12/09/2004 12:00AM

Spritely Walker may need race


NEW ORLEANS - Spritely Walker, winner of last year's Champions Day Classic, will try to defend his title against a tough-as-nails cast of seven challengers in Saturday's renewal of the $150,000 event, the centerpiece of Louisiana Champions Day.

The 1 1/8-mile is one of seven Thoroughbred races on Champions Day which have collectively attracted 68 horses, the cream of the crop of the Louisiana breeding industry.

Any one of the horses in the Classic could win. At his best, Spritely Walker, a 4-year-old by Skywalker, would have no problem winning, but he has not raced for 8 1/2 months and trainer Steve Asmussen is unhappy about having to train him up to the race.

"I wish he had run a prep race for this," he said. "He won't be at his best without a prep race."

Last year Spritely Walker came into the Classic off a string of stakes starts, culminating in his first meeting with older horses in the Gold Cup at Delta Downs, a neck loss to Zarb's Luck. In the Classic, Spritely Walker splashed through the slop to overtake a game Prince Slew, who held on for second for the second year in a row.

But Spritely Walker has not run since March 27. He has worked aggressively over the Fair Grounds surface, culminating in a sharp 49.40-second half-mile breeze in the slop last Sunday. He drew post 2 and will carry 123 pounds under Donnie Meche.

Prince Slew, who drew post 7, will be ridden by Corey Lanerie. Prince Slew will carry 113 pounds -a 17-pound weight shift in his favor compared with last year's Classic, when Prince Slew carried 123 and conceded seven pounds to Spritely Walker. Still, Prince Slew has finished behind Spritely Walker three times since last year's Classic.

The Gold Cup could be the key Classic prep again this year.

Witt Ante, Meteor Impact, and Walk in the Snow hit the wire together and were separated by a neck and a head in the Nov. 13 Gold Cup. They all appear primed for a top effort. Nitro Chip, who set the pace in the Gold Cup and tired to fourth, is likely to argue the pace along with White Star, who finished second on the grass to the excellent turf horse Mr. Sulu in his prep race for the Classic. Screen Idol has to be considered after a game score on the turf in his last start, the $75,000 Shiskabob at Louisiana Downs. He is cross-entered in the Turf.