02/05/2004 12:00AM

Spritely Walker no horse for course


This is a good time to have a Louisiana-bred racehorse - Saturday night in particular. That is when Delta Downs, with slots-boosted purses still flowing freely, hosts Louisiana Premier Night, 10 races for statebreds worth a total of $1 million.

Featured on the card is the $200,000 Premier Night Championship, which drew seven of the best Louisiana-bred route horses in training. Spritely Walker is the favorite, but has lost both of his starts at Delta, and should get stiff competition from Mr. Archibald and Prince Slew.

There is plenty of other action, starting with three starter-allowance races worth $50,000 each. Jake Delhomme, the Carolina Panthers Super Bowl quarterback, has his recent claim Ruthy Red in the first of them.

In the $100,000 Sprint, such a proven stakes horse as Zarb's Luck is matched against Toby's Success, whose third career start produced a Fair Grounds track record two weeks ago. In the $150,000 Distaff, Destiny Calls will try to cement her position as the top filly in Louisiana. Prized Amberpro stands in her way.

Standing in the way of Spritely Walker might be Delta itself. Spritely Walker, purchased privately a year ago by Bill Heiligbrodt, enters the Championship in excellent form, with wins in his last two starts, including one versus open allowance horses. But Spritely Walker's two stops at Delta haven't produced performances that sharp.

"Obviously, I'd rather the race be at Fair Grounds than Delta," said trainer Steve Asmussen. "He's not as good there, and I don't think he's going to run as well as he has at Fair Grounds. More stretch helps him, but he'll do the best he can."

Spritely Walker isn't a huge horse, but he stands tall in statebred company. With 5 wins and 3 seconds in 12 starts, and good tactical speed, Spritely Walker has substance and quality. But he does not have a great margin for error.

The Louisiana Champions Day Classic was billed as a showdown between Mr. Archibald and Spritely Walker, but the Fair Grounds track was a sea of slop that day, and Mr. Archibald, the thinking goes, was not at his best on the off track. He failed to show his customary speed, and ran evenly in the stretch, finishing third behind Spritely Walker and Prince Slew. "I don't think he was comfortable on the mud at all," said trainer Bret Calhoun.

After mud came turf. To prep Mr. Archibald for Premier Night, Calhoun ran Mr. Archibald in a Fair Grounds grass allowance Jan. 10, and he finished second. The race should prove useful Saturday night, provided Mr. Archibald, a massive horse, can adapt to the sharp turns at Delta.

"I don't know how he'll handle the bull ring, but he has speed, and that should help," Calhoun said.

Prince Slew mastered the small oval configuration on Jan. 2, when he won the $50,000 Cypress by almost nine lengths. That performance followed close on the heels of Prince Slew's excellent second on Champions Day, and he enters the Championship in the best form of his career.