01/02/2009 12:00AM

Familiar foes clash again


Wild Rally and Desert Wheat were separated by a neck in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf last month at Fair Grounds, and they square off again Saturday in the $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace, another Louisiana-bred turf stakes.

The two horses have met many times, with Desert Wheat on top more often than not, but it was Wild Rally who got the best of Desert Wheat on Champions Day - and who might have at least a slightly brighter future. At age 5, Wild Rally is one year younger than Desert Wheat, and where Desert Wheat has made 39 starts, Wild Rally has been out only 16 times in his career. But it's not like trainer Tom Amoss is boldly predicting a breakout performance from Wild Rally.

"I think Wild Rally's future probably can be judged on this race coming up," Amoss said. "I measure his ability by the horse he always runs against - Desert Wheat. In my opinion, he's always kind of been second fiddle to him. Last time, I don't know if Desert Wheat didn't run his race, or if Wild Rally improved."

Desert Wheat, in fact, probably did not run his race. He got very rank with jockey Patrick Valenzuela into the first turn of the Champions Day Turf, and never really seemed to settle into a comfort zone before being caught four wide on the race's second turn. All things considered, Desert Wheat did well to hold on for second, but Wild Rally has a chance to move forward again Saturday. After going to the sidelines in May, Wild Rally needed a Champions Day prep race, but was rained off turf when entered opening weekend. Amoss scratched that day, instead opting for an allowance race just eight days before Wild Rally's stakes win.

"We didn't get the prep we wanted, so we had to settle for something closer to the race," said Amoss. "In this game, you have to be able to adapt."

Still, the Dixie Poker Ace, carded for about one mile, does not exactly have the feel of a two-horse race, and the most interesting name to pop up among the entries is Star Guitar. Star Guitar comes off an impressive victory in the Champions Day Sprint, and has yet to race either on turf or around two turns. Trainer Al Stall, however, said Star Guitar is "50-50" to start in Saturday's race at Fair Grounds; a dirt stakes next weekend at Delta Downs also is an option.

Champions Day Classic winner Autobeacat returns in the Dixie Poker Ace, but with Classy Deelites and Mr. Porter entered, he won't get the slow pace that helped propel him to victory last time.