06/20/2005 12:00AM

Successful road trip for Happy Ticket

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Benoit & Associates
Happy Ticket scores her ninth consecutive victory Saturday in the Chicago BC at Arlington.

CHICAGO - Happy Ticket came out of the Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap on Saturday in significantly better shape than her trainer, Andy Leggio.

"Man, am I tired," Leggio said after returning to his summer base at Louisiana Downs on Monday morning. "It took eight hours to get back here."

Happy Ticket was scheduled to depart for Louisiana Downs sometime Monday. Leggio might have been worn out by shipping, but he said Happy Ticket had skipped merrily out of her first graded stakes win.

"She looks like she hadn't even run," said Leggio. "She ate up good that night, and she looked pretty good the following morning after the race. We're going to get her back here and let her rest a week to 10 days, then we'll put her back in light training and look for a spot."

Happy Ticket, who has begun her career with nine straight wins, made only her third start outside Louisiana-bred company here Saturday, and her first in a graded stakes. She also endured a significant ship for the first time. But even a stumbling start couldn't faze Happy Ticket, who made her move while racing wide on the turn and won the Chicago BC going away.

"I galloped her [Friday] and could tell right away she had so much class," said winning rider Eddie Razo. "You don't get that kind of feeling on horses too often."

Happy Ticket did have luck on her side. The heavily favored Grade 1 winner My Trusty Cat never fired, finishing fourth, a development that significantly smoothed Happy Ticket's path. Still, Happy Ticket ran seven furlongs in 1:22.54, earning a 99 Beyer Speed Figure. Now, Leggio and owner Stewart Madison must decide whether to rack up earnings running against overmatched Louisiana-breds or hit the road again, perhaps to try a Grade 1.

"We don't have anything picked out for her, and we haven't even discussed it," said Leggio. "We like to run her every 35 to 40 days. If there's a race on the road that fits her time schedule, we might consider it."

Forster awaiting Rugula's X-rays

It was hard for trainer Grant Forster to savor Rugula's victory Sunday in the $40,000 Double Delta Stakes, her first start on turf. Instead, Forster waited and wondered what a set of X-rays taken Monday morning would reveal when the results came in later the same day.

"She actually had some pressure in her knee this morning," Forster said. "She's not sore on it, but I'm waiting to look at the X-rays."

Forster certainly can't plot a summer campaign for Rugula until he finds out the condition of her knee, but he does know now that Rugula handles turf. Rugula, who was second in the Grade 2 Fantasy in April and seventh in the Kentucky Oaks in May, rated just off the pace Sunday, taking the lead in upper stretch before scoring by 1 3/4 lengths.

"She's pretty seasoned now, having run at four different tracks and in front of an Oaks crowd," Forster said.

Forster said his long-term goal is the Sept. 17 Pucker Up here, but there are races at Saratoga that he believes his horse might fit.

Lack of statebreds evident in festival

With only 57 horses nominated to the four main-track stakes races scheduled for Saturday's six-stakes Prairie State Festival, the question is: Where are all the Illinois-breds?

In fact, the lack of nominations is symptomatic of a stagnant statewide breeding industry. There are no longer strong financial incentives to stand stallions in Illinois, and with purses atrophying at the state's three Thoroughbred tracks and no help from ontrack slot machines on the horizon, many in Illinois have been getting out of the game, not into it.

Still, there will be some high-level talent in the Prairie State Festival, the best of it perhaps in the Black Tie Affair Handicap, formerly known as the Cardinal. The Black Tie Affair pits Fort Prado against Home of Stars, a 5-year-old gelding who easily won the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap on dirt the last time he raced in statebred-restricted company.

"He worked great on the grass the other day," said Frank Springer, who trains Home of Stars.

Springer must also decide what to do with Jaguar City, who races effectively in dirt sprints and turf routes. Springer said he might enter her in both the Lincoln Heritage, a two-turn turf race, and the Isaac Murphy, a six-furlong dirt race. The Lincoln Heritage will have a bigger field - including last year's winner, Lighthouse Lil - than the Isaac Murphy.

In the other stakes, the Purple Violet, for 3-year-old fillies, will have a standout in Pretty Jenny, but the 3-year-old colt race, the Springfield, should feature a wide-open field. The six-furlong White Oak is expected to attract a compact but solid field, headed by Take Achance on Me and Silver Bid.