03/10/2004 12:00AM

Freeway Ticket part of feature puzzler

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NEW ORLEANS - What's in a name? Perhaps the winner of the featured ninth race Friday at Fair Grounds.

In this case the name is Scherer, as in Richie, though for most of this long Fair Grounds meet, it has been Merrill Scherer setting racetrack tongues wagging. Merrill, Richie's father, got hot in December and has stayed hot since: Through Monday, he had won with 24 of 72 starters here, good for fourth in the trainer standings. Last season, the elder Scherer sent out 72 and won nine.

Richie Scherer's barn never got uncorked during the last Fair Grounds meet, but after struggling much of this winter, the winners have started coming. Friday, Scherer sends out Freeway Ticket for the first time in 11 months, and the horse has as good a chance as any in an inscrutable seven-horse turf sprint.

Quietly, Scherer has put together a strong month here. "The spots just started to come up at the right time," he said. "That's the same thing that's been happening with my dad - finding the right spots for the right horses."

Regardless of Freeway Ticket's performance Friday, the best part of Scherer's meet might be ahead of him. That is because Mystery Giver, who winters here with Scherer, is gearing up for the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap on March 21. Mystery Giver turned in a strong five-furlong dirt work last week, and if anything, he appears to have come forward since a solid victory in the Jan. 31 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Mystery Giver's work was timed in 1:00.80, but Freeway Ticket worked much faster: His five-furlong breeze here Feb. 29, one of two published workouts for this comeback, was timed in 59 seconds, sizzling for this racing surface.

Even so, it is hard to know what to expect from Freeway Ticket, an Illinois-bred who has put together a solid career despite frequent layoffs. This last one has gone for a long time, but comeback horses have been part of Scherer's little run.

"He's got problems, but he's been working well," Scherer said.

Moreover, Freeway Ticket has a win over the Fair Grounds grass course at the 5 1/2-furlong distance of Friday's race. Last season, he returned from a seven-month break to finish third, beaten less than a length, in a high-end dirt sprint.

There is not a horse in Friday's feature without holes, and five of the seven entrants have been off for six weeks or more. The trainer Bret Calhoun has two horses for the race: Mercenary won here at a mile in November, but is unproven in turf sprints; Wudantunoit has never raced at Fair Grounds, but specializes in one-turn grass races.

Steve Asmussen has a comeback horse of his own, Shawklit Man, who hasn't started since he finished third in the minor Forward Pass Stakes last August at Arlington.

Pelleteri the spot for Cat Genius

Out of My Way edged Cat Genius in the Feb. 22 Taylor's Special Handicap. Sunday, in the $125,000 Pelleteri Breeders' Cup Handicap, Cat Genius will not have Out of My Way to beat. Out of My Way is skipping the Pelleteri to wait for a later stakes date - perhaps against Illinois-breds at Hawthorne - while trainer Tom Amoss said Cat Genius is a likely starter in the Pelleteri.

That means that Amoss's promising young sprinter, Cloud Walker, will not start in the six-furlong Pelleteri. Amoss said Cloud Walker, 3 for 4 in his nascent career, might start next at the Keeneland meet.

Cat Genius, brilliantly fast but plagued by injuries through his career, dueled on an extremely fast pace in the Taylor's Special and ran very well to finish second. Amoss considered giving Cat Genius more time to recover, but in the end, felt like the Pelleteri was too good to pass up.

"It's a big purse, the race is very localized," Amoss said. "We're aware he might bounce, but how can you pass up a race like this?"

Allspice to go in Marie Krantz

For lack of a better alternative, Allspice will start Saturday in the $75,000 Marie Krantz Memorial Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for older fillies and mares. Greg Geier, who trains Allspice, has been entering Allspice in a second-level allowance race at two turns, but the race has failed to attract sufficient entries to make it onto the racing program.

"This isn't her best distance," Geier said, "but she needs to run now, and she's doing good. We'll give it a shot."

Allspice showed promise early in her 3-year-old season, but missed most of the year with an injury. She lost her comeback race here last month, but ran very well in defeat, and might have won with a better trip. Allspice will be aimed at route stakes as the year goes on, but, as Geier pointed out, she has competed with some success in sprint races.