06/05/2007 11:00PM

St. Zarb looking to pull a Costa Rising

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Last year was not particularly good for Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds, except, of course, for Costa Rising. The Royal Strand colt dominated the division, winning eight times and ringing up over $400,000 in earnings.

Fast forward to 2007, and the news might not be any better for the current crop of statebred 3-year-olds, thanks to St. Zarb's impressive performance in an open allowance last Friday. St. Zarb made short work of three rivals, winning by almost six lengths in a time of 1:22.24. The resulting 98 Beyer Speed Figure eclipsed his previous best of 94, which he received for wining the Free Spirit's Joy Stakes in mid-May. St. Zarb has now won 5 of his 6 starts this year, which puts him ahead of the pace Costa Rising set at this time last year.

Two rich prizes loom in the immediate future for St. Zarb: the $75,000 B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn Stakes on Louisiana Legends Night at Evangeline Downs on June 30 and the $100,000 Louisiana Breeders' Derby at Louisiana Downs on July 21. Costa Rising won both of those races last year.

"That is the plan," said St. Zarb's owner and trainer, Cyril Hicks. "We are going to stay in the 3-year-old ranks just as long as we can."

Last Friday's race was originally carded for the turf, but rain earlier in the week prompted it to be moved to the main track. Hicks believes that St. Zarb is comfortable on either surface.

"We think he will handle the grass," Hicks said. "We entered him because we needed a place to run him and also because of his breeding."

St. Zarb is by Zarbyev, a son of Nureyev and one of the more prominent turf producers in the ranks of Louisiana sires.

Asked if he might follow Costa Rising's path and try open company in the fall - Costa Rising finished fourth in the Super Derby - Hicks was noncommittal.

"It all depends," he said. "We are going to let him tell us what to do. I've found out over the years that horses know a whole lot more about what is good for them than we do."

Lonnie Meche nearing return

Lonnie Meche, the meet-leading rider last year, is due back from injury soon, according to his agent, Tony Martin. Meche sustained ankle and knee fractures in a spill at Evangeline in April.

"The cast is coming off and he is going to do some physical therapy," Martin said. "We hope to be back in about a month or so."

Martin teamed with the apprentice Joe Talamo to win the riding title at Fair Grounds this past year.

Autobesarah aims for turnaround

In Friday's first race, Louisiana-bred fillies and mares compete at about a mile on the turf. Autobesarah, second in the Red Camelia at Fair Grounds in March, comes off a fifth-place finish in the Seven Stars Stakes here last month.

The second-level optional claiming race marks the turf debut for both Ms. Katherine B and Zarb's Ballerina, second and third in the $100,000 Crescent City Oaks at Fair Grounds in March.