02/19/2004 12:00AM

Spectacular Lisa ready to step up

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NEW ORLEANS - Ifyouprefersilver ran the race of her life to win last season's Chou Croute Handicap by nine lengths. Spectacular Lisa shouldn't have to work nearly so hard.

Spectacular Lisa - trained, like Ifyouprefersilver, by Mike Stidham - comes into Saturday's Chou Croute with established form wholly capable of winning this race. She took a high-level grass allowance at Fair Grounds on Dec. 18, and came back to run even better on Jan. 17, winning the $40,000 Houston Distaff by almost three lengths. The $100,000 Chou Croute, at 1 1/16 miles on dirt, is a step up in class, but Spectacular Lisa should be ready for it.

She has seven opponents in Saturday's race, and all of them will be in their stalls and ready to go when Spectacular Lisa takes her spot in the starting gate. Spectacular Lisa and her rider, Robby Albarado, will need some racing luck from post 8. "I'm not that happy with the eight hole," Stidham said.

But the strong tactical speed Spectacular Lisa brings to the table certainly helps.

There are others capable of showing a touch of speed. But as usual, handicapping starts from the finish: Who's good enough to win?

Salty Farma, Spirited Maiden, Took Out, and Golden Sonata all are veterans of races like the Chou Croute. Tropical Blossom, in from Southern California for trainer Julio Canani, and the local horses Playa Maya and Princess Pelona are less well established in these parts.

Tropical Blossom fits decently on form. A late starter, the 6-year-old Tropical Blossom didn't make her first start until 15 months ago. She earned checks without threatening the top horses in Southern California Grade 1's and Grade 2's last year, but Tropical Blossom required a trip to Golden Gate Fields to record her third and most recent win in the Star Ball Handicap.

Playa Maya is interesting, too, with a catchy turf allowance win here in her last start. But both she and Princess Pelona lack seasoning, and will have to step up. Golden Sonata won the Truly Bound here in her last start, but while trainer Bunky Richards thinks she can repeat her performance, the Chou Croute is a tougher group. Salty Farma's long list of infirmities makes her less consistent than one would like.

So the road leads back to Spectacular Lisa, who was sent by owner Gary Logsdon to Stidham just three months ago. "I'm really happy to have gotten her," Stidham said. "I didn't really know that much about her when she came."

Stidham said speed figures pointed out Spectacular Lisa as a superior dirt horse. But with wins on fast and muddy tracks as well as turf, the filly clearly isn't finicky.

"I can say she's been very honest in both starts for us. She's run big races both times, and she seems to be training well," Stidham said.

Bourque resumes at Delta

Jockey Curt Bourque was scheduled to resume his riding career Friday night at Delta Downs. Bourque was named to ride two horses there, and though he's not scheduled to ride Saturday, Bourque was named to ride five horses on next Wednesday's program.

Bourque, who was based at Fair Grounds most of this meet, last rode on Feb. 2. Two days later, he called his agent, Paul Pembo, and asked not to be named on any more horses. At the time, Bourque said his weight had ballooned to more than 130 pounds, and that he was exhausted from reducing.

Reached Thursday afternoon, Bourque said his weight was down to 122, and that he would tack 119 pounds Friday night. Agent Jerry Bourque, no relation to Curt, will book his mounts at Delta.

Bourque said he planned to move to the Lafayette, La., area and focus on riding strictly in Louisiana. Bourque spent much of last season riding in Chicago.