10/09/2003 12:00AM

Little Happy has big shot in Shiskabob


There have been a lot of firsts in the last year at Louisiana Downs. Harrah's Entertainment bought the track in December. The company installed 905 slot machines in May, and on Saturday, it will present a made-over Louisiana Breeders' Festival.

Held over two days in the past, the Festival, made up of 12 statebred stakes worth $620,000, will be run on a single program this year. The change makes the program the second-richest of the meet behind Super Derby Day.

In addition, purses for all eight Thoroughbred stakes on the card have been increased by $15,000 each, for a total purse boost of $120,000. The remaining four stakes are for Quarter Horses.

Little Happy, a $12,500 claim who has improved markedly since being moved to turf, should go favored to win his stakes debut - and his fourth straight race - in the $75,000 Shiskabob.

The 1 1/16-mile turf race is the centerpiece of the Festival. Other horses who figure prominently Saturday include Cabildo Bag in the $50,000 Laurel Lane; Prized Amberpro and Leslie's Love in the $50,000 Victoria; Doctor Mike in the $50,000 Cajun; and Letithappencaptain in the $75,000 Oaks.

Little Happy was claimed in March by Keep Moving Stable and has won 3 of 4 starts since being transferred to turf by his new connections. In his most recent race, Little Happy turned in a career effort to win the prep for the Shiskabob by a length over top Louisiana-bred Walk in the Snow.

In that race, Little Happy also defeated White Star, Coach Rags, and Pink Duck, who are among his top rivals in the 12-horse Shiskabob.

Turf became an option for Little Happy by chance, said his trainer, James Hodges.

"A race came up and we said, 'Why not try him?' " said Hodges. "He didn't show great turf breeding, but his dam had some good numbers, good breeding."

Little Happy was a troubled fourth in his turf debut in July, but after that won three straight statebred allowances on the grass. In the Shiskabob prep, he showed more early speed than usual and earned a career-best 97 Beyer. Saturday, he will break from post 11 under Lonnie Meche.

"I think we need to be at least in the front of the second bunch," said Hodges. "I don't want him more than five or six lengths off the lead."

White Star, who is cross-entered in the $50,000 Cajun Stakes, should be prominent from post 3 if he starts. He has run some of his biggest races during the Festival, taking the Shiskabob in 2001 and the Breeders' Derby in 2000.

Kirk LeBlanc rides for trainer Corale Richards.