12/15/2004 12:00AM

Two phenoms show they've arrived


NEW ORLEANS - Louisiana Champions Day lived up to the expectations of an exciting day of racing last Saturday and created a pair of new stars in Happy Ticket and Crimson Stag. The principal players are slated to race again eight weeks later, on the next big card for Louisiana-breds, Premier Night at Delta Downs on Feb. 5.

Happy Ticket, who ran her undefeated streak to seven in besting Destiny Calls in the Ladies race, has never been seriously challenged and should have statebred fields at her mercy for the foreseeable future. Louisiana's generous purse structure, fueled recently by massive infusions of slot machine revenue, rewards good horses for staying in competition with other statebreds. Accordingly, trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. said he plans to keep Happy Ticket in restricted company, a strategy that may allow her to challenge Hallowed Dreams's record of 16 consecutive victories mostly against Louisiana-breds.

Crimson Stag stamped himself as a dominant player in his division by leaving the rest of the Juvenile field in his wake while running the six furlongs in nearly the same time as older horses in the Sprint without being extended. He has already won in open company, winning his maiden at Saratoga, and could go on to become a player in open company again as a 3-year-old.

Mr. Sulu is off the scale against Louisiana-bred turf competition, but because Delta Downs has no turf course, there is no spot for him on the Feb. 5 card. The connections of one of his main rivals in the Turf, Screen Idol, chose to run in the Classic rather than face him, a decision that was reinforced by Mr. Sulu's demolition of the Turf field. A 6-year-old son of Rail, Mr. Sulu has finished in the money in the last four runnings of the Turf, including a victory in 2001. His next spot will be against open company, where he has won in the past.

Witt Ante makes the grade

The Champions Day Classic shaped up as anyone's race, but the advantage fell to Witt Ante when Nitro Chip, the expected pacesetter, broke awkwardly from the gate. Jockey Tracy Hebert, who rode Witt Ante, made an aggressive move, stealing away to a seven-length lead after Corey Lanerie took Prince Slew back off the pace. Hebert kept his mount going with a furious stretch drive to win the race.

Trainer Larry Robideaux Jr. will prepare Witt Ante for the $200,000 Championship on Premier Night with a series of works.

"We'll just try to keep him sound and happy for eight weeks," said Robideaux.

Witt Ante's game performance places him among the best older Louisiana-breds, but there is no guarantee that he will win the next time he faces this group. Spritely Walker, a Steve Asmussen-trained horse who is last year's Classic winner and the favorite this year, was short of conditioning going into the race. He finished third and will most likely improve off his first race since March.

"He's a good example of how much money a good Louisiana-bred can make," said Asmussen. "Mr. Heiligbrodt bought Spritely Walker off his second in the Championship Juvenile. We've been looking for a statebred similar to him ever since."

Vals Fortune no ordinary Quarter Horse

When Louisiana Champions Day began in 1991, one of the races on the card pitted a Quarter Horse against a Thoroughbred at 870 yards. After the Thoroughbred won the first four showdowns, the race was abandoned. But those Thoroughbreds never had to face a Quarter Horse as good as Vals Fortune, who posted his third track record Saturday in the Quarter Horse Derby, running the 400 yards in 19.660 seconds while being ridden out by jockey Gilbert Ortiz. It was his 16th victory in 18 starts.

Bridge-jumpers accounted for nearly $200,000 in the show pool on Vals Fortune, most of it wagered offtrack. Vals Fortune broke from the gate as straight as an arrow and ran the shortest path down the Fair Grounds stretch. No less a judge of horses than five-time Kentucky Derby winner Bill Hartack, one of the Fair Grounds stewards, said he was impressed by the race.

"Just like how you want a racehorse to run," said Hartack. "Like driving a car."