02/15/2006 12:00AM

Happy Ticket to make her season debut in Distaff


It could've happened at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs, it could've happened at Oaklawn Park, but as it turns out, the Grade 1 winner Happy Ticket will launch her 2006 season on Saturday night at cozy Evangeline Downs.

was cross-entered in two of the six Louisiana-bred stakes races scheduled for Louisiana Premier Night, but trainer Andy Leggio said he planned to choose the one-mile Distaff over the six-furlong Matron.

"This should be pretty big for [Evangeline]," Leggio said. "I think everyone in Louisiana who has a horse wants to come see her run."

Happy Ticket hasn't raced since she displaced her soft palate and stumbled to an 11th-place finish last October in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, a race many thought Happy Ticket had a legitimate shot to win. Two throat surgeries to correct the problem followed close on the heels of the Breeders' Cup, but after three months of steady training, Happy Ticket is blooming with health for her first start of the season, said Leggio.

"I think she's better now than when she won all those big races last year," he said.

Leggio and owner-breeder Stewart Madison scratched Happy Ticket from the Louisiana Lagniappe Ladies Sprint on Jan. 22 when the Louisiana Downs racing surface came up sloppy. Leggio then took Happy Ticket to Oaklawn Park, where he hoped to start in an allowance race, but that spot never materialized and Happy Ticket recently returned to Louisiana Downs, where she blew out a fast half-mile Wednesday morning.

The Premier Night Distaff was supposed to match Happy Ticket against another unusually talented Louisiana-bred, The Beter Man Can, but The Beter Man Can came out of a work last Saturday with an injured suspensory ligament and is "out for four to six months," according to trainer Pat Mouton.

"It's not life- or career-threatening," Mouton said. "It just has to heal."

The Saturday night stakes encompass races 3-8 on an 11-race, all Louisiana-bred program. Starting the stakes sequence is the Sprint, featuring the blazingly fast All Wired Up. The $100,000 Distaff, Happy Ticket's race, is the penultimate event and drew a field of eight, while the $150,000 Classic - another match-up of Nitro Chip, Prince T, and Badtotheboneandrew - is the last of Saturday's stakes races.