02/01/2005 12:00AM

Mr. Sulu finds softer spot

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NEW ORLEANS - Mr. Sulu, who came up a head short of catching America Alive in his last start, is the horse to beat in Thursday's feature race at Fair Grounds, a $62,500 optional claimer at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

was an impressive winner of his first two starts at this meet - both against Louisiana-breds - including the $100,000 Turf on Louisiana Champions Day, Dec. 11. He was favored over open company in his last start, Dec. 31, but finished third, beaten a head by America Alive, who returned to win the Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap. Mr. Sulu may be favored again Thursday.

"I think it's a good spot for him," said trainer Josie Carroll. "He's coming up to the race very well. I think I might have run him back a little too soon last time, but he acquitted himself well that day and he's had more than a month now."

A 7-year-old gelding, Mr. Sulu made a late move under Robby Albarado in his last race and should appreciate the extra sixteenth of a mile of this race, especially with a weight break against limited winners. He will be the lightweight in the field, at 115 pounds, even though he has won more races and more money than any of his competitors.

"We get a weight break because he's a Louisiana-bred," said Carroll. "I just hope it doesn't rain."

Mr. Sulu's main rival appears to be , a Chilean-bred 5-year-old trained by David Carroll. A Grade 3 winner on the grass in Chile, Gallo Del Bar was impressive winning for the first time in five U.S. starts last out at Fair Grounds.

, another prime contender, finished ninth behind America Alive in the Bradley in his last start, beaten less than five lengths. Though False Promises has won only 3 of his 17 starts on the grass, one of his victories came in the Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby in October 2003. The bad news is that he hasn't won a race since.

is a horse for the course, having won all three of his starts over the Fair Grounds turf. He won a $40,000 optional claimer in his last start and steps up in class here.

Trieste's Honor, winner of the California Derby and third in the Ohio Derby last year, has never run on grass. If the race is switched to the main track, he may land in a prime spot.