11/15/2007 1:00AM

Return to dirt is Costa Rising's bag

EmailThe last time Costa Rising raced on dirt, he put up a Beyer Speed Figure of 118. On Saturday night, he will return to dirt for the first time in 10 weeks, when he defends his title in the $100,000 Gold Cup at Delta Downs.

The 1 1/16-mile race is the richest of four Louisiana-bred stakes on the card. Worth a cumulative $295,000, the races will produce starters for the Louisiana Champions Day program at Fair Grounds on Dec. 8.

Costa Rising's big Beyer came in his 17 1/4-length allowance win in a one-mile race at Evangeline Downs on Sept. 3, and the number ranks as the third-highest Beyer of 2007 in races up to a mile. He has started once since, on the turf Sept. 22, runing sixth in the $200,000 Unbridled at Louisiana Downs after setting the pace in the 1 1/16-mile race, which went in stakes-record time. Go Between, the winner, returned in his next start to win the Grade 3 Fayette at Keeneland.

As for Costa Rising, he has been working sharply at his Evangeline Downs training center base. Glenn Delahoussaye, who trains the horse for Charles Castille Jr., is looking forward to the return to dirt Saturday.

"I think it's huge," Delahoussaye said. "I think he can get over the grass, but to me he looks a lot more fluid and comfortable on dirt. "

The numbers back it up. In addition to the 118 Beyer, Costa Rising earned a 115 for his 12o1/4-length win in the $200,000 Evangeline Mile. On dirt at Delta, Costa Rising is 2 for 2, both wins coming in stakes.

The Gold Cup is the first leg of a three-race winter campaign Delahoussaye has laid out for Costa Rising. In order to have Costa Rising at his best, Delahoussay freshened him after the Unbridled.

Following this race, the goal is for Costa Rising to defend his title in both the $150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic at Fair Grounds on Dec. 8, and the $200,000 Louisiana Premier Night Championship at Delta on Feb.o2. The plan begins Saturday, when Costa Rising breaks from post 6 under Kerwin Clark.

"The beautiful thing about being in the 6-hole in a six-horse field is he can see what everybody's doing," said Delahoussaye.

Costa Rising has natural speed and can either take charge of the Gold Cup at the start or track a rival like Southern Invasion. A winner of 5 of 6 starts, Southern Invasion began his career with a maiden special weight win at Santa Anita.

* The $75,000 Magnolia for fillies and mares is the first stakes of the night and it drew a standout in Madison's Music. She will be shooting for her sixth straight win when she starts in the one-mile race. Four of her wins during her streak are in stakes. Madison's Music last raced on Sept. 1, defeating open company in the $96,000 Matron at Evangeline. Trainer Keith Bourgeois has given the mount to Kirk LeBlanc.

* Gerard Melancon has top contenders in each of the stakes for 2-year-olds. He will ride Shan Jade, a 12 3/4-length debut winner, in the $60,000 Creme De La Creme for fillies, and Must Acquit, a maiden winner at Churchill, in the $60,000 Calcasieu.