11/15/2008 12:00AM

Desert Wheat win feels familiar


NEW ORLEANS - The Saturday feature at Fair Grounds? Well, it looked a lot like the Friday feature at Fair Grounds, with Pat Valenzuela piloting a Bill Mott-trained horse to victory in a stakes carded for turf but rained onto dirt.

Moreover, it took a leap a faith from Team Mott just to run both winners, since Stormy West scored her first main-track victory in Friday's race, and Desert Wheat won for the first time on dirt, capturing Saturday's Mr. Sulu by 1 3/4 lengths.

Mott's Fair Grounds assistant Rodolphe Brisset expected to scratch Stormy West, and was surprised when Mott suggested keeping her in the race. But Brisset said he was looking forward to running Desert Wheat on dirt, though the horse had failed to win in six tries on the surface.

"With him, yes, the decision was easy," Brisset said. "I wanted to run him on dirt last year, but we just didn't find the right spot."

Desert Wheat got a major assist from a blazing pace, and the fact that favored Autobeacat got caught up in it. The first quarter-mile of the 1 1/16-mile race went in 23.36 seconds, the half in a suicidal 46.75. Meanwhile, Valenzuela sat back in ninth place early on, getting positive vibes from the horse underneath him.

"When you ride for Bill Mott, it's hard to lose," said Valenzuela, who already has four winners in two days of his first Fair Grounds meet.

The speed began backing up at the top of the stretch, and Desert Wheat was forced very wide, wandering to the middle of the track in mid-stretch. But by then, he already was a couple lengths clear, and on his way to victory.

Snug pressed the hot pace and held well for second, followed by late-running Grand Minit. Autobeacat faded to eighth.

Desert Wheat was timed in 1:45.74 on a fast track, and paid $7.60 to win as the second choice.