01/12/2006 1:00AM

Saint Augustus tepid choice

Jim Lisa
Saint Augustus, shipping in for trainer Todd Pletcher, will likely be a slight favorite in the Grade 3 Risen Star on the meet's showcase afternoon.

BOSSIER CITY, La. - About an hour before the behemoths Stevie Wonderboy and Brother Derek stage an early-season shootout at Santa Anita, seven far more anonymous 3-year-olds will try to tiptoe into the Kentucky Derby picture in the Risen Star Stakes.

The Grade 3, $250,000 was moved up on the calendar this year because of the shortened Fair Grounds meet, staged this season here at Louisiana Downs. And Fair Grounds has made its only open 3-year-old stakes the centerpiece of the stakes schedule, coupling the Risen Star with the Grade 3 Silverbulletday, the Grade 3 Bayou Breeders' Cup, and the Duncan Kenner Handicap. Total purses for the four stakes - races 6-9 - are $1 million, and the Kenner starts an all-stakes pick four with a $100,000 guarantee.

Handicappers will find no obvious single in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star, though Saint Augustus might be a narrow favorite, since he won the $100,000 What a Pleasure in his most recent start and ships in for the mighty Todd Pletcher stable. But there are others. Trainer Steve Asmussen trots out the recent maiden winner Midway Man, who started his career in route races and has no obvious distance limitations.

"This horse has a good future," he said. "This won't be his best race, but I expect a good performance out of him. The farther the better."

Trainer Jeff Trosclair isn't sure how far Hyte Regency will run, and guesses something around a mile might prove ideal. But Hyte Regency comes out of a better race than any of his six Risen Star opponents - third behind Private Vow in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in his final start at 2. And though Hyte Regency has been away seven weeks, Trosclair believes he's fit enough to contend.

"We've gotten some good two-mile gallops into him, and he's worked well," Trosclair said.

It took Lawyer Ron six tries to win a maiden race, but he comes into the Risen Star after a pair of blowout two-turn victories, and has found a home racing on dirt after seven of his first eight starts on grass or Turfway Park's synthetic Polytrack. Lawyer Ron comes back two weeks after a stakes win at Evangeline Downs, but, trainer Bob Holthus said, "I wouldn't run him if he wasn't doing good."

Lawyer Ron once raced for a $50,000 claiming tag, and Mark of Success started out even lower, winning his career debut in a $30,000 maiden claimer. But Mark of Success made his second start in allowance company, winning a two-turn race here Dec. 17 by almost five lengths. Recent maiden winners Red Bordeaux and Malameeze complete the field.