01/31/2007 1:00AM

Fair Grounds relaxes allowance conditions


Horsemen who run allowance-class stock often bemoan the persistent difficulty of filling higher-class allowance races, and to try to alleviate that problem, Fair Grounds has, in its current condition book, loosened the allowance conditions at some levels. In such spots, wins in statebred-restricted races don't count against a horse's eligibility for an open allowance condition. For example, a horse might have won several Louisiana-bred stakes races, but could still retain his eligibility for, say, an open second-level allowance race.

That situation is not purely theoretical. It's happening to some degree in Friday's featured ninth race, a second-level allowance race also open to $35,000 claimers and carded for 5 1/2 furlongs. There, Ida Maria, a four-time winner who missed by a half-length in the Dec. 9 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Sprint, appears to have an edge over six less-accomplished rivals. On Saturday, Dastardly Deeds gets to drop in class from a third-level allowance race to a second-level allowance after finishing second to the graded-stakes-class Devilment last out. And Mr. Sulu, who has won the Louisiana Champions Day turf three times and has 11 victories in his career, finds himself eligible for an open second-level allowance race.

"It means some of these statebred horses can get in there and compete a little," said Pat Mouton, Ida Maria's trainer. "If I were to take Maria and run her in a wide-open allowance, I don't think she's got a shot of winning. So, this gives me an option to run the horse. I could've run her [in a stakes] at Delta on Saturday night, but she's not a five-furlong horse, and she doesn't like running under the lights. I can't run her for a tag. A horse who's a two-other-than or a three-other-than ought to be able compete with her."

That remains to be seen, at least in Friday's race. Ida Maria looks like the favorite, but Gleaming Elegance, a fast Steve Asmussen-trained filly, makes her first start since August, and trainer Tom Amoss has a decent filly named Ocean Current entered. Ida Maria, meanwhile, turned in a nice closing run last out while just nosed by another Amoss horse, Ada's Dream, in an open third-level allowance race. Two starts ago, she got trapped down inside when narrowly beaten in the Champions Day Ladies Sprint, by Carl's Frosty Girl - who also resides in the Mouton shed row.

"I was in a win-win situation that day," Mouton said.

Devilment aims for Fair Grounds BC

Trainer Malcolm Pierce confirmed that Devilment, a two-time turf winner this meet and victorious in the Diliberto Memorial Handicap over the Fair Grounds course in his most recent race, will start in next Saturday's Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup.

"That's the plan, yes," Pierce said Wednesday. "He's got one more work, and we're going to test some deeper waters."

Much deeper, perhaps, if the Grade 1-winning turf horse English Channel comes from his base in Florida for the race. Still, Devilment has clearly found a home on the Fair Grounds turf, scoring front-end wins in a third-level allowance race opening week, and in the Dec. 16 Diliberto, where he set a strong early pace and still finished well.

Pierce said Devilment has maintained that kind of form during this planned respite from racing. Pierce also has no fear of the wet weather that has torn into the Fair Grounds grass season the last six weeks.

"He'd run on dirt if it came to that," said Pierce, who has wintered at Fair Grounds for many seasons. "I've never seen so much rain down here in one winter."

Follow the Lite heads Pan Zareta

A field of nine was entered Monday in Saturday's $75,000 Pan Zareta, a dirt sprint for fillies and mares. The favorite may well come from Pat Mouton's barn: Follow the Lite, who won the Esplanade Stakes at Fair Grounds in her most recent dirt race last time out. Follow the Lite finished second on turf in the Leggio Memorial Stakes.

The others in the Pan Zareta, from the rail out, are Wild as Elle, Vote Early, Hatpin, Deep Woods, Silver Crown, Ada's Dream, Annika Lass, and Mykindasaint.

Talamo's suspension starts Friday

Apprentice rider Joe Talamo begins serving a one-week suspension on Friday. Talamo, who did not contest the suspension, was handed the penalty for a riding infraction last week. Still, Talamo's quest to be the leading rider this meet at the tender age of 17 - he's currently still 16 - is not lost, thanks to his 14 wins during five days in the racing week that ended Monday.

Robby Albarado, who had been eating into Talamo's meet-long advantage, won only three races during the same period, and entered Thursday's races trailing Talamo 73-44. Corey Lanerie is third in the standings with 42 wins.