02/09/2007 1:00AM

Was recent flop at 2-5 odds a fluke?


NEW ORLEANS - When a horse loses at 2-5, people naturally look for explanations, although such conundrums are part of the eternal mystery of horse racing. Skyward Exchange finished a well-beaten third Jan. 15 as the odds-on choice after winning twice in her comeback from an injury. She's back Sunday in the feature race at Fair Grounds, an optional claimer for older fillies and mares at a mile and 40 yards.

Owner Thad Ackel, who once trained Breeders' Cup Turf champion Great Communicator, has been high on Skyward Exchange since she returned from surgery to remove a bone chip in November with a front-running score at Churchill Downs. In her next start she bested an entry-level allowance field here on Dec. 17. Bettors wondering what stopped Skyward Exchange at 2-5 last time out may be comforted to know that trainer Pat Herbert has a pair of reasons for the poor showing.

"Sometimes when a horse is trying a distance of ground she'll come up empty on you," said Herbert. "I think the two turns got to her. And the track was a little funny. I just don't think she liked that sticky race track. It rained just before we went over and the track got a little sticky and slippery and I think it just wore her out."

Herbert is confident that the 4-year-old Skyward Exchange can redeem herself Sunday.

"She's going into this race a lot better," Herbert said. "I think she'll run a lot better this time."

Skyward Exchange will have to turn the tables on Ringo's Cat, a headstrong 6-year-old who outgamed her for second last time out. That was Ringo's Cat's first race since November and she could be a little tighter now.

The ever-dangerous Steve Asmussen has an uncoupled entry in the race. Morlana had done all of her racing on the grass until Asmussen entered her in a main track route at Sam Houston on Jan. 26. The 5-year-old Morlana took to the dirt with relish, beating restricted claimers by more than 10 lengths.

Asmussen also entered Dyna Slam, a stakes winner who appears to be a good fit with these. The 4-year-old Dyna Slam won three straight in August and September last year, including the $77,000 Prairie Meadow Oaks, before being apparently overmatched in a pair of richer stakes races. She is working well for her first start since November.

The speedy Seven Anns, who settled for second in the Houston Oaks at Sam Houston last March for trainer Wes Hawley, cannot be discounted.