11/14/2009 12:00AM

Desert Wheat repeats in Mr. Sulu


That was a familiar sight.

There went Desert Wheat, charging through the stretch at Fair Grounds to win the Mr. Sulu Handicap late Saturday afternoon in New Orleans. That was the fourth time Desert Wheat had triumphed in a Fair Grounds grass race, and he won the Mr. Sulu last year when it was rained onto dirt. The 6-year-old Desert Wheat been doing his thing on the Fair Grounds grass so long, he actually beat Mr. Sulu himself, this race's namesake, while winning the Louisiana Champions Day Turf in 2006, his first trip around the local grass.

Toney Richey at first trained this horse, whose Florida sire, Wheaton, made what mark he has made with horses going short on dirt. Bill Mott took over midway through 2006, and has had Desert Wheat in his barn ever since. It made things easier when Mott, after a long absence, began running a Fair Grounds string last season, and Desert Wheat could easily be stabled there the entire winter.

Mott's local assistant this year, Mike Kaetzel, said Desert Wheat had benefited Saturday from a freshening given him after his most recent race, a distant sixth-place finish in the $100,000 Sea O'Erin on Sept. 7 at Arlington Park.

"He was kind of dull, so Bill went ahead and gave him a little break," Kaetzel said.

There was little of what most American racing observers would call pace in the Mr. Sulu, with Desert Wheat racing 11th of 12 down the backstretch behind a half-mile in 49.43 seconds. But the fractions were par for this turf course, and proved demanding enough of the front-runners, who one by one yielded to Desert Wheat's long, sustained run from the three-eighths pole home. Nowandforevermore came off the fence at the eighth pole to briefly loom a challenge, but Desert Wheat easily out-finished him to score by 2 3/4 lengths.

Ridden to victory by Corey Lanerie, Desert Wheat was timed in 1:45.01 for 1 1/16 miles on firm turf, and paid $10.40 to win. Lee's Spirit finished third, with High Toned fourth, while even-money favorite Classy Deelites sat just behind the pace but never produced a stretch rally, finishing 10th.