11/25/2004 12:00AM

Destiny Calls looks tough

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NEW ORLEANS - Destiny Calls has been thrashing the top Louisiana-bred fillies the last two years and appears to have her nine rivals in Saturday's one-mile, $38,500 allowance contest over a barrel. When trainer Gary Palmisano heard that his speedy 4-year-old gray drew the rail for the race, he chuckled with delight.

"Whoo, that'll be good," he said Thursday, opening day of the Fair Grounds meet. "I'm watching the races and the rail looks good. If my filly runs her race, if she breaks well and gets an early lead, I don't know who in there will beat her."

Destiny Calls has won five straight races and six of her last seven dating back to Nov. 29, 2003, at Fair Grounds.

"The only one she lost, she got left at the post at Delta that night and she still almost won it," Palmisano said.

The versatile Destiny Calls has been winning on dirt and grass, in sprints and routes. After she closed out her Fair Grounds season March 28 with a victory in the Red Camelia Handicap, Palmisano gave her the summer off.

"She had minor ankle surgery and we turned her out," he said. "Horses will have an ankle swell up sometimes after a race and usually it goes away in a couple of days, but it didn't, so we X-rayed her and found a little flake."

In her first race back, on Oct. 23, Destiny Calls romped in the $50,000 Victoria going six furlongs at Louisiana Downs.

"She came back running," said Palmisano. "She's in top shape."

Dooley settling in as new race caller

One of the most noticeable changes at Fair Grounds this season is a new race caller, John Dooley, who has been the announcer at Arlington Park for the last five seasons. Dooley, 38, has also worked at Lone Star Park, Thistledown, and the three New York Racing Association tracks after starting out at Philadelphia Park in October 1989.

"I broke my maiden at the same track Smarty Jones did," he said with a smile. Dooley, who considers himself a protege of NYRA track announcer Tom Durkin, noted that Thursday's eighth race included a horse named Durkin's Call.

"If he wins I'll give him a special call," he said. "Tom really ushered in the era of the contemporary announcers who try to add a special literary flourish to the race call. You'll see people pick up on what he says. Like in the Breeders' Cup, when he called the pace 'lackadaisical,' you know sometime in the winter you're going to hear somebody say 'They're setting a lackadaisical pace.' "

Fair Grounds presents some real challenges to a race caller. The six-furlong start is hidden from view behind a pair of oak trees, and the head of the stretch is at a tough angle from the announcer's box.

"It's going to be strange calling the six-furlong start," Dooley said. "I'm going to have to watch the monitor there, like the European announcers do in the races where the gate is out of view of the grandstand. The long stretch isn't a problem, it's similar to old Sportsman's Park. Fair Grounds is like Sportsman's Park with more trees and shrimp po' boys."

Melancon wins opener

Jockey Gerard Melancon got the Fair Grounds meet off to a flashy start Thursday, winning the first race aboard Site Alarm after a thrilling stretch duel with King Harvest, who tried to make all the running and missed by a head.

"I got by him and when he saw me he was game, so it was a battle from the sixteenth pole," said Melancon. "At least I can say I was leading rider at Fair Grounds."

* New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas started off the meet with a stirring version of the national anthem, but couldn't stick around for the racing. "I've got to do my Thanksgiving cooking," she explained.