03/26/2003 1:00AM

Handicappers get acid test on this card


NEW ORLEANS - Friday is Vulcan Stakes day at Fair Grounds!

If you're confused about the significance of the Vulcan, just try handicapping the card.

The Vulcan, a $35,000 stakes restricted to 3-year-old Alabama-breds, starts a program as heavy on chaos as it is on entries.

The average number of starters per race has declined at Fair Grounds the last month, but 99 horses were entered Wednesday for Friday's 10 races. Besides the 'Bama-breds, there will be plenty of Louisiana-bred action and five races for maidens on tap. As for allowance races - wait until Saturday.

When Birmingham Race Course shut its doors, Alabama lost it's only racing venue, but there still are Alabama-bred Thoroughbreds floating around the country. Six of them were entered in the six-furlong Vulcan, which shapes up as a rematch between Launch Spot and Sun Block, who finished one-three here in the Dec. 13 Kudzu Juvenile, another 'Bama-bred race.

Sun Block was no match for Launch Spot that day, losing to him by more than four lengths, but Sun Block has since won two straight starts, a maiden claimer at Fair Grounds and an allowance race at Delta Downs. Launch Spot has lost three in a row since the Kudzu, but running against horses like Badge of Silver and Saintly Look, could it have been otherwise? Based on the company he's kept, Launch Spot gets the nod again Friday.

There are more promising individuals in the seventh and 10th races, maiden special weight races for open company on turf - the seventh at about 5 1/2 furlongs, the 10th at about one mile. Rain here Wednesday put grass racing in jeopardy for Thursday, but dry weather was forecast for Friday.

Seventh-race contender Running Charlie won his debut in a turf sprint here almost two months ago, but subsequently was disqualified for a positive drug test. He was sixth in a maiden race here March 14, but that start was on dirt, and Running Charlie faced better horses there than he does in this spot.

The 10th has several viable contenders, but perhaps none more so than Big Lord Nelson, who made his career debut here Feb. 3 in a two-turn grass race and beat everyone but Scottago, who returned to win again in his next start.

Big Lord Nelson has since worked three times and seems poised to graduate if he can beat McKee's Gallery and Permiso. Permiso ships in from turf-less Oaklawn Park and was narrowly beaten in his only grass start.

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