12/06/2001 12:00AM

Oh, man: L'homme tough to beat in Turf

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NEW ORLEANS - Coach Rags won the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf two years ago, the mare Sarah Lane's Oates won the race last year, and both horses are part of a 12-horse field entered in this year's Turf. But there may be a new boss in town, L'homme, a 3-year-old colt who will attempt to win the Turf coming off an eight-month layoff.

The Turf will be run at about 1 1/16 miles, a distance that includes a long run to the first turn which mitigates the negative effects of an outside draw. Two horses in the Turf, Darkman and Bourbon Boogie, were cross-entered in the $150,000 Classic.

L'homme, a Goodbye Doeny colt bred by Frank Trosclair and owned by Angela Trosclair, was nothing short of outstanding racing on turf here last season. He won his maiden by 11 lengths, an allowance race by a 1 1/2 lengths, and the $100,000 Gentilly Handicap by more than five lengths. Scarily, trainer Richie Scherer feels L'homme was still green and raw last year, and did most of this running on talent alone.

L'homme was given several months off to recover from an injury and has filled out nicely since his last race. Scherer worries that despite a series of strong dirt works, L'homme isn't at peak fitness for the Turf. Jockey David Guillory, Scherer said, "thinks he's fitter than I do."

Coach Rags, second in last year's Turf, had a useful prep race at Sam Houston last month and is at his best on the Fair Grounds turf course.

Sarah Lane's Oates nearing the end?

On paper it looks like the 7-year-old Sarah Lane's Oates, one of the best Louisiana-bred turf horses ever, has started to feel the effects of age and a 73-start racing career. She has lost five straight races and hasn't been especially competitive in any of them. But in the flesh, said trainer Andy Leggio, Sarah Lane's Oates has not changed a bit, which is why she will return Saturday to defend her title in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf.

Her owner, Glen Warren, "says she'll run as long as she's healthy, and she's still healthy," Leggio said. "She's been training exactly the same way she always has. I have no reason to thing she's lost a step."

Leggio would know. He has guided Sarah Lane's Oates through a career in which she has won 20 of 59 grass starts and earned more than $886,000. A homebred by Sunshine Forever out of Glitzi BJ, Sarah Lane's Oates has held her form through an age when most horses of her ability have been retired for breeding. As recently as this summer, Sarah Lane's Oates finished second in the $75,000 Irving Distaff, an open stakes race at Lone Star.

"I realize her record the last few months doesn't look that good," said Leggio. But Leggio thinks factors like hot summer weather and bad racing luck, not a permanent decline, have brought on the losing streak.

Leggio said he would love to win the Turf on Saturday and the Red Camelia at the end of this meet, which would put Sarah Lane's Oates over $1 million in earnings. But neither are he and Warren blind to the possibility that Sarah Lane's Oates' best days are behind her. There's even a chance the Turf could be the mare's last hurrah.

"If she doesn't run good here, we might have to change our thinking," said Leggio. "I know Dr. Warren has been thinking about it. And I know I've been thinking about it."

The horse of a lifetime

Hallowed Dreams, the Fair Grounds' six-furlong track record holder and the likely favorite in the Champions Day Sprint, has earned more than $714,000 for her owners, trainer Lloyd Romero and Johnny Gaspard. She has brought attention to backwater racetracks in Louisiana, and she has been a boon to the notion that a Louisiana-bred can become a top racehorse. But has Hallowed Dreams done more for anyone than jockey Sylvester Carmouche?

Before Hallowed Dreams, Carmouche was best known as the "fog jockey," for an incident at Delta Downs where he hid his mount in dense fog, and rode her for only part of a race. Carmouche's license was suspended for several years after the incident, but thanks in great part to Hallowed Dreams, his career has been revived.

"I always asked God to give me a good horse when I was young," Carmouche said. "He finally did."

Carmouche thanks Romero, too. Romero has stuck with Carmouche throughout Hallowed Dreams's amazing career - 25 wins in 27 races.

Carmouche rides the filly in the afternoon and is aboard for all her works at Evangeline Downs. "I never worried about losing her," Carmouche said. "Mr. Lloyd's a man of his word."

Hallowed Dreams has accounted for about 35 percent of Carmouche's earnings this year, but she means more than money to him. "I've ridden her 25 times. She knows me and I know her. We're close. Me and her get along together."

Team Roussel works Magic

Zarb's Magic is not acting his age, and that's a good thing. An 8-year-old gelding, he has been bucking and rearing, signals that he is ready for a top effort on Champions Day regardless of where he runs. Trainer Louie Roussel, who owns Zarb's Magic in partnership with Ronnie Lamarque, has cross-entered Zarb's Magic in the $150,000 Classic and the $50,000 Starter, though he said Thursday morning he was leaning toward the Starter.

Given where he was a year ago, it's startling Zarb's Magic is running anywhere at all. Zarb's Magic, the Arkansas Derby winner in 1996, had fallen all the way down to the $10,000 claiming level last winter. When Roussel bought him, Zarb's Magic was riddled with ulcers, was bleeding badly during routine exercise, and was bothered by a bad tendon.

Roussel and his staff, headed by assistant trainer Lara Van Daren, worked to bring Zarb's Magic back around, and indeed, he now bears little resemblance to the animal who came into the barn last winter.

"We've been very fortunate," Roussel said. "He's come a long way and really blossomed."