08/30/2006 11:00PM

Layoff a big hurdle for the favorite

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Northern Scene has already won one stakes off a long layoff this year. Saturday, he should be favored to do it again, in the $75,000 Sport City Handicap at Louisiana Downs.

The 1 1/16-mile turf race drew eight older horses, among them Waupaca, who is co-highweighted with Northern Scene at 119 pounds, and Saturday Deelites, winner of the $55,000 Retama Breeders' Cup Turf.

Northern Scene last raced on May 29, winning the $50,000 Barksdale by a half-length at Louisiana Downs. The race was his first start in more than five months, following a winter layoff. As for the three months between the Barksdale and the Sport City, it was not by design. The layoff comes courtesy of Mother Nature.

Northern Scene was set to run July 3 in the $75,000 Independence at Louisiana Downs, but a sudden rainstorm in the middle of the card forced the stakes to the main track and he was scratched. From there, his connections pointed him for an allowance, but the race did not fill.

"We would have run a couple more times if we could have," said Morris Nicks, who trains Northern Scene for Don Eberts. "I'd rather have a race, but we didn't, so you just have to work around it. I feel like we're okay. It's a tough spot, but I feel like he's going into it in good condition."

Northern Scene shows some strong works, his latest a five-furlong move in 1:01 on Aug. 19. He won the Barksdale, at a mile on turf, in a sharp 1:34.80, and since the race Dreamsandvisions and Commander Buck, who finished in a dead heat for second, have both won stakes. Dreamsandvisions went on to win the $75,000 Assault at Lone Star and the $150,000 Evangeline Mile, and Commander Buck captured the Independence.

Northern Scene will break from the rail Saturday, under Lonnie Meche.

"The horse is very versatile," said Nicks. "If there's not any pace, then he'll be up there in a gallop. But if there is a pace, he'll come back off of it, too."

Waupaca, who has speed, was third last out in the $40,000 Bob Johnson at Lone Star on July 22. In his final work Aug. 24, he drilled seven furlongs around the dogs in 1:31.40 at Remington.

"He had a super work last week on the turf," said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Waupaca and has given the mount to E.J. Perrodin.