12/11/2003 12:00AM

Ten stakes and big, bettable fields

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NEW ORLEANS - Horseplayers grown stale with short fields are in for a jolt Saturday at Fair Grounds, where 105 Louisiana-breds were entered Thursday in 10 stakes races, seven for Thoroughbreds, three for Quarter Horses.

Most races are filled with viable contenders, and compelling match-ups abound. Mr. Archibald and Spritely Walker, rising stars in the older horse division, face off in the $150,000 Classic, the day's crowning event, while the $100,000 Turf pits Mr. Sulu against the venerable Coach Rags, both previous winners of the race.

Rain is forecast here Friday night and Saturday, and substantial precipitation could move the Turf onto dirt. Post time Saturday is 12:30.

Contention runs deep in the Lassie, Juvenile, and Starter, but the most competitive race of all may be the $100,000 Sprint, which drew 13 horses. There are at least six confirmed front-runners in the race, and what will happen to last year's winner, Zarb's Luck, is anybody's guess. Zarb's Luck, to be ridden by Robby Albarado, comes off an excellent win in the $100,000 Gold Cup at Delta Downs, a one-mile race, which is farther than Zarb's Luck's ideal trip.

Zarb's Luck won anyway, beating Spritely Walker, but his journey in the Sprint could turn into a nightmare from post 1. Zarb's Luck can rate a touch in a pinch, but if Albarado takes back from the inside post, he might never find his way out again.

That would be a shame, since Zarb's Magic is thriving right now. "He's probably gained 100 pounds this season," said his trainer and co-owner Eddie Johnston. "He looks like a Quarter Horse."

There is Quarter Horse-type speed just to Zarb's Luck's outside. Donna's Mailbag, who has post 2, beat Zarb's Luck in October at Louisiana Downs, and is fast as any horse in the race.

"He trains like he's a real good horse," said Bobby Barnett, who has trained Donna's Mailbag for just one start.

Lac Lorange, who has post 4, also is as fast for a half-mile as any horse in the race, and trainer Troy Young said the horse didn't handle the track at Delta Downs when fourth against open stakes horses his last time out.

But Young also has the race's sleeper, Doctor Mike, a closer with a world of speed to chase. Doctor Mike's problem is consistency, not talent, according to Young. Sometimes, Doctor Mike doesn't run to his training, but the horse has turned around during the last month at Fair Grounds, Young said, and jockey Gerard Melancon chose to ride him over Lac Lorange after a strong half-mile work Nov. 30.