional trainer, you're not going to get the opportunities like this very often. Everything you've learned how to do with a horse, you can do it with a horse like this, and he'll respond."

Irwin undecided on Tortuga Flats

Meanwhile, trainer Ralph Irwin is trying to get out of the way of the heavy hitters on Champions Day. He said he'd duck Costa Rising by placing Tortuga Straits in the Sprint, but Irwin is still on the fence with what to do with Tortuga Straits' half-sister, Tortuga Flats. She, too, was cross-entered in two races, but as of Wednesday, Irwin hadn't yet decided whether to go in the Turf or in the Ladies.

Turf, Irwin said, is Tortuga Flats' better racing surface, but not only would she have to take on males to race on grass Saturday, she'd face a potential standout in Desert Wheat.

"That's what we're contemplating about - him," Irwin said.

The Ladies, however, also has a solid field, with Tensas Yucatan, Raspberry Wine, and Ahead of her Time all waiting if Irwin decides to go the dirt route.

"We'll just take a wait-and-see approach for now," Irwin said.

Stidham enjoying solid start to meet

Trainer Mike Stidham has sent out four winners in eight days of racing at Fair Grounds, and three of them never had run before. Sagaponack and She's Good to Go both won at first asking on opening week, and on Sunday, Stidham sent out Tizaqueena to a debut win. All of which means a bettor should look long and hard at Abby's Angel, a Stidham-trained first-timer in the 10th race on Friday.

As for the trio of splashy debuters, Tizaqueena looked best. A 2-year-old Tiznow filly owned by Stonerside Stable, she won a one-mile maiden race by more than five lengths and looked good doing it. Stidham said Tizaqueena had come out of the win in good condition and was being pointed to the one-mile Tiffany Lass Stakes on Jan. 12.

Sagaponack already has worked back and could return either in an entry-level allowance around two turns or in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes on Dec. 22.

Also, Stidham said that Texas Fever, who turned in a creditable sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, has rejoined his string at Fair Grounds after a short freshening.

"He came back in looking great," Stidham said. "First of all, we've got to find out if he can be as good on dirt. He's run only on Polytrack and turf."