07/30/2008 11:00PM

Tortuga Flats nearly flawless


Tortuga Flats is a neck from being 10 for 10 on turf, with her lone loss on the grass coming a year ago in the Walmac Farm Matchmaker at Louisiana Downs. Saturday, she has a chance to make amends for the only blemish on her grass record when she returns for this year's $100,000 Matchmaker, a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes for fillies and mares bred in Louisiana.

It goes as the sixth race on the annual Louisiana Downs Champions Day program, when eight divisional statebred stakes are run for total purses of $750,000.

Tortuga Flats is arguably the top Louisiana-bred going right now with Costa Rising on the comeback trail. Unbeaten in three starts this season, she would surpass the $500,000 mark in earnings with a win on Saturday. Tortuga Flats is returning to the statebred ranks after running in an allowance at Lone Star Park on June 22. She stalked the pace early in the 7 1/2-furlong turf race and fought late to win a three-way photo.

"I can't say enough for her grit and her determination and her heart," said Ralph Irwin, who trains Tortuga Flats for John Balensiefen. "She just gave it her all, plus some. It was really a thrilling race. She just gave everything. She laid it all out on the track for us."

Tortuga Flats began racing on turf on a regular basis last May, and she entered the 2007 Matchmaker off consecutive wins. She set the pace early in that race, lost her advantage, then came back to finish second by a neck to favorite Raspberry Wine. She will meet Raspberry Wine again Saturday, and is on top of her game for the rematch. Tortuga Flats put up her career-best Beyer Figure, a 91, in April, and is at her physical peak now at the age of 5.

"She's just really developed and filled out, and just matured mentally," said Irwin. "It's been real fun watching her."

Kirk LeBlanc has the mount on Tortuga Flats. A few races after she runs, her half-brother, the multiple stakes winner Tortuga Straits, will start as a top choice in the $100,000 Cajun. His chief rivals in the six-furlong race include Zarb's Dahar, a three-time winner of the Cajun; Howdy Ho, a winner of three of his last four starts; and multiple stakes winners Killing Me and Fass Feat.

"Whoever walks out of there a winner will well deserve it," said Irwin, who trains Tortuga Straits.

* Superior Storm will be looking for her fourth straight win when she starts in the $100,000 Louisiana Breeders' Oaks, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies. Unbeaten in five starts against statebred stakes competition, her latest win came last month at Evangeline in the $75,000 Frank Abadie Memorial. For the Oaks, she will break from post 2 under regular rider John Jacinto.

"She likes to be in the hunt," said Rick Jackson, who trains Superior Storm. "She likes to be close to the pace."

A chief threat is Go Atm, the winner of the $75,000 Crescent City Oaks at Fair Grounds.

The other 3-year-old stakes on the program, the $100,000 Louisiana Breeders' Derby, drew a dominant player in Ide Like a Double. The winner of statebred stakes in his last two starts, he earned a career-best Beyer Figure of 94 for his win last month in the $75,000 B.B. Rayburn Memorial at Evangeline.

* Desert Wheat is back to defend his title in the $100,000 Shiskabob at 1 1/16 miles on turf in a field that includes newcomer Castle Berry Road. Castle Berry Road won the $75,000 Pola Benoit on dirt at Evangeline on July 4. He won on the grass at Louisiana Downs on June 6.

"He runs either way," said Andrew Leggio, who trains Castle Berry Road.

Carlos Gonzalez has the mount on Castle Berry Road.

* The card opens with the $75,000 Stardust for 2-year-olds at six furlongs, and the Heiligbrodt Racing Stable-owned entry of Cajun Thunder and Gaston could go favored. Cajun Thunder owns the field's best career Beyer Figure, a 60, while Gaston rallied from 16 lengths back last out to finish third, beaten two lengths, in a division of the $128,000 D.S. "Shine" Young Memorial Futurity at Evangeline.

* In the $75,000 Laurel Lane for 2-year-old fillies, Run Don't Stroll returns to the statebred ranks after finishing second as the favorite in the $50,000 Princess at Louisiana Downs. Her rivals include Shutupanddance, the winner of a division of the $133,000 D.S. "Shine" Young Futurity.

* Coach Mike, a winner of stakes in her last two starts, brings a career-best Beyer of 98 into the $100,000 Victoria, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares.