01/18/2006 1:00AM

Louisiana's superstar begins anew

Louis Hodges Jr.
Silverbulletday winner Baghdaria (right) might ship to California for her next start.

Andy Leggio has been saying all winter that he would let Happy Ticket tell him when she was ready to make her first start of the season, and with a blazing workout Sunday at Louisiana Downs, Happy Ticket spoke up.

"When I saw her gallop out in 57 [seconds], I said to myself, 'It looks like she's fit,' " Leggio said. "She did that with ridiculous ease."

Fit enough, at least, to try 5 1/2 furlongs against staebreds on Sunday at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs. That's where Happy Ticket will make her 2006 debut, starting in the $100,000 Louisiana Lagniappe Ladies Sprint, her first race since a disappointing non-effort in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Happy Ticket, the best Louisiana-bred seen in many a year, has won 10 of 13 starts - including the Grade 1 Test last summer - and finished second in two other races. But Leggio and owner Stewart Madison surely are eager to put behind them the one poor race of Happy Ticket's career, her 11th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Happy Ticket had two throat surgeries in Kentucky shortly after that race, and has trained this winter like the same horse she was in 2005, but Leggio has emphasized that the success or failure of the surgical procedures to help Happy Ticket breathe properly during strenuous exertion won't be known until she competes in a race.

Timed workouts have presented no problem. Happy Ticket went three furlongs in 34.80 with a strong gallop-out on Jan. 8, and Sunday's work officially was recorded as a half-mile in a sizzling 45.60 seconds. That's probably the fastest four-furlong work of this meet, but at no time did jockey Robby Albarado ask Happy Ticket for speed, Leggio said.

"He never moved on her," said Leggio. "I was kind of pleased she did that on her own. We never have sat down and asked that filly to run in the morning."

Leggio said he and Madison have plotted out a season-long campaign for Happy Ticket, one surely designed to end with another try in the Breeders' Cup. In the short term, however, Happy Ticket could race February in another Louisiana-bred stakes at Evangeline Downs before pointing for open stakes races at Oaklawn. The Evangeline race next month could pit Happy Ticket against The Beter Man Can, another open-stakes quality Louisiana-bred filly, but this weekend, The Beter Man Can starts Saturday in the Louisiana Lagniappe Ladies.

Baghdaria's next start is undecided

Mission accomplished for Baghdaria, who significantly increased her residual value by winning the Grade 3 Silverbulletday Stakes last Saturday. And neither did the win hurt Baghadaria's bankroll, which swelled from some $40,000 to over $200,000 with the winner's share of a $250,000-added purse.

But what is next on the agenda for Baghdaria is uncertain, trainer Bret Calhoun said Wednesday morning. While Baghdaria had come out of her gutsy win over favored French Park in good shape, Calhoun and owners Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch must decide whether to keep their filly close to home in the $50,000 Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park, or ship to California for much better money - and presumably better competition - in Santa Anita's Las Virgenes Stakes.

"There aren't a lot of opportunities in February, but there are a lot in March," Calhoun said. "We'll take a look at California, but we're not going out there to hook the best."

Baghdaria, who made her stakes debut in the Silverbulletday, will remain at Louisiana Downs for at least several days, Calhoun said. If he and the owners decide on the Oaklawn race, she'll ship north to train over that track leading up to the Martha Washington.

Two Lawyer Ron victims nothing to sneeze at

Considering Lawyer Ron's awesome performance winning the Risen Star Stakes on Saturday, the two horses left in his wake did not perform badly either. Especially decent was the runner-up, Mark of Success, who now has run well in all three of his career starts, despite making his debut last fall in a $30,000 maiden-claiming race.

"That was the way he'd trained, and all you can do is put them in the way they train," trainer Dallas Stewart said of the claiming debut. "He looked very average, didn't beat up anyone. Fortunately, he turned out to be better than that."

While Mark of Success was no match for Lawyer Ron last week, he might hook him again next month, since Stewart said he would point Mark of Success for the Southwest at Oaklawn, Lawyer Ron's next scheduled stop.

"I was very happy with him," said Stewart. "He's just gotten better with every race."

Plans for Hyte Regency, third in the Risen Star, are flexible at the moment, trainer Jeff Trosclair said.

"I think we're at a crossroads with this colt right now where we try get him in a good spot," said Trosclair. "Until we get a race in him where he learns to win again, we don't need to be tackling the sort like Lawyer Ron."