10/28/2003 1:00AM

Pie N Burger eases Norman's pain


Trainer Cole Norman's trip to Santa Anita last Saturday was a nightmare for him, but not for Pie N Burger, one of the best horses in his stable. It took all the strength he had to make it to the paddock to saddle Pie N Burger to win the $150,000 Seabiscuit Handicap.

Stricken by the flu not long after he arrived in California, Norman was bedridden for a couple of days. He missed all of the Breeders' Cup races except for the Classic, which was run two races before the Seabiscuit.

"I was so weak," said Norman, who still sounded sick on Tuesday. "I was lucky to make it to the races. I never left the room Thursday and Friday."

Pie N Burger left Santa Anita on Tuesday morning to return to his Louisiana Downs base, and might make his next start in the $60,000 Tenacious Handicap at Fair Grounds on Dec. 6. The long-term goal is the handicap series at Oaklawn Park that concludes with the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap.

"He's flying back [Tuesday], so we're going to look him over when he gets back, and see how he's doing and take it from there," said Norman.

Pie N Burger established himself as one of the top older horses in the region in May, when he won the Grade 3, $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap. In six starts for Norman, he has won five races, all on dirt, with his only loss coming on yielding turf in the $100,000 Louisiana Downs Handicap.

Norman said the flu was just part of his problems last week. He was eager to get home on Sunday, and arrived at the airport at 5:40 a.m. to catch his flight. There were problems with the plane, however, and that setback, coupled with the fires in the area, kept Norman's 7:30 a.m. flight grounded until 2:40 p.m.

To cap the trip, his luggage was lost. Luckily for Norman, the Breeders' Cup will be held at Lone Star next year. He said he will drive there. The track is a four-hour ride from his home near Louisiana Downs.

Locals point for Champions Day

Norman said he also plans to drive to Sam Houston next month to start several horses in the Texas Champions Day program on Nov. 15.

Chief among his starters will be Eagle Lake, who aside from Got Koko is arguably the best older Texas-bred filly or mare in training. She will start in either the $75,000 Martanza on dirt, or the $50,000 San Jacinto on turf, said Norman.

In her last start, Eagle Lake set a course record at Retama Park and successfully defended her title in the $35,000 Fiesta Mile. Earlier this year, Eagle Lake won the Grade 3, $200,000 WinStar Distaff. She races for Turf Express.

There Goes Rocket, another top Texas-bred based at Louisiana Downs, is being pointed for the $50,000 Groovy for 2-year-olds on Texas Champions Day, said Kathy Moore, racing manager for Frank Fletcher, who owns There Goes Rocket.

There Goes Rocket has never been beaten on the dirt. In his last start, he finished a troubled third in the $100,000 El Joven at Retama.

Asmussen runs uncoupled pair

Trainer Steve Asmussen has what could be called bookends in the ninth race Thursday. One of his horses, Cielo Girl, will break from the rail in the 6 1/2-furlong allowance for fillies and mares, while his other starter, City Sleeper, will break from the widest gate, post No. 8. The two horses will be uncoupled in the betting.

Both are stakes winners and in a competitive field, which also drew stakes winners Fuse It, Princess Jen, Miss Photogenic, and the consistent Sira. The race is likely to produce starters for the $40,000 Majorette on closing day, Nov. 9.

* Louisiana Downs had one of the biggest handles of its meet Saturday, when $4,389,257 was bet on the track's 12 live races. The meet's highest handle was recorded in September, when $6.7 million was bet on the Super Derby Day card.

* Louisiana Downs was to close entries for Friday last Sunday, but the fields were left open to attract more horses, and closed instead on Tuesday. Friday is opening night at Delta Downs in Vinton, La.