12/07/2006 12:00AM

Shy a prep, Mr. Sulu seeks four-peat


NEW ORLEANS - Last year Mr. Sulu became only the second horse to win three Champions Day races when he won his third Champions Day Turf. Dixie Poker Ace won the first three runnings of that 1 1/16-mile race.

On Saturday Mr. Sulu goes for the four-peat. The task will be extra difficult because trainer Josie Carroll couldn't find a prep race for Mr. Sulu, an 8-year-old who will be making his first start since July.

"A prep race would have been ideal but we've been able to train him a lot harder on the Polytrack at Woodbine," said Carroll. "He's in top shape because we were able to do more with him on the Polytrack than we could with dirt works. We're just delighted that he made it back for another year, and anything we get at this point is a bonus, really."

Spruce's Prince, who finished second to Mr. Sulu in last year's Turf, and the Bill Mott-trained Desert Wheat, who's been competing in graded stakes against open company, appear to be the biggest obstacles to Mr. Sulu's quest.

Sprint: Zarb's Dahar eyes two in a row

Zarb's Dahar, winner of last year's Champions Day Sprint, will try to rebound from a disappointing finish in the Thanksgiving Day Handicap. Zarb's Dahar, 6, won last year's Thanksgiving Day Cap as a prep for the six-furlong Sprint. But this year he turned in his worst performance in two years, finishing ninth after reeling off 7 wins and 2 seconds in his previous nine races.

"It was a prep but I was sure hoping he would run better than that," said trainer James Hodges. "He was outside and there were some nice horses in there, but I can't make any excuses for him. He's a year older and sometimes they don't run as fast as they get older. Since that race he's acted like he wants to run on this track, though, so I'm expecting him to run well Saturday."

Cort's P.B., who wired the Thanksgiving Day field in the excellent time of 1:10.35 for the six furlongs, is likely to be on the lead again in the Sprint. Multiple stakes winners Nitro Chip and Here Tiger, veteran closer Meteor Impact, and the undefeated Brother Bean all have a chance in what should be a highly competitive race.

Ladies Sprint: Destiny Calls' finale

Destiny Calls could follow her retired former rival Happy Ticket to the breeding shed after this inaugural running of the Ladies Sprint. A 6-year-old daughter of With Approval, Destiny Calls has amassed $644,220 in earnings while winning six stakes on dirt and turf. She is scheduled to breed to Seeking the Gold in Kentucky next year.

"She's real sound and she's really well bred, so we're hoping to get some good babies out of her," said longtime trainer Gary Palmisano. "I just hope she goes out on a good note. She really likes this racetrack."

Destiny Calls was off form earlier this year at Louisiana Downs but has three bullet works since returning to Fair Grounds, where she has a 5-1-0 record in 6 starts over the dirt course, her only loss coming to Happy Ticket in the 2004 Ladies.

"We've got a couple of horses to beat, but the way she's training hopefully she can deal with them," said Palmisano. "If she runs a real powerful race I'd like to try her on the turf one more time. And that'll be it. If she don't run first or second Saturday, that's it."

Ladies: Top three in rematch

Grand Facile and Cutie Sabrina head the field in the $100,000 Champions Day Ladies at 1 1/16 miles. The 3-year-old fillies each have beaten the other this season.

Grand Facile, a multiple stakes winner this year, is in terrific form after back-to-back scores in the Magnolia at Delta Downs and the Delicada at Louisiana Downs. Cutie Sabrina handed Grand Facile her last loss, Aug. 9 in the $99,000 Louisiana Breeders' Oaks at Louisiana Downs. Leesa Lee, third in last year's Lassie, beat the top pair last February at Evangeline Downs and will be running late.

Punchy Louise ran the race of her life to finish third in the Magnolia and will try to progress off that race. Blueyed Lass, second in the $100,000 Matchmaker on grass at Louisiana Downs, won at first asking over the Fair Grounds main track and could be a live longshot.

Juvenile: Tortuga Straits invincible?

No trainer will have a busier Champions Day than Scott Blasi, who has 11 Louisiana-breds to run in seven of the day's eight Thoroughbred stakes. Blasi, Steve Asmussen's erstwhile right-hand man, may need something like a small army of help to get through the Champions Day Juvenile alone. Blasi trains 4 of the 10 horses entered in the six-furlong Juvenile, the entry of Paljo and Hallway as well as Margarita Man and Ranting Dave.

Blasi has to beat Tortuga Straits, whose lone defeat came in an open one-mile race to the speedy Go Poppa Fooze. But Go Poppa Fooze was disqualified for a medication positive, making Tortuga Straits 4 for 4.

Lassie: Huckie looks like the one

Huckie, impressive winner of the Creme De La Creme at Delta Downs in her third start, is the probable favorite in the six-furlong Lassie for 2-year-old fillies. My Friend Bele is still a maiden but has been ahead of Huckie in the stretch in both starts. Leta Mae and Anything But Quiet are recent course winners.

*Setemup Joe, 6, drew the rail and highweight assignment of 118 in a six-horse field in the $50,000 Louisiana Champions Day Starter Handicap.

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh