12/11/2008 12:00AM

Favorites far from cinches


If a horse is going to be a champion - even a Louisiana champion - there's going to be adversity. And so it is with two favorites on the Louisiana Champions Day program Saturday at Fair Grounds.

In the $150,000 Classic, 2-1 morning-line choice Star Production will attempt to win his first start since Sept. 20. Superior Storm, the 9-5 choice in the $100,000 Ladies, got her Champions Day comeback prep Nov. 16 but has since battled a foot problem and is no cinch to show her best Saturday.

The Ladies and the Classic are two of the day's eight Thoroughbred stakes worth a total of $800,000. The 11-race program begins with three Quarter Horse races, each with a $100,000 purse. The entire card can be seen live on HRTV. An inch of snow fell Thursday in New Orleans, but Saturday's forecast calls for sun and temperatures in the 60s.

Star Production, by trainer James Hodges's own reckoning, "was just a nice little Louisiana allowance horse" about this time last year. But Star Production turned into something much better over the summer, his improvement coming to a peak with a blowout win in the Louisiana Breeders' Derby on Aug. 2 and a narrow victory over open stakes foes two weeks later in the Prelude Stakes.

But it's hard to say where Star Production's form sits at this moment. He hasn't raced since fading to last almost three months ago in the Super Derby. Hodges would've used a Champions Day prep race if a suitable one had been available, but instead, Star Production will try to win the Classic off works alone.

"This is a nice race, and I'd sure like to win it, but there are a bunch of races coming up for him, too," Hodges cautioned.

Even in top form, Star Production isn't certain to excel at the Classic's

1 1/8-mile distance - not that any of the entrants are specialists. Only five others were entered, with Star Guitar more likely for the Sprint and Autobeacat cross-entered in both the Turf and the Starter. Southern Invasion won the Cocodrie at Delta on Oct. 31 in his first start back from a long layoff.

Superior Storm won the Champions Day Lassie last year and is a five-time stakes winner. She finished second in an allowance prep for the Champions Day Ladies on Nov. 16 at Fair Grounds, but grabbed a quarter during the race and subsequently developed a foot abscess, trainer Richard Jackson said.

"We've been working on that the last couple weeks," Jackson said. "I did miss a few days of training with her. We've gotten a couple works into her though, and I'm hoping she's all right."

Superior Storm is scheduled to face six rivals in the 1 1/16-mile Ladies. Sammie Sam won a Louisiana-bred overnight stakes by seven lengths Nov. 14 at Fair Grounds, but did so racing over a muddy track on which she excels. Hisse and Go Atm both appear to be win contenders if Superior Storm shows less than her best.