01/09/2002 1:00AM

L'homme can run, then some

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NEW ORLEANS - On Louisiana Champions Day, an eight-month layoff and a fast early pace caught up to L'homme in the final furlong of the Champions Day Turf. Mr. Sulu, the winner, and Bourbon Boogie, the place horse, caught up to him, too. But with the comeback race and two workouts under his belt, there might be no catching L'homme in Fair Grounds's featured race Friday.

Race nine on a 10-race program is an open allowance restricted to Louisiana-breds that drew a strong field of eight. Both Mr. Sulu and Bourbon Boogie run back in it, as well as the talented Doctor Mike, a strong threat if the race is rained off turf, and Coach Rags, long a top turf horse in Louisiana.

But if L'homme lives up to the potential he displayed last season at Fair Grounds, he clearly is the horse to beat. Trained by Richie Scherer for owner Angela Trosclair, L'homme showed little in a dirt-sprint debut here 13 months ago, but reeled off three wins by a combined 19 1/4 lengths when he was stretched out in distance and switched to turf. In the last of those wins, the $100,000 Gentilly Handicap, L'homme beat Mr. Sulu by almost nine lengths.

But a nagging leg injury sent L'homme to the sidelines this summer, and his connections, having seen how talented their colt was, did not bring him back until the problem was fully healed.

Scherer fretted about whether to start L'homme back in an allowance race or the Champions Day Turf, then worried that his fitness level wasn't sufficient to win the Turf after choosing that spot. He was right. L'homme, sharp in the first start of his comeback, ran a fast opening quarter while on the lead that day, took the field to midstretch, then ran out of gas.

L'homme's owner passed on the $100,000 Woodchopper Handicap against open company in favor of this allowance spot, and the colt figures set for a top effort Friday.

He may need it to turn the tables on Mr. Sulu, who ran the best race of his career to win the Champions Day Turf for trainer Josie Carroll. After stalking L'homme's pace into the stretch, Mr. Sulu rallied along the inside and was up to win by a length. He has come back to post two strong works here for Carroll, and as a lightly raced 4-year-old may still have room to improve.

Bourbon Boogie, a dead closer, will not be aided by a turn back from 1 1/16 miles to a mile, but will be charging late.

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