01/18/2006 1:00AM

Eight stakes bring meet to an end


It would be wrong for a racing season as short as the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs to go out with a whimper. And with purses having gone through the roof, and the entry box overflowing on a daily basis, this meet that began just eight weeks ago is ready to end with a bang.

The final three-day racing week begins Friday, with eight stakes scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. The four Saturday stakes, including the final graded race of the season, the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap, all were drawn Wednesday. The Fair Grounds BC, a $200,000-added Grade 3 at 1 1/16 miles on turf, drew a solid field of eight, including the Southern California shipper .

Also on the Saturday card are three Louisiana-bred stakes: the Crescent City Derby, the Louisiana Lagniappe Sprint, and the Louisiana Lagniappe Ladies. The Ladies will see the return of The Beter Man Can, who has been among the most impressive horses seen at the meet.

Chinese Dragon's people picked out the Fair Grounds BC as a chance for their horse to pick up his first graded stakes win. But while this might not be a Santa Anita Grade 1, it's no easy spot. Chinese Dragon has won 6 of 8 starts in his career, and is 5 for 6 since being imported from Ireland, but he has raced only in age-restricted, ungraded stakes, and he faces several formidable foes Saturday. The field also includes , the one-two finishers in the Dec. 18 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap on this course; the Oaklawn Park-based Waupaca, who has won 5 of his 8 races on the Louisiana Downs turf; and G P Fleet, second by a nose to America Alive in the Grade 3 River City at Churchill Downs in his most recent start. Also entered were Gallo Del Bar, Sampson's Son, and Ole Faunty. Chinese Dragon arrived here Tuesday and is scheduled to be ridden by Louisiana native Kent Desormeaux.

The Beter Man Can, who drew the rail in the eight-horse Lagniappe Ladies, won the Louisiana Champions Day Ladies by almost six lengths in her most recent start, and since that Dec. 10 race, she has turned in a series of exceptional workouts for trainer Pat Mouton.

"I never work her with company," Mouton said. "She'd go too fast if she went with somebody."

For the Crescent City Derby, Mouton has Nob Hill Deelite, who should challenge Desert Wheat for favoritism. The Lagniappe Sprint drew a competitive field of 10, headed by Zarb's Luck and Meteor Impact.