03/16/2006 1:00AM

Top qualifiers back in futurity

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Exonerated Cash and Lights Out Lidge provide a rematch of their trial for the Grade 2, $147,572 Mardi Gras Futurity when they meet in the finals Saturday at Evangeline Downs.

Exonerated Cash defeated Lights Out Lidge by a nose in their trial for the 300-yard futurity, and they recorded the top two qualifying times. Exonerated Cash finished in 15.936 seconds, the fastest of nine trials on March 4. Lights Out Lidge finished in 15.941 seconds while coming in second as the 4-5 favorite. Both were making their career debuts in the trial.

In Saturday's Grade 3, $57,283 Mardi Gras Derby, trainer Joseph Manucy sends out three horses, headed by Grade 2 Louisiana Day Juvenile winner Chicks Can Streak, who has won two straight races. Manucy will also saddle Gold Streakin War, who has won 3 of 10 starts, and Get Cash Now, who has finished in the top two in 6 of 11 starts and recorded the third-fastest qualifying time.

Partners Cafe set the fastest qualifying time of 20.433 seconds for 400 yards when he defeated Get Cash Now by a head in their trial. The win was Partners Cafe's first since he won his first two career starts a year ago.

Distance Challenge at Sunland

The Grade 3, $58,680 Red Cell New Mexico Distance Challenge at 870 yards provides trip handicappers with a classic matchup of two front-runners and a closer on Sunday at Sunland Park.

Takin on the Coup and BCR Lets Get Busy, the two front-runners, are each in top form. Takin on the Coup has won three straight races, including the Grade 3 West Texas Marathon by six lengths. BCR Lets Get Busy won back-to-back allowance races before finishing second to Sherrys Aria in their New Mexico Distance Challenge trial.

The late-running Sherrys Aria set the fastest qualifying time of 45.267 seconds for 870 yards when he went four wide on the turn to run down BCR Lets Get Busy.

Country Chicks Man seeks repeat

Country Chicks Man, winner of three of four 2005 starts at Remington Park, returns from a nearly four-month layoff to defend his title in the Grade 3, $50,000 Eastex Handicap on Sunday night.

Last year, Country Chicks Man came off a winter's rest to score a half-length win in the Eastex. He then defeated Oklahoma-breds in the Sooner State Stakes and won his MBNA America Oklahoma Challenge Championship trial. He finished fourth in the Oklahoma Challenge Championship at 7-2 odds. Country Chicks Man concluded his 2005 season with a close third behind Fredericksburg and Vals Fortune in the Grade 1 Refrigerator Handicap at Lone Star Park.

Cronus comes off two allowance wins at Sunland Park. He showed he likes the Remington Park track when he finished second, beaten a half-length by Bombay Martini, in the 2005 Grade 1 Heritage Place Derby.

Special Effort dies at 27

Special Effort, the only horse to win Quarter Horse racing's triple crown, was euthanized on March 11 at the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas. He was 27.

A winner of 13 of 14 starts, Special Effort won the Kansas, Rainbow, and All American futurities in 1981 to take the triple crown. He was the 1981 world champion and 1982 champion 3-year-old colt.

At stud, Special Effort sired 73 stakes winners, and his progeny have earned more than $18 million.