03/02/2007 1:00AM

Optional claimer goes with stakes-caliber cast

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NEW ORLEANS - The eighth race on Saturday's Fair Grounds card is a second-level optional claimer for older horses at a mile and 40 yards on the main track that drew a stakes-caliber field.

Mean Butterbean, second to Costa Rising in the Louisiana Premier Champions and the Louisiana Classic, is only in here because his victories against statebreds don't count against him in the conditions of the race.

Canela has won six starts in a row for leading trainer Tom Amoss, showing remarkable versatility on dirt, turf, and off tracks - and at distances from a mile to 1 1/2 miles.

Jacob V and G A is stakes-placed, as is Flanders Field.

Chin High, a stakes winner last year, was claimed for $16,000 by owner and trainer Steve Asmussen out of a strong victory last time out. Former trainer Neil Pessin knows that Asmussen got a real bargain.

"I was sorry to see him go," said Pessin, "but the owner made the decision to run him in there. He only really wants to own stakes horses, not claiming or allowance horses, so he chose that spot for him. I think he fits in there very well Sunday."

A 'Magick' victory

With less than a month left in the Fair Grounds meet, trainers and jockeys who haven't made it to the winner's circle may be starting to worry about the dreaded duck, getting shut out over the course of the entire four-month stretch of winter racing.

Winning seems to get harder as the days continue on and disappointments mount. John Botty had been having one of those seasons. He brought a string of eight horses out of Suffolk Downs for the meet. Allotted five stalls at Fair Grounds, he kept his second string at a training center. Over the course of 15 starts, his horses collected a pair of seconds and five third-place finishes, but Botty lost several of them to claims.

On Feb. 24 he entered Ghostly Magick in the fourth race against one of the horses that had been claimed from him, On the Lam.

"We only brought Ghostly Magick in here because a lot of horses were claimed from us," said Botty.

When he saw jockey Donnie Meche warm up Ghostly Magick, Botty began to worry.

"He took him away from the pony and started warming him up as if he were arthritic or sore," said Botty. "I saw him say something to the track vet, then he brought the horse back to the paddock. He said he didn't feel right, and told my wife the horse was wrong in the left front leg."

Botty unsaddled Ghostly Magick and needed to find a new jockey in seconds or the horse would be scratched.

"I went into the jockeys' room and the clerk of scales said Zimmerman wanted the ride," he said.

Ramsey Zimmerman came bounding out of the jocks' room with a big smile. A few minutes later he guided Ghostly Magick through a stirring stretch rally, passing odds-on favorite Content Cot in the final yards to win.

"It was like a fairy tale," said Botty. "I've been doing this for almost 30 years and I've never had a horse taken back to the paddock. I've won hundreds of races from Florida to Canada, but this was the biggest thrill of my career."

Thanks to simulcasting, Botty's adventure had a national audience.

"I've been getting calls from all over the country," he said, "and some of the people on the backstretch have come over to congratulate me. It's quite touching."

Albarado has five-win day

Joseph Talamo still had a 20-victory lead over Robby Albarado entering the weekend action at Fair Grounds, but Albarado won five races Thursday to keep things interesting. Albarado won the first race aboard the Louisiana-bred Brother Bean, who set a 5 1/2-furlong track record of 1:03.09, shaving 0.11 off the previous mark set by Toby's Success.

"It's always special to set a track record," said Albarado. "I was on [Toby's Success], and that was also a Louisiana-bred."

Albarado won three races on the card for Asmussen - the third with Hallway, the fifth with Tux n' Tales, and the seventh with Mad Adam. Albarado also won the sixth race aboard Tenkiller Lake.