12/16/2006 1:00AM

Front-running Devilment takes Diliberto

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The Fair Grounds turf course has a reputation for swallowing up early speed horses, but for the second straight race Devilment conquered the supposed Fair Grounds anti-speed bias, leading wire to wire on the way to a sharp win in Saturday's $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap.

Favored Purim, bet down to even-money, was a major disappointment, stalking the pace but fading in the stretch to finish sixth. Huge longshot Raw Power filled out the place spot, edging late-running Cloudy's Knight, with Mystery Giver, last for much of the race, rallying decently for fourth.

Devilment, a Pin Oak Stable homebred by Peaks and Valleys, had never raced on turf before this Fair Grounds meet. But trainer Malcolm Pierce had breezed Devilment over the Woodbine grass course earlier in the fall, and liked what he saw.

"He worked a couple of times up at Woodbine on the grass, and he worked really, really well," Pierce said. "We just never had the opportunity to try him [at Woodbine]. When we got down here, the first three-other-than [allowance] happened to be on the grass, and I talked to the people at Pin Oak, and said now is the time to find out if he likes turf, or if I was just dreaming when I saw him work."

Devilment won that allowance race by almost three lengths, and turned in the same sort of performance Saturday. Breaking from the rail under Lonnie Meche, Devilment went straight to the lead, and though his first quarter-mile was quick by Fair Grounds standards, 23.88 seconds, Devilment was in the clear and relaxed. And so he stayed the whole way around the oval. When Purim went backward instead of forward at the top of the stretch, Devilment looked home free, and that he was, going on to score by 1 1/2 lengths. He ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.40.

"Lonnie said he's a lawnmower," Pierce said.

Pierce said he was inclined to skip the next race in Fair Grounds' series of older-horse turf races to target the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap on March 10. Devilment could prep for the Muniz in the Feb. 10 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup.