01/29/2004 12:00AM

'Mystery' hard to decipher

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NEW ORLEANS - Just after training hours Thursday morning, a long head poked through the doorway and into trainer Richie Scherer's Fair Grounds barn office. Ears forward, eyes imploring, Mystery Giver was cooling out from his morning exercise - and he was ready for his peppermint.

In his craving for sweets, the 6-year-old Mystery Giver is ultra-reliable. Scherer would like a better line, however, on how Mystery Giver will run Saturday in the $125,000 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Last year, he was awesome. In the best race of a long career, swept to the lead at the top of the stretch and won the Fair Grounds BC over horses similar to the ones he faces Saturday. But a year has passed since then, and it has been two months since Mystery Giver has run at all. Always a fussy eater, Mystery Giver is picking over his food once again, and though Mystery Giver trains strongly, Scherer can't pin down the horse's condition.

"It's always the same thing with him," Scherer said. "You think you know where you're at with him, but you can't really be sure."

Mystery Giver is part of an excellent Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup field. Ten horses were entered in the race, contested at about 1 1/8 miles on turf, and there are no obvious throwouts. Mystery Giver has the rail and Robby Albarado, and though he hasn't started since a subpar effort over boggy turf Nov. 29 at Churchill, Mystery Giver has a long string of published workouts, and has run some of his best races over this grass course.

With , Gin and Sin, and Warleigh entered, the Fair Grounds BC figures to have a fair pace. That wasn't the case in the Jan. 3 Colonel E.R. Bradley here, but Skate Away, who raced from mid-pack, won anyway. He scored a neck win over Warleigh, who pressed the tepid pace and got first run. At age 5, Skate Away might have reached a new performance level.

"He needs to go out and prove that wasn't a fluke," said trainer Jeff Trosclair. "It's hard to expect a horse to run right back to their lifetime best race. Who knows why a horse turns a corner and starts doing so much better? He's just so much more eager now to do things in the morning."

Waupaca was a game winner of the Woodchopper over this course, but he beat only 3-year-olds and faces pace pressure Saturday from the talented Warleigh. Warleigh can lead or press, and he figures to run a big race. A quicker pace would give deep closers such as Freefourinternet, Act of War, and Storybook Kid a chance to get into the mix.