01/04/2005 12:00AM

Oaklawn next stop for More Moonlight


NEW ORLEANS - Even though she defeated only three rivals in Saturday's Letellier Memorial Stakes, More Moonlight clearly has the look of a filly with a lot of promise.

A 3-year-old filly by More Than Ready, More Moonlight was the heavy favorite in the betting until a few minutes before post time, when someone placed a bet of several thousand dollars on Hot Storm, knocking her down to 1-2 odds and sending More Moonlight up to 8-5. By the time the horses went in the gate, however, late money pushed More Moonlight backed to 3-5 favoritism.

Hot Storm was clearly well meant, and when the gate opened she forged to the lead with More Moonlight in pursuit. The brutal 21.42-second quarter followed by a 44.68 half was more than Hot Storm could handle and she dropped back to finish third, beating only Galactic Cat, who tracked the top two and tired badly.

The victory was the fourth on the card for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Donnie Meche. Asmussen tied the track record for most victories in a day by a trainer, and just missed setting the record. Sunup Sundown, Asmussen's runner in the second race, failed to catch front-running Hunter's Halo by a half-length.

After the Letellier, Asmussen admitted he was concerned about the fast pace.

"The fractions were very fast," said Asmussen, "but it affected them all. Donnie said she was comfortable the whole way."

More Moonlight finished very comfortably, running the six furlongs in 1:10.81 with something in reserve.

The victory earned her a ticket to Hot Springs, Ark., and Oaklawn Park, where the first stakes race for 3-year-old fillies is the Dixie Belle on Jan. 29.

Coronado Rose, whom Asmussen entered but scratched from the Letellier, will take a different route to avoid having to face her stablemate. Her next start is likely to come at Delta Downs.

Main track heats up

The main track has undergone a dramatic reversal in the new year. After yielding consistently slow times in the first weeks of the meet the dirt course - that was repeatedly described by various trainers as cuppy - became lightning fast on New Year's Day. The difference was immediately apparent when speed horses went all the way in the first four races and stalkers laying just off the speed won the next two.

Then, in the eighth race, Jimmy Cracked Corn took them all the way in 1:09.75 for six furlongs, the fastest clocking at the distance this meet.

Melancon looking for new agent

Fair Grounds-based jockey Gerard Melancon will need a new agent after his current agent, Ronnie Ebanks, leaves for California to represent Pat Valenzuela. Valenzuela is seeking reinstatement of his suspended license.

Ebanks had high praise for Melancon, who is in third place in the Fair Grounds jockey standings.

"I really enjoyed working with him," said Ebanks. "We're old friends anyway.

"We got off to a fast start and he's been riding very well. He has his regular mounts to begin with. He's sort of like his own agent."