12/02/2004 12:00AM

Happy Ticket late bloomer


NEW ORLEANS - When Destiny Calls didn't bounce back from her prep race for next Saturday's Louisiana Champions Day, the undefeated Happy Ticket suddenly appeared to have the Champions Day Ladies at her mercy. Trainer Andy Leggio Jr. wouldn't speculate about Destiny Calls, but knew what to say about his filly. "She's doin' terrific," said Leggio, seated in his barn office. He ran his finger across the workout chart that dominates his office desk. "Let's see, we worked her five-eighths Saturday and she went 1:01 in the slop," he said.

Happy Ticket never started as a 2-year-old because she kept developing physical problems. She is undefeated in six starts this year and is 3 for 3 against older competition, which she will face again in the Ladies.

"She made her first start as a 3-year-old in June," said Leggio, "because she had so many setbacks, bucked shins, sore feet. Every time something would come up I would stop on her for a few months. But when we got her to the races, she won six in a row. She broke her maiden, took an allowance race, and then won four stakes races. She's done just about everything we've asked her to."

Albarado off to a fast start

Jockey Robby Albarado dominated the Fair Grounds jockey race last season, winning 106 races from 452 mounts for his second consecutive title. Albarado began his quest for a three-peat with a sizzling opening week, winning with 8 of 22 mounts and getting up on some good-looking horses that are likely to win more races at Fair Grounds before the season is over.

On opening day, Albarado cruised to a 6 1/2-length maiden score aboard Diplomatic Agent over a mile on the grass course. Trained by Chris Speckert, Diplomatic Agent clearly relished the turf and is likely to win again on the grass later in the meet. Albarado followed the next day with an impressive score aboard Monkey Hill in the sprint feature.

Last Saturday, the Seattle Slew colt Biloxi Palace won his maiden easily and will be pointed toward the Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 22. Albarado followed with impressive performances aboard Destiny Calls and Flager in the next two races Saturday, then finished up the weekend with an easy win aboard Mr. Sulu in a prep race for the turf event on Louisiana Champions Day.

Silverbulletday downgraded

The Silverbulletday Stakes, scheduled for Feb. 12, has been classified as a Grade 3 race by the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. The last two years the prep race for the Louisiana Oaks was a Grade 2.

"It's always on the negative side when a stake is downgraded," said Fair Grounds president Randall Soth, "and that's disappointing, but on the positive side we still have nine graded stakes. I can't give you an in-depth analysis or a strong debate on why it shouldn't have been downgraded, because this is our first year here. It appears to be part of the trend this year; there were more races downgraded than upgraded."

Soth noted that the concept of mega-race-days instituted by the track's new owners, Churchill Downs Inc., is likely to rebuild the status of races such as the Silverbulletday.

"With our big-event days, we'll hope to build that back," he said. "Hopefully, if someone is shipping in for a particular race it makes it a little more convenient to ship multiple horses for races on the same day."

Perrodin injured

Elvis Perrodin was forced to take off all his mounts Thursday after Classical Dice, the horse he was scheduled to ride in the first race, reared in the gate, unseating him. Perrodin was assisted from the track and later diagnosed with a lower-back injury. Though not seriously injured, he lost out on a big day when Classical Dice demolished his field by 12 1/4 lengths and Bellagio Bob, another of his scheduled mounts, won the fourth race.