09/25/2003 12:00AM

Next Bandit fastest of fast

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The $40,000 Minstrel Stakes for 2-year-olds at Louisiana Downs has been a launching pad for some quality colts through the years, including Risen Star, Bet Me Best, and Crowned King. Saturday, two fast debut winners, South Africa and Joe Six Pack, will try to win the six-furlong race, but to do so they both must beat Next Bandit.

Next Bandit is the most accomplished colt in the Minstrel. A three-time winner, Next Bandit captured a $150,000 division of the Texas Thoroughbred Association Sales Futurity in June, and two races back, on July 26, won the $50,000 Honest Pleasure at Arlington Park.

He will add blinkers Saturday following a close third-place finish last time in the $200,000 NATC Futurity at Delaware Park on Aug. 30.

"We've trained him in blinkers on and off, and had been thinking about blinkers since [July], but it's hard to change something when a horse is winning," said Bret Calhoun, who trains Next Bandit. "He really runs hard, but it seems like he gets to playing around down the lane, losing focus."

Next Bandit, a front-runner, faces other quick colts in the Minstrel, but he appears to be the controlling speed judging from his last start. He set fractions of 21.20 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 44 seconds for a half-mile in the NATC Futurity, and came out of that race bouncing, Calhoun said.

Lonnie Meche has the mount on Next Bandit, who arrived here Tuesday.

"He's trained great," said Calhoun, who trains Next Bandit for Coast to Coast Racing Fund.

South Africa could be the chief threat. In his only start, South Africa led throughout to win a six-furlong maiden race by 6 3/4 lengths. South Africa, a son of Cape Town who is out of a half-sister to Grade 1 winner It's the One, earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure.

He will be coupled in the wagering with Joe Six Pack.

"He won impressively, both of them did," said Cole Norman, who trains South Africa and Joe Six Pack for owners Gary and Mary West. "We [started] three 2-year-olds for the Wests and they all broke their maiden first out."

The other was Mass Media, who is set to run next week in the Grade 2 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.

* Also on the card, The Niner Account will shoot for his fifth straight win in the ninth race for owner-trainer Steve Asmussen, and That Tat and Doctor Mike, both stakes winners at the meet, will square off in the 10th.