01/18/2005 12:00AM

Homegrown talent coming to fore

The Beter Man Can captures the Tiffany Lass, only the second Louisiana-bred to win the race.

NEW ORLEANS - One of the stories developing out of this Fair Grounds meet is the apparent improvement in the overall quality of Louisiana-bred horses. Several instances of Louisiana-breds winning in open company have fueled this perception, none so dramatically as the stunning victory of The Beter Man Can in Saturday's $100,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile. It was only the second time the race was won by a Louisiana-bred in 14 runnings of the Tiffany Lass.

The victory was no fluke, even though The Beter Man Can was dismissed in the betting at 11-1 in the six-horse field. She won her first two races easily, then threw in an unexpectedly bad performance on Louisiana Champions Day in the Lassie. Trainer Patrick Moutin threw out that race and wheeled her back in the Louisiana Futurity, which she won easily.

In the Tiffany Lass, The Beter Man Can ran down the 2-5 favorite, Punch Appeal, then held off a late charge by second choice Enduring Will. It was a strong score around two turns, and the way she finished suggests The Beter Man Can has further scope for improvement. She ran the mile in 1:39.59, only .25 seconds slower than the colts went in the Lecomte two races later.

"She's got a big heart," said Moutin, "and when she gets to the front, it's hard to catch her."

The Beter Man Can even looks the part of a classic runner. A handsome daughter of Lord Avie, she has a distinctive white diamond on her forehead. She was the biggest animal in the Saturday field and moves with the efficiency of a top runner. Even so, Moutin is resisting the temptation to continue running her in open company in the next leg of the Fair Grounds series for 3-year-old fillies, the Silverbulletday at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 12. Instead, she is being pointed to another race for Louisiana-breds at Delta Downs on Feb. 5, Louisiana Premier Night.

Storm Surge finds another way

Dallas Smith was all smiles Monday at Fair Grounds, the kind of happiness befitting a trainer with a good 3-year-old in his barn at the beginning of the season. Smith watched Storm Surge take a giant step toward the spring classics Saturday in the $100,000 Lecomte Stakes, the first two-turn leg of the Fair Grounds stakes program for 3-year-olds. Storm Surge demonstrated a new dimension in the race, relaxing kindly behind a slow pace and then outrunning his rivals through the stretch.

"It was good to see him do that," said Stewart, who knew that Storm Surge, a son of Storm Cat, needed to prove himself around two turns. His only poor race came wehn he ran around two turns, in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs.

"I don't know what happened in Kentucky," said Stewart. "He wouldn't relax in that race. He got caught up in the pace, and it's strange because we have to work him in company in the morning, he's so relaxed."

Now that Storm Surge has proved he can rate, Stewart is looking forward to the next step, the Feb. 12 Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, the same distance as the March 12 Louisiana Derby.

"I like the fact that it's a month away, with another month to the Louisiana Derby," said Stewart, who noted that Storm Surge came back sound and ate up his feed the next day. "Now we just hope he keeps developing."

Biloxi Palace was a late scratch in the Lecomte. Trainer Dan Pietz said the horse came down with a fever on race day.

"He coughed once in the morning," said Pietz, "then as we were getting ready to bring him over for the race, he coughed again. We took his temperature and he was running a 102 degree fever, so we scratched him."

Ambition Unbridled getting a rest

Ambition Unbridled came up short in the prep race for Saturday's A.B. Leggio Memorial Handicap, finishing third. But she carried her speed gate to wire when the big money was on the line.

"She's earned a rest," said trainer Gamaliel Vazquez. "We don't really have a spot for her anyway. She might come back in an open allowance later in the meet, or I might try her on dirt, because she can run on any surface."

Vazquez said that Ambition Unbridled, a 4-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song, needed the prep race for the Leggio.

"She came back from that race really tired and sweaty," he said. "She needed the race."

Indian Prospector left behind gate

Indian Prospector, the second choice on the board at post time for Monday's feature race at Fair Grounds, was never loaded into the gate, creating mass confusion and not a little grumbling in the grandstand when the race was run with eight instead of nine participants. The favorite, Tempered Steel, won by a neck over Wave the Sword and survived a claim of foul. The stewards declared Indian Prospector a non-starter. Wagers on him were refunded, and bettors who used him in pick six, pick four and pick three tickets defaulted to the favorite.