01/03/2008 12:00AM

Jockey, distance changes boost Wildrally


NEW ORLEANS - Wildrally's last two races have been defeats at the hands of Willist and Desert Wheat, and he faces those two again in Saturday's Dixie Poker Ace. But the return of jockey John Jacinto and a shorter distance - about one mile on turf - might be enough to get Wildrally back into the winner's circle.

Wildrally's last victory was Sept. 1, in the A.L. Erwin Stakes at Louisiana Downs. Like this race, the Erwin was at a mile on the turf, a distance at which Wildrally is a perfect 2 for 2. Jacinto rode Wildrally in the Erwin and also is 2 for 2 aboard the 4-year-old gelding.

In his last race, Wildrally finished second in the Louisiana Turf Stakes, 1 3/4 lengths behind Willist and a neck in front of Desert Wheat. Two races back, on opening day at the Fair Grounds, it was Desert Wheat who prevailed in an allowance race, with Wildrally finishing third. Both of those races were at about 1 1/16 miles on turf.

"He has shown himself to be competitive against older, battle-tested horses, but he has yet to win," trainer Tom Amoss said. "We're going to have to outrun Desert Wheat and Willist."

Wildrally has run best when he has been on the lead or from a stalking position, and Amoss is worried the pace of the Dixie Poker Ace will be too fast and compromise the horse.

"He was definitely helped by the lack of pace last time," said Amoss.

Amoss's fear may be unfounded. In the Louisiana Turf, Lee's Say So set slow fractions up front, going the first quarter-mile in 24 seconds and the second in 25 seconds. He is likely to be the pacesetter again.

Last time out, Desert Wheat finished third in the Louisiana Turf as the odds-on favorite, racing back just 17 days after his allowance victory on opening day at the Fair Grounds. While he has more rest this time, he is likely to have to rally into a moderate pace and will have a sixteenth of a mile less to work with than in his last win.

"Last time, the races were too close, not enough rest," said Rodolphe Brisset, an assistant to trainer Bill Mott. "He's always off the gate pretty slow. Hopefully, we have enough space that he can make it to the front."

The pace of the race should not affect Willist, said his trainer, Kelly Broussard.

"He can be on the lead or come from off the pace," Broussard said. "We are expecting a big race out of him."