02/15/2003 12:00AM

San Diego Sue looks best fresh

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NEW ORLEANS - So far, San Diego Sue's career has been like produce: good when fresh, but prone to wilting over time.

San Diego Sue won her career debut about 16 months ago at Arlington Park. Then she lost three races, went on the shelf for nine months, and fired fresh off the bench here Jan. 18, winning a first-level turf allowance race by almost three lengths with a sustained rally from the half-mile pole to the finish.

Monday, San Diego Sue will try to bring some continuity to her on-again, off-again career when she faces a full field in a second-level turf allowance with a $40,000 claiming option. At 7 1/2 furlongs, the race is on the short side for San Diego Sue, but trainer Al Stall is hoping wet weather this weekend will turn the course something less than firm.

"If it's wet, then maybe it's more like a mile or something like that," Stall said.

San Diego Sue's career hasn't fallen victim to major injuries, but she has been troubled over and over by other problems. "There haven't been any surgeries, just minor little things," said Stall, who trains San Diego Sue for owner B. Wayne Hughes. "She hurt an eye - she almost lost it - and that cost her six months. She's been one of those hard-luck horses."

There was nothing wrong with San Diego Sue in her comeback race last month. She stumbled at the start and raced far behind a dawdling pace, but commenced her rally on the far turn and didn't let up until she had forged to the front at about the sixteenth pole. The victory margin was 2 3/4 lengths at the finish, and San Diego Sue was going away.

"There's nothing wrong with her," Stall said. "She's big, she's strong. I don't know if she's a stakes horse, but her best days are in front of her. I think she's sitting on another big race."

Academic Angel will be a serious player in the race if she comes back from a layoff Monday as well as San Diego Sue did in her last start. Academic Angel on an allowance race on this turf course with an eye-catching performance last January, but has lost five starts since. Four of the races came in stakes, and Academic Angel has a good work pattern for her return.

Read Me My Rights may set the pace and will be difficult to catch if allowed to control slow fractions at this abbreviated route trip.

Entries sluggish over weekend

Entries taken on Saturday for Monday's card picked up significantly after the racing office here struggled with entries for Saturday and Sunday. Saturday's card, drawn on Thursday, was drawn several hours later than usual, and only 70 horses were entered in 10 races.

Things were better on Sunday, when 86 horses were entered, but once again, the card was drawn later than normal.

Delta Downs announced a major purse hike about 10 days ago, and Mervin Muniz, director of racing at Fair Grounds, said Delta had caused a major drag on entries.

"I think Delta's been a major factor," Muniz said. "I hope things pick up again. You just keep on trucking.

"Naturally, you're always concerned, but I think we'll be okay," Muniz said. "If you look at it, this time of year is always tough. Horses are starting to get worn out.