11/17/2005 1:00AM

Happy Ticket could make meet

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Happy Ticket seriously displaced her palate when she finished 11th in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and after having surgery to repair the problem, she is stabled with trainer Andy Leggio here at Louisiana Downs. And while Happy Ticket is merely being walked around Leggio's barn right now and has yet to even resume light training, Leggio said he remains hopeful that the best Louisiana-bred in the country will be ready to race before the end of the Fair Grounds at Louisiana Downs meet in late January.

"She might race here," Leggio said. "I don't think it'll be that long."

Happy Ticket, a winner in 10 of her 13 starts, was among the favorites in the Distaff, but failed to ever get into the race. Days before, she had turned in a scintillating workout over the Belmont Park training track, and Leggio said he believes Happy Ticket lost her air shortly into the Distaff. She was sent to a veterinary clinic the day after the race, where surgery was performed on both her soft palate and epiglottis. The surgery required general anesthesia, but Happy Ticket left the clinic after three days.

"She's on antibiotic sulfates to try and heal her up," said Leggio, who trains Happy Ticket for owner Stewart Madison. "Three to four weeks, and we'll put her back in training and go from there."

Happy Ticket stretched out to route racing late this year, and Leggio said he plans to race her seven furlongs and longer in 2006, with an eye toward a return trip to the Breeders' Cup, held next year at Churchill Downs.

"I'd like to try for some of the same races as this year, the Ballerina, the Beldame, and the Breeders' Cup," Leggio said.

Graham hopes to build on last year

One day Dublin, the next Bossier City.

The Irish-born jockey James Graham visited home for the first time in two years, but is back for the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs. He wouldn't miss it.

Graham had an excellent season last year at Fair Grounds, compiling 81 wins, which was good for second behind Robby Albarado in the jockey standings. His summer at Arlington Park was strong, too, and after a nine-win Keeneland meet, Graham was ready for a little break.

"Two years ago I wouldn't have felt comfortable leaving, but now I did," said Graham. "I took three days off the entire meet the first year I was at Fair Grounds."

Graham has made great strides since his early days as an apprentice in 2003, but still he works hard. During morning training here this week, he seemed to be everywhere: working horses, visiting barns on the backstretch, and chatting in the racing office after training hours.

At home in Ireland, he and his six siblings were reunited under his mother's roof for the first time in 10 years. The home folks knew all about his success in America. There might have been a touch of hero worship, given Graham's blue-collar point of origin. It was a warm and fuzzy couple of weeks.

"It felt good, but you can't let it go to your head," said Graham.

There is little danger of that.

Slow time of season for Norman

Fair Grounds racing secretary Ben Huffman was pumping up the possibility of a training duel between perennial leader Steve Asmussen and Cole Norman. This is, after all, Norman country, and adding together his horses on the Louisiana Downs backstretch and those at nearby River Bend training center, Norman has about 100 horses here.

But Norman downplayed the idea of a big meet on Thursday morning. This typically is his slow time of year, and he only runs a handful of horses each season at Fair Grounds. And while Fair Grounds's move to Bossier City this winter will lead to greater participation, Norman said he still plans to follow his usual pattern.

"We're stabled here, but we've got a lot of horses laid off from the end of the Louisiana Downs meet," Norman said.

Oaklawn Park is Norman's next big meet, and that's what he's pointing for now, he said.

"We're going to run our share, but the meet we gear up for is Oaklawn Park," Norman said.

Norman has two aging stakes horses, the sprinter Beau's Town and the route horse Pie N Burger, gearing up for comeback starts at the meet. Beau's Town hasn't raced since finishing third in the Thanksgiving Handicap last November at Fair Grounds, and Pie N Burger has been off since last December.

The Beter Man Can back to work

The Beter Man Can comes back from a seven-month layoff in the seventh race here opening day. A Louisiana-bred 3-year-old filly, The Beter Man Can starts in race 7, a Louisiana-bred allowance race at seven furlongs.

The Beter Man Can, who won the Tiffany Lass Stakes last winter at Fair Grounds, hasn't raced since she finished seventh in the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn. There was no one major injury that set her back, but she needed a break, according to trainer Pat Mouton.

"She really just came back a little bit sore after the Fantasy," Mouton said. "I guess you could call it she got hurt, but it wasn't like a chip or a bowed tendon. She'd been pushed pretty hard, and she really just needed some time off more than anything."

The Beter Man Can was turned out for more than three months, but has trained with verve for her return. She worked six furlongs in 1:12.20 here Nov. 11, and Mouton said he expects a good performance Saturday in her prep for a race on Louisiana Champions Day.

"I've been wrong before, but I think she's ready to go," he said.