03/12/2008 12:00AM

Riley Tucker lands in softer spot


NEW ORLEANS - Friday's card at Fair Grounds features two good races for 3-year-olds, many of whom are trying to sort themselves out between the high hopes of their connections and the realities on the track.

The sixth race, a first-level allowance for colts, will be decided by which Riley Tucker shows up. Seven 3-year-olds will go a mile on the main track, but if we see the Riley Tucker who was a head short of winning the Arlington-Washington Futurity last September, then it will be lights out.

In his comeback race, the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 18, Riley Tucker never got close to the leaders, finishing sixth by 7 1/4 lengths.

But with two works since the Southwest, and a less talented field of rivals, he will probably find himself stalking the pace, and in a good position to close.

Manager Boire is the other good stalker in the field. He most recently finished second to My Pal Charlie in allowance company. My Pal Charlie returned to finish second to Pyro in last weekend's Louisiana Derby.

Jazz in the Park will be looking to close from far off the pace. He won his maiden last time out, coming from 11 lengths back going 1 1/16 miles.

"I wish the race was a sixteenth of a mile longer," said Jazz in the Park's trainer, Bobby Barnett. "But hopefully he can get up in time."

In the ninth, a field of eight fillies will go six furlongs in a $35,000 optional claimer also open to first-level allowance runners.

When the gates open, Optimistic Sreva will likely go to the front, though that would mean she still hasn't learned trainer Michael Campbell's lessons.

"She's had two workouts behind another horse, where she was forced to settle and get mud in her face," said Campbell. "She did well, but it was a simulation, not a horse race."

In her last start, here on Feb. 11, she wired a maiden special weight field, clearing by 3 1/2 lengths and holding on to win by a nose.

"There may be nothing we can do to change her style," said Campbell. "But we would prefer that she have more tactical speed."

The horse with the best chance to upset Optimistic Sreva may be the Steve Asmussen-trained Catera, who returns here after finishing fourth in the Island Fashion at Sunland Park.