12/12/2008 1:00AM

Top three from '07 Turf returning


A few of the races on Louisiana Champions Day came up with disappointingly short fields, but the afternoon's only scheduled turf race was not one of them.

The $100,000 Turf drew 11 entries, including the top three finishers from the race's 2007 edition: Willist, Wild Rally, and Desert Wheat. That trio all look like contenders again this season, with perhaps two more horses - the half-millionaire mare Tortuga Flats, and 3-year-old Lee's Spirit - added to the mix.

Desert Wheat probably will go favored, and deservedly so. A 5-year-old who resides in the Bill Mott stable, 5-year-old Desert Wheat will go over $500,000 in career earnings with a decent placing Saturday, and he impressively won the Champions Day Turf in 2006 before finishing third last year. Desert Wheat already has raced and won this meet, scoring a 1 3/4-length victory in the Nov. 15 Mr. Sulu, even though that race was moved from turf to dirt because of rain. Desert Wheat has come back with two published works between starts, and seems likely to run his race.

As for Willist, there is something about he and the Fair Grounds turf course. At other venues, the 5-year-old gelding has won just 1 of 9 grass races, but at Fair Grounds, he has won 4 of 6 turf starts. Willist did not adapt to dirt as well as Desert Wheat in the Mr. Sulu, but came back with a six-furlong work on Dec. 5.

Wild Rally was scratched from the Mr. Sulu, and got in his Champions Day prep race only on Dec. 5, finishing seventh in an open turf allowance.

Tortuga Flats is a tigress on firm, fast-playing grass, but has never raced on the Fair Grounds turf. Neither has Lee's Spirit, who has won three straight races dating to September.

Sprint looking wide open

No doubt, the handicapping challenge of the day comes in the $100,000 Sprint, which drew 14 horses, and is packed with all levels of contenders.

The last of 11 races, the six-furlong Sprint could have Star Guitar as a favorite despite that colt's light resume. An impressive debut winner in November 2007, Star Guitar won the Champions Day Juvenile going away last year, but was subsequently sidelined by injury, and didn't start again until September. Third in his comeback, Star Guitar won an allowance race Nov. 23 at Fair Grounds looking like his 2-year-old self, and his stalking style could land him a good trip in behind what ought to be a frenzied early pace.

Curt Bourque had ridden Star Guitar in all four starts, but Robby Albarado takes over Saturday, with Bourque opting for Tensas Phone Call, a winner in 2 of 3 Fair Grounds starts.

Myoldmansam has not started since May, but has worked steadily for trainer Pat Mouton, and he turned in one of the faster six-furlong races of the entire 2007-2008 Fair Grounds meet last Dec. 21. Like Star Guitar, he has a stalking style that could be effective if even a portion of the early pace shows up.

Foreign Production sharp for Juvenile

The way Foreign Production disposed of six opponents in the Nov. 22 Old Hickory Stakes at Fair Grounds, he should have little trouble taking care of business in the $100,000 Juvenile.

Racing without blinkers, Foreign Production finished fifth on Sept. 5 in his career debut, but no horse has gotten close to him in three races since then. In the Old Hickory, an open race, Foreign Production pressed the early pace, took over at the top of the stretch, and held firm to the finish.

Trainer James Hodges said Foreign Production has "done fine" between races and should hold his form.

"He usually breaks good and gets up there on the lead," Hodges said. He can stay out of trouble."

Lassie a puzzler of a race

While the Juvenile should have a short-priced favorite, the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies looks very contentious: Good luck even guessing the favorite in this 14-horse field.

Seven Seventythree has won 2 of 4 starts for earnings of more than $74,000, but has never started in a statebred-restricted race until now. Trained by Merrill Scherer, she won twice at Presque Isle Downs and has finished second and third in a pair of open $100,000 stakes races.

Warrior Maid, trained by Larry Jones, beat open maidens at Delaware Park in her only start. Trysting was a debut winner earlier in the meet for trainer Tom Amoss. Lightlightlight developed early and won 2 of her first 3 for trainer Steve Asmussen, but makes her first start since July.

Coach Mike heads Ladies Sprint

Coach Mike has had a strong season at other Louisiana tracks, and if her sprint form carries to New Orleans, she's the horse to beat in the $100,000 Ladies Sprint.

Tortuga Flats, also entered in the Turf, would be an interesting participant if her connections elect to try her in a six-furlong dirt sprint.