02/25/2003 12:00AM

Handicap no vacation for travelers


NEW ORLEANS - The Californians are coming to the New Orleans Handicap after all. But will it matter?

Three Southern California-based horses - Olmodavor, Sunday Break, and Tracemark - are scheduled to fly to New Orleans on Friday. Their presence boosts the field for Sunday's $500,000, Grade 2 Handicap, which already had been shaping up to be a strong race. Balto Star, Best of the Rest, and Booklet are shipping here from Florida this week for the race, and the local contingent includes Bonapaw, Learned, Mineshaft, and Valhol.

At least one California horse has raced in the New Orleans Handicap for the last five years, but not since Isitingood won the New Orleans Handicap in 1997 has a West Coast shipper emerged victorious. This year's group dodges Congaree, who will be favored in Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, but they will find no easy pickings at Fair Grounds.

Sunday Break was a Kentucky Derby hopeful last year after a close third-place finish in the Wood Memorial. He finished 11th in the Grade 1 Malibu in December, his first start since he was third in the Belmont Stakes. Olmodavor, a lightly raced 4-year-old, has raced only once in a stakes race, finishing second in the Strub Stakes, a half-length ahead of Tracemark, but seven lengths behind Medaglia d'Oro.

"In the Strub he came from well back," said Olmodavor's trainer, Richard Mandella, who also has Pleasantly Perfect for the Santa Anita Handicap. "He didn't give Medaglia d'Oro any kind of a run, but he closed well up the rail. He doesn't have that much experience, but I'm thinking that he should be going in the right direction off that."

Olmodavor, a 4-year-old by A.P. Indy, has raced only six times and never has left his home base. But, Mandella said, "he's a kind horse, very smart," the sort of horse the trainer thinks can adapt to new surroundings.

The Florida-based horses are due to arrive Thursday, a day before the Californians. Two of them turned in final works on Monday. At Calder, Best of the Rest worked a mile in 1:42.40, while Balto Star went five furlongs in 1:00.60 at the Palm Meadows training center.

At Fair Grounds on Monday, Learned worked a strong five furlongs in 1:01.80 with jockey Calvin Borel up. Tuesday, Mineshaft went five furlongs in 1:03 on a slow, wet track.

Lady Tak works for Oaks

The undefeated 3-year-old filly Lady Tak had her major work for the March 8 Fair Grounds Oaks on Monday, when she breezed six furlongs in 1:13.60. Lady Tak worked in company with two other horses. Jockey Donnie Meche was under instructions to wait until deep stretch before letting her out.

The work went off perfectly, according to Scott Blasi, trainer Steve Asmussen's top assistant. "About the sixteenth pole she just cruised by," Blasi said. "Donnie said she was unbelievably comfortable doing it. She worked exactly like you want her to."

Lady Tak has won all four of her starts, including her last two races, which were stakes. Lady Tak has brilliant speed, but successfully harnessed it winning the one-mile Tiffany Lass here in January. Asmussen passed on the Silverbulletday, concentrating instead on the Oaks, which at 1 1/16 miles will be Lady Tak's longest race.

Lady Tak's main rivals will be Belle of Perintown, who easily won the Silverbulletday, and Atlantic Ocean, who is expected to ship from California for trainer Bob Baffert.

Lone Star Sky works half in 49.20

Lone Star Sky, second to Badge of Silver here in the Risen Star, worked a half-mile Tuesday in 49.20 seconds. Despite the fact Lone Star Sky lost by 10 lengths to Badge of Silver, trainer Tom Amoss said Lone Star Sky remains on track for a rematch in the March 9 Louisiana Derby.

"As long as things go correctly, that's where he'll run," Amoss said. "I'd rather take my chances and stay in my own backyard."

Lone Star Sky ran well in route races last year, but the Risen Star was his best two-turn race, Amoss said. While the big gap between Lone Star Sky and Badge of Silver isn't heartening, Amoss hopes Lone Star Sky will catch a short field in the Louisiana Derby.

"I'm thinking Badge of Silver is the kind of horse that would keep the field size down," Amoss said. "This is really the first year we've had a dominant local horse that could keep horses away."

Badge of Silver isn't scaring away Kafwain, who will ship from California the week of the Louisiana Derby for what will amount to a showdown between the leaders of the 3-year-old division. Funny Cide, a Florida-based colt, also is being pointed for the race.

Spectacular Dove puts streak on line

The surprising Spectacular Dove will bring a five-race win streak into Saturday's Bayou Breeders' Cup Handicap. Spectacular Dove, who worked a half-mile in 51 seconds here Monday, has won a maiden and four straight allowance races in six starts since Amoss took over her training. She faced questionable opposition until last month, when she beat a stakes-quality allowance field that included several horses who will run back in Saturday's stakes.

But Amoss fears that 1 1/8 miles on turf, the distance of the Bayou BC, will tax the stamina of Spectacular Dove, who never has won beyond a mile.

"I think the distance is a real question for her," Amoss said. "I'd much rather be stretching out to a mile and a sixteenth."

Eight others are expected for the $150,000 Bayou BC. They are Bag of Stars, Caught in the Rain, Dynamic Lady, Histoire Sainte, Old Money, Quick Tip, Snow Dance, and Yalta.