11/14/2002 12:00AM

Statebreds get their shot at jackpots


With a $500,000 2-year-old stakes next month and slot machine revenue flooding into overnight purses, Delta Downs no longer is a sleepy western Louisiana outpost trotting out low-level claimers who can't win anywhere else.

And there's plenty of this newfound quality Saturday on Delta's inaugural Louisiana Premier Day, a 10-race program for Louisiana-bred horses that includes five stakes. Three races are worth $50,000, while the Distaff has a $75,000 purse and the Championship for older route horses carries a $100,000 pot. But even statebred allowances on the card go for upward of $30,000.

Delta remains a six-furlong racetrack with tight turns that are tough for some horses to handle. The pair of 2-year-old stakes and the Sprint, which kick off the stakes sequence, all are five-furlong, one-turn races beginning from a chute at the head of the backstretch. The Championship, at 1 1/16 miles, is configured like a 1 1/4-mile race at a more typical track, with the gate placed at the top of a chute leading into the homestretch.

Don't expect any of it to bother Oak Hall, probably the best Louisiana-bred going right now and a horse who doesn't worry about the shape of turns or the ground beneath his feet.

"The jockey said he wasn't getting a good hold of the track last time," said trainer Keith Bourgeois. Yet Oak Hall still beat White Star by four lengths in the $67,000 Shiskabob in the mud at Louisiana Downs, and White Star has been a terror over a wet track there. "About everywhere he runs he runs good," Bourgeois said. "He never has been over a track where he hasn't run at all."

Owned by Ena Ortego, the 6-year-old Oak Hall has put together two straight strong seasons, winning eight of his last 15 starts and more than $356,000. Bourgeois took over Oak Hall's training in September, when trainer Doyle Waldrop went back home to Oklahoma. Oak Hall already has shown Bourgeois his heart and class.

"He's an old pro," Bourgeois said. "He knows what he's supposed to do out there. I wouldn't think those tight turns would be any problem for him."

Bourgeois feels his competition will come from the 3-year-old Walk in the Snow, and it's hard to disagree. Second at 30-1 to Essence of Dubai in the Grade 2 Super Derby, Walk in the Snow won his last start, the Oct. 19 Louisiana Breeders' Derby, by more than seven lengths.

"He just galloped those horses around the track," said trainer Herman Taylor, whose wife, Ginger, owns Walk in the Snow.

The Taylors paid $5,000 for Walk in the Snow and two other horses, and their colt quickly developed into a top statebred sprinter at age 2. His career took off again when Taylor started running him long late this summer. "He converted," Taylor said. "I always thought he'd be a better route horse, so it didn't surprise me."

Taylor also has Nelson's Magic for the Championship, but a win by him or any of the other four horses would qualify as an upset.

The $75,000 Distaff, however, is ripe for an upset, since Prized Amberpro, the probable heavy favorite, is a one-run sprinter being asked to stretch her talent around two turns. Prized Amberpro has held excellent form almost all year and was fourth in a Grade 2 stakes this summer, but she remains vulnerable at this extended trip and can be beaten by a truer route horse, such as Mrs. Mac or Sunny Scarlett.

In the $50,000 Sprint, Hail to Bag takes on older horses for the first time as he returns from a four-month layoff for trainer and co-owner Doris Hebert. Hebert, a central Louisiana-based trainer, has shifted his operation to run a Delta string this year, and he has horses for four races on Premier Day. Hail to Bag is the best of them, but has lost three in a row after winning six of his first seven career starts.

Hail to Bag possesses great early speed and athleticism despite a long, tall frame not usually associated with sprinters. His conformation has led to physical problems, but few are better at pointing a fast horse for a particular race than Hebert, and a strong mud workout Oct. 26 at Delta suggests Hail to Bag is coming into the Sprint back on his game.

Hebert, perhaps Louisiana's leading 2-year-old trainer, has a pair of 2-year-old fillies for the Starlet. Ruthy Red remains a maiden after three races, but Hebert clearly holds her in high regard since on two occasions he ran her against winning colts. The Hebert-trained Believe It Is So also ranks as a contender, along with Kool K.J. and Itsmybag.

One Tough Raiser, unbeaten in three starts and winner of the Shine Young Futurity, heads the Juvenile, where he will be challenged by Mighty Merlin and Sanctuary's Omooni.