12/11/2002 1:00AM

Hebert has another fleet juvenile


Doris Hebert has moved most of his stable to Delta Downs this winter, and his presence at Fair Grounds has diminished significantly, but that doesn't mean Hebert would miss the Champions Day Juvenile. After all, he basically owns the thing.

The Juvenile is one of six stakes races for statebreds that Fair Grounds will hold on Saturday, Louisiana Champions Day. Hebert has trained four of the last six winners and has saddled three winning colts the last four years: Bet Me Best (who runs in the Sprint on Saturday) in 1998, Early Goer the next year, and Hail to Bag last season. But until mid-November, Hebert seemed empty this time around.

Not now. Constant Commotion didn't make his first start until Nov. 15, but in less than a month he has emerged as Hebert's latest whiz kid. Constant Commotion, like Early Goer and Hail to Bag owned by Brittlyn Stable, won his debut at Delta by more than four lengths. Hebert brought him back three weeks later in an allowance race, in which Constant Commotion drew the rail but outbroke the field and romped again, this time winning a five-furlong race by seven lengths under no pressure from his rider.

Constant Commotion's past performance lines look good, but Hebert's perspective adds substance. "He's a nice colt," Hebert said this week from his Delta barn. A Cajun, Hebert can be reticent talking about his horses. Gradually, details accumulate that suggest just how much he thinks of a horse. And Hebert seems to like this one. Hail to Bag won last year's Juvenile by more than three lengths, and Constant Commotion is "probably as good as Hail to Bag," Hebert said. After a moment's pause, he added, "He's probably as good. He might even be a little better. It's hard to tell when they first start running. They can improve so much from race to race."

Like Hail to Bag and Early Goer, Constant Commotion just seems to have more speed than the horses around him, and Hebert has mastered the craft of nurturing precocity in 2-year-olds.

"You just have to spend a lot of time with them, playing around, schooling, a lot of maintenance. I give them a lot of sharp works, a fast eighth of a mile when they're just starting out in order to teach them to be quick," Hebert said.

If his first two races serve as a guide, Constant Commotion will at least lead Saturday's Juvenile into the stretch. Despite breaking fourth and fifth in his two starts, Constant Commotion has quickly gotten his feet under him to open clear early leads. He does not slow down, either.

"We started late with him, but he showed a lot of talent," Hebert said. "He's just starting to find out how to run."

Which means his opponents might be running for second.

Kwik Kash's return a toss-up

Making only the second start of her career, Kwik Kash overcame physical problems and won the Champions Day Lassie by more than three lengths last year. But the ailments caught up to her, and Kwik Kash didn't race again for almost a year.

Her comeback Nov. 9 in a Delta stakes race turned out to be a wash; Kwik Kash grabbed a quarter leaving the gate and finished a distant fifth. She has not raced since, but could return to Fair Grounds this weekend. Trainer B.J. Gilbert said Kwik Kash is being considered both for the Champions Day Sprint and a turf-sprint allowance on Sunday.

It was a battle last year just getting Kwik Kash to start, but surgery to repair bone chips has improved her soundness. "After the surgery, she came back great," said Gilbert. "She's much easier to train this year than last year."

Owner Murray Valene already has one of the favorites for the Sprint in Dr. Mike, a late-runner who trains with Troy Young. Kwik Kash could give him threats from on the pace and off, though with only the troubled Delta race under her belt, Kwik Kash would come into the Sprint under difficult circumstances.

"I don't know how she'd handle the grass Sunday," Gilbert said. "But I'd kind of look at it as another first step back because of the way the Delta race went."

Fields taking shape

Here's a brief look at how the Champions Day races are shaping up. Career earnings determine who gets a spot in overfilled races.

The six-furlong Lassie will have a full field but no obvious favorite. A Delta stakes win last month gave It'smybag the division lead in earnings, but that race was at five furlongs, and trainer Keith Desormeaux wonders how his filly will adapt to the Lassie's six furlongs.

Several stakes winners will contest the Juvenile, but Constant Commotion may have the most raw talent, and Lighter Knot looked good winning a maiden race here opening day.

The complexion of the starter still was in flux as of Wednesday, but the Sprint appears to be a deep, competitive race headed by Dr. Mike, Zarb's Luck, Bet Me Best, and Fine Stormy. Coach Rags will be favored to win the Turf for the second time in his career, while the Ladies, headed by Prized Amberpro, should be a better race than in recent seasons.

Meanwhile, the scramble is on to get six horses for the Classic. The emergence of Walk in the Snow as a standout statebred route horse has scared many horses out of the Classic, Saturday's richest race, and it boils down to a match race between Walk in the Snow and defending champion Oak Hall.

* A turf-sprint allowance that would have been Friday's featured failed to attract sufficient entries Wednesday to make it onto the racing program. Instead, the highest-class race of the day is a first-level turf allowance for fillies and mares.