12/12/2002 1:00AM

Rags-to-riches Prized Amberpro tops Ladies


At first, Prized Amberpro appeared to be a cheap horse, not a stakes horse, and later she seemed like a one-run sprinter, not a horse with the stamina for route races. Now, after winning 14 races and more than $300,000, the question is not what Prized Amberpro can do, but what can't she do?

Saturday, she will be favored to win the $100,000 Ladies on Louisiana Champions Day. Prized Amberpro tried the same race last year but finished fifth in a field weaker than this one. The flat performance suggested she had distance limitations, but a month ago, facing similar horses at Delta Downs, Prized Amberpro easily won over a route of ground, taking the one-mile Louisiana Distaff by almost seven lengths.

"She's better now than she's ever been," said trainer John Gelner, whose son, Scott, works closely with Prized Amberpro. "That last race she won so easy. She's a really improved horse over last year."

To say nothing about two years ago. A 5-year-old mare with an obscure local pedigree, Prized Amberpro made her career debut in a $12,500 statebred maiden claiming race at Fair Grounds. She won her second race, but continued running in low-level races and was claimed for $10,000 out of her sixth start.

The claiming career has been left in the dust. Prized Amberpro beat some good horses this year, including Hattiesburg and Hallowed Dreams in the $100,000 Valid Expectations at Lone Star Park. She was part of Lone Star's national jockey challenge in her next race, and after riding Prized Amberpro to a win, Chris McCarron told Gelner, "Don't be afraid to run this horse anywhere."

Prized Amberpro - who is owned by Linda Patch and Joseph Thomas - has raced 15 times this year, but outwardly she shows no sign of fatigue. Tuesday, she worked a very fast half-mile over a sloppy track at Delta, and on Saturday she faces many of the same horses she just beat at Delta.

'Commotion' gets tested for class

Bullets and "1's" fill up the past performance lines of Constant Commotion. Nobody has outrun Constant Commotion - even for a furlong - in the only two races of his career, and on the last three days he has posted public workouts, nobody has breezed faster, either. Saturday's $100,000 Champions Day Juvenile will show just how good this flashy colt from Delta Downs really is.

Light on experience, Constant Commotion has little room for error. There is some chaff in the 14-horse Juvenile, but there also are some horses with talent. Lighter Knot stormed home an impressive maiden winner when he made his career debut opening day here. Meteor Impact won his first start by 12 lengths and was favored in the Oct. 19 Stardust at Louisiana Downs, but bled and finished fifth.

Sevenforbish remains a maiden, but is stakes-placed and has earned high marks from trainer Keith Bourgeois, who also saddles stakes winner Mighty Merlin. "Both of them are training good going into this race," Bourgeois said.

There are more. Mr. King Rex and Witt Ante finished a neck apart in the Nov. 10 Pelican State Stakes, and both are back for the Juvenile.

Yet they all may be running for second. Doris Hebert, who trains Constant Commotion for Brittlyn Stable, has won three of the last four Juveniles, and his fast young horses don't often make mistakes. Constant Commotion must break sharply from post 13, but he may simply be a bit quicker into stride than his opponents, and like the Hebert-trained, Brittlyn-owned Hail to Bag last year, Constant Commotion may not come back.

Two obvious standouts in Turf

Mr. Sulu, who won the race last year, and Coach Rags, second last year and the winner three seasons ago, are apparent standouts in the $100,000 Turf.

Ten horses were entered in the 1 1/16-mile Turf, but as few as six could start, since four horses are cross-entered in other races, two in the Starter and two in the Classic.

The Fair Grounds-loving Coach Rags has been rained out of two potential preps for the Turf, but trainer Gary Palmisano has fashioned an outstanding season and always has his stock primed for the Fair Grounds meet.

Coach Rags probably has a slight talent edge on Mr. Sulu, though Mr. Sulu got the money in last year's Turf. Mr. Sulu turned in a dull effort here opening weekend, but the idea, trainer Josie Carroll said, was to get a race into Mr. Sulu before Champions Day. He stands to improve Saturday, and the race may come down to which horse gets a more favorable trip.

Doctor Mike needs a swift pace

Doctor Mike, a reformed route horse, needs pace for his rally to be effective in six-furlong races. If he gets it Saturday, Dr. Mike can mow down the early speed and win the $100,000 Sprint.

Perhaps with an eye to the pace scenario, owner Murray Valene also entered the speedy Kwik Kash in the Sprint. If she runs, it is up to her and Fine Stormy to pressure Bet Me Best, who won the $40,000 Cajun over Doctor Mike in his last start, but flamed out after dueling for the lead in this race last year.

Somewhere in between Bet Me Best and Doctor Mike, the Sprint's third primary contender will be found. Zarb's Luck, who won the Louisiana Sprint at Delta in his last start, historically has been at his best racing at Fair Grounds.

* The $100,000 Lassie, which drew a field of 10 2-year-old fillies, looks like a tossup. Queen Kelly won the statebred Southern Belle last month at Louisiana Downs, a race that could make her a narrow favorite on Saturday.

* Crescent Chief took on top Louisiana-breds when he finished fifth last month in the Louisiana Championship at Delta Downs, and if he holds his current form Crescent Chief should win in a well-matched field in the $50,000 Starter.