11/23/2007 1:00AM

Mena riding winners wherever he goes

EmailNEW ORLEANS - Jockey Miguel Mena made a timely shift in venue from Chicago to Kentucky about 15 months ago, and so far, his move to Fair Grounds is working out well enough.

Mena, 21, has been riding the early Fair Grounds entrants for trainer Steve Asmussen, who put Mena on a stakes winner opening day. Stormin Baghdad, with Mena turning in a solid tactical effort, won the Thanksgiving Handicap by a neck here on Thursday.

A native of Peru, where his father rode for a time and his uncle trains horses at the Peru Jockey Club, Mena began his U.S. career at Calder, and did well upon moving to Chicago. His agent, Steve Elzey, who has booked mounts for many a leading rider in Kentucky, plucked Mena from the Chicago circuit two summers ago, took him to Ellis Park, and got Mena established enough that he took top riding honors at both the Turfway and Ellis Park meets.

The mid-level Kentucky tracks have generally been Mena's bread and butter, but he has recently begun expanding his business, to the point that he rode 11 winners at the recently concluded Keeneland meet. Mena also won the riding title at Presque Isle Downs, where he booted home 35 winners. For the year, he has 197 victories, the 25th-best total in the country.

Mena's main reason for coming to New Orleans? Elzey's say-so.

"My agent wanted to come here," Mena said. "This is where the good horses are. I'm excited. I'm trying to work hard, and I think things are going to go good here."

The competition for Fair Grounds mounts, however, is about to get much tougher. Both Robby Albarado, who will probably be out working horses early next week, and Shaun Bridgmohan, who's due in Wednesday, are expected to begin riding here on Thursday.

Ankle sends Mr. Sulu into retirement

Mr. Sulu, one of the more recognizable Louisiana-breds of the recent decade, has been retired from racing after sustaining a fractured ankle during a routine gallop about three weeks ago, his trainer, Josie Carroll, said Friday morning.

Mr. Sulu, who will turn 10 on Jan.o1, ended his career with 55 starts, 13 victories, and earnings of more than $617,000. He won 11 turf races from 35 tries, and was, generally speaking, the best Louisiana-bred grass horse of the last several years.

"It's definitely disappointing to lose a horse like that," Carroll said.

All the more disappointing since Mr. Sulu had won his last two starts, both at Fort Erie, and was being pointed for his annual start in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf. Mr. Sulu had made that race six years in a row, making his first appearance in 2001. Mr. Sulu won the race that year, finished third in 2002, was second in 2003 when the race was off the turf, won in 2004 and 2005, and finished third last year.

"You start to think he'll go on forever, because he's been so sound," said Carroll. "He was still hard on himself to gallop. He still really wanted to do it."

Mr. Sulu is stabled at co-owner Red McMurray's farm across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. He will need 90 days of stall rest to heal, Carroll said, but should be sound enough for a second life as a riding horse.

"We're looking for a good home for him," Carroll said. "He was really good to us."

Star Guitar has stakes options

Based on his debut win here opening day, the Louisiana-bred colt Star Guitar may be ready for a statebred-restricted stakes race. The question now is which one.

Trainer Al Stall could bring Star Guitar back for the Dec. 8 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile. He could wait for the Dec. 31 Louisiana Futurity. Or, he could even try to make both spots. All that's up in the air, though Star Guitar appeared to bounce easily out of his sharp victory in Thursday's fifth race, which he won by more than six lengths with a swift six furlongs in 1:10.41

"He was just galloping," Stall said.

Star Guitar, by Quiet American, probably wants to run farther than six furlongs, said Stall, who emphasized that the colt wasn't pushed into his first start. That hints at future improvement, which could easily lead Star Guitar toward the top of his Louisiana-bred class.

Star Guitar was bred and is owned by the Brittlyn Stable of Maurice and Evelyn Benoit, prominent Louisiana owners. Evelyn Benoit was on hand for the Thursday win, one of her first trips away from the side of her husband, who was seriously injured in an automobile accident about two week ago.

* Jorge Lara, runaway leading trainer at the Louisiana Downs meet this year, had himself a day at Fair Grounds on Friday, winning three of the first four races on the card. Lara struck with Riproarious in race 1, Pester Power in race 3, and Slew's Stone in race 4, all low-level claimers.

* Opening-day attendance here was 7,278, down from the record 8,732 that came to the races on opening day last season. Ontrack wagering was $474,960, and all-sources handle was $3,013,699. Both figures were significantly down from 2006, but comparable to handle on opening day 2004, the last previous time the meet was held in New Orleans.