12/06/2001 12:00AM

Everyone's into the pool on Champions Day


NEW ORLEANS - It is good for Louisiana breeders, good for Louisiana owners, and good for Louisiana racing in general. And Louisiana Champions Day is good for bettors everywhere. Horseplayers clamoring for large, bettable fields will find their cups overflowing on Saturday at Fair Grounds, where 116 horses have been entered on a 10-race smorgasbord of statebred racing.

Even the $150,000 Classic, which typically draws one of the shorter fields on the day, has lured 13 entrants. Four of them are cross-entered in other Champions Day races: Darkman and Bourbon Boogie in the Turf; Zarb's Magic and Pancho Pete in the Starter. Connections of these horses must choose a race on Friday.

The Classic, contested at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, may be run at a fast early clip, depending to some degree on which cross-entered horses start in the race. The likely favorite is White Star, winner of three straight races, including the $60,000 Shishkabob at Louisiana Downs in his last start. The knock on White Star, owned by Gary White and trained by Corale "Bunky" Richards, is that he never has shown his best at Fair Grounds.

Richards, however, believes White Star has been compromised here by factors not directly related to the racing surface, a perspective that's backed up by the way White Star has recently worked at Fair Grounds. The colt breezed a swift six furlongs here Nov. 29, and Richards was pleased with the way White Star blew out for the Classic Thursday.

Richards also has entered another horse, the 3-year-old Pink Duck, who he says is training very well at the moment.

Doctor Mike, second to White Star in the Shiskabob, and Oak Hall, winner of the Champions Day Sprint last year, also will receive strong betting support. Prince Slew, a 3-year-old who won the Champions Day Juvenile last year, has adapted to route racing, but has drawn poorly in post 11.

The Classic closes the 10-race card. Here's a look at the Thoroughbred stakes that precede it.


The Juvenile appears to be a three-way battle among Hail to Bag, Rapide, and Walk in the Snow. Hail to Bag has talent, speed, and trainer Doris Hebert in his corner. Hebert, who co-owns Hail to Bag with Brittlyn Inc., has won three of the 10 Juveniles, and in Hail to Bag he brings an unbeaten colt to this year's running.

The key race in Hail to Bag's four-race career might well be his debut. Facing open company at the tough Lone Star Park meet, Hail to Bag grabbed the lead on the backstretch and won off by more than seven lengths. Hail to Bag's only close call came on a wet-fast track in the Shine Young Futurity at Evangeline Downs, where he barely held off Rapide.

Hail to Bag is likely to go straight to the lead under jockey Steve Bourque.

Walk in the Snow, who's owned and trained by Herman Taylor, just missed beating open company in the Old Hickory Stakes here opening weekend, and though the race was somewhat slow, the track that day was wet, and Walk in the Snow is at his best on a fast surface.

Rapide finished second in the first six starts of his career, but finally broke through with a win in the $35,000 Stardust Stakes at Louisiana Downs this summer.


Kwik Kash couldn't quite get ready for the Keeneland meet in the spring, but she is ready for Champions Day. A standout winner of her career debut here on Nov. 23, Kwik Kash might prove tough to run down on the lead in the $100,000 Lassie.

"We're giving up some experience, but maybe we have the talent," said Kwik Kash's trainer, B.J. Gilbert.

Gilbert and owner Murray Valene have regarded Kwik Kash highly since she was a yearling, and hoped to have her ready for a 4 1/2-furlong race at Keeneland in April. "We never could get her there, though," Gilbert said.

Instead Gilbert took it easy with his filly and targeted the Fair Grounds meet. "We've done exactly what we wanted to do - win her maiden here and get her to Champions Day."

Now that she's here, Kwik Kash will have to beat Taylor's Queen and C J's Star, the two most accomplished Louisiana-bred 2-year-olds. The pair ran one-two in the $25,000 Southern Belle at Louisiana Downs.


Midge Too has always been a useful horse in Louisiana-bred races, but the 5-year-old mare raised her game to a new level this year. She has won six of her last eight starts, including three stakes, and stretched her speed to two turns winning a Louisiana Downs allowance race last month. She will have to do so again to win the Ladies, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race for older fillies and mares.

If Midge Too is hooked on the lead, look for Cole Norman-trained stalker Wild Squaw, or the vastly improved Prized Amberpro.


If owner-trainer Louie Roussel picks the Starter over the Classic for Zarb's Magic, who has been entered in both spots, the 8-year-old class horse is the likely favorite in the race.

Zarb's Magic's form is not in question, but his ability to get two turns at this point in his career is.