05/11/2005 11:00PM

Happy Ticket back in tough spot

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The Louisiana-bred Happy Ticket emerged as one of the Mid-South region's best 3-year-old fillies last year, going undefeated in seven starts in her first season of racing. She returns from a five-month layoff Saturday, and will be favored to make it eight straight in the $50,000 Southern Accent at Louisiana Downs.

The six-furlong race for fillies and mares might be the biggest challenge of Happy Ticket's career. There is the layoff, the move back to open company for the first time since she won her maiden in June 2004, a new rider in the saddle, and a strong rival in Churchill Downs shipper Southern Surprise.

, however, has never backed down from a fight, delivering as the favorite in all seven of her races. And her recent works suggest she is sitting on a big race. In one of her final preps, she worked five furlongs in a bullet 57.20 seconds May 1.

"We're hoping that she's going to win," said Andrew Leggio Jr., who trains Happy Ticket for her breeder, Stewart Madison. "Any time a horse has been laid off for a while, you never know how they're going to run back the first race. She's training very well. She can't train any better."

John Jacinto will team with Happy Ticket for the first time. Lonnie Meche, who is serving a suspension, had been aboard Happy Ticket for all of her races last year, starting with her 9 3/4-length maiden win over six furlongs at Louisiana Downs.

One start later, Happy Ticket won an entry-level allowance by 12 1/4 lengths. She proceeded to win the $51,000 Elge Raspberry, the $50,000 Seneca, and the $82,000 Louisiana Breeders' Oaks, all at Louisiana Downs. Happy Ticket then closed out her season with wins in the $75,000 Magnolia at Delta Downs, and the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies at Fair Grounds on Dec. 11.

She was named co-horse of the meet at Louisiana Downs, her five wins at the track coming around one turn and two, and on dirt and turf. Her campaign will vary at 4.

"We're going to pick out some Louisiana-bred races, and we're going to step out into some of the open-company level races," said Leggio.

Happy Ticket is a stalker, and will break from post 2. In gate 5 is the front-running Southern Surprise, who last out was second by a half-length in a 6 1/2-furlong optional claiming race. Guy Smith has the mount for trainer Morris Nicks.