02/15/2007 12:00AM

Strong tornado narrowly misses track


NEW ORLEANS - Fair Grounds Race Course, which was shredded two years ago by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, narrowly escaped another disaster early Tuesday morning when a tornado passed right over the barn area without causing significant damage. At 2:55 a.m., a tornado smashed into Westwego, across the Mississippi River from Fair Grounds, then bounced over the river and landed in the Carrollton section of the city just west of the track, where it caused widespread damage and injured 25 people. The tornado continued on a track directly over the barn area, building to a storm with winds up to 135 mph before it touched down in Gentilly, a few blocks east of the track, where more houses were leveled and a woman was killed in another destructive swath.

"It came right across the barn area, but the only damage was a couple of old skylights popped out of the barns," said veteran Fair Grounds trainer Gary Palmisano, who works out of Barn 3 on the backstretch.

Other than suffering the same power outage that blanketed the city, Fair Grounds came out of this storm relatively unscathed.

Huckie gets a hood for turf stakes

They may be only 3-year-olds, but Huckie and Anything But Quiet already have a pretty good rivalry going. The fillies have met three times, and they'll square off again Saturday at Fair Grounds in the $75,000 Sarah Lane's Oates, a mile race on the turf.

Huckie holds the edge in the rivalry. The first time they met, in the $100,000 Louisiana Lassie at Fair Grounds on Champions Day back in December, Huckie won by more than five lengths with Anything But Quiet back in sixth. That was Huckie's third consecutive victory, but she hasn't won since. Anything But Quiet won the Louisiana Futurity on Dec. 29, with odds-on favorite Huckie third. Huckie finished third again in the $125,000 Louisiana Premier Star Stakes at Delta Downs, as Anything But Quiet came in sixth.

Trainer James Hodges is outfitting Huckie with blinkers for Saturday's assignment.

"She acted like she was a little bit green or didn't pay attention on the turn," Hodges said of Huckie's race at Delta. "Maybe the blinkers will help. Maybe we can win instead of running third this time. If we'd been winning, I wouldn't be making the equipment change."

Hodges is also trying Huckie on turf for the first time, but he thinks the daughter of Fast Play will be okay on grass.

"They run on grass when they're young," he said, "so grass shouldn't be any problem with her."

Anything But Quiet is also making her first start on turf.

Only two horses in the race have won on grass. Mi Isabella won her maiden on the turf at Louisiana Downs last August and finished second once and fourth twice in her subsequent three tries on the grass. Perfectforthepart won her only start back in September on the grass and gets the meet's leading rider, apprentice James Talamo, for her return.

Elegant Star has only one third-place finish to show for four turf tries. Baycation is 0 for 3 on turf, Zarb's Blazing Wish 0 for 1. None of the others in the race has raced on the grass, and Jazzy Gin is still a maiden.