02/16/2006 12:00AM

Will anyone catch up to Happy Ticket?


In the $100,000 Louisiana Premier Night Distaff, Happy Ticket breaks from the outside stall in a field of eight. The run into the first turn of one-mile races at Evangeline Downs is short, and Happy Ticket risks a wide trip. Neither has Happy Ticket started in a race since she underwent two throat surgeries in an effort to correct a breathing problem that ruined her chances last fall in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Now, if they would just tie a double-wide mobile home to her tail, maybe Happy Ticket really could be beaten.

But barring another breathing problem, she can't, and Happy Ticket should be the star of Premier Night, a six-stakes festival of Louisiana-bred racing on one of Evangeline's biggest nights. The stakes begin with race 3 and run through race 8, the $150,000 Championship. The Distaff goes as the seventh, with post time scheduled for 9:37 p.m. Central. Happy Ticket was cross-entered in the six-furlong Matron earlier on the card, but Leggio said Wednesday he planned to go in the Distaff.

has seven rivals in that race, and while the Evangeline line-maker listed her at a generous 4-5, Happy Ticket never has been tested in a statebred race, counting among her 10 wins in 13 career starts a victory last summer in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga. One of the favorites in the Breeders' Cup, Happy Ticket never got untracked, her 11th-place finish resulting directly, her connections believe, from a soft-palate displacement.

"That's still a question mark," Leggio said. "If she gets stressed in this race, she may displace her soft palate again. If that happens, I won't hit the board. If none of that happens, I think the race is over with. She's really, really good right now."

Happy Ticket has been ready to start for several weeks now, but her 2006 debut was delayed when Leggio and owner Stewart Madison scratched rather than chance a sloppy track last month at Louisiana Downs.

have the best chance of picking up the pieces if Happy Ticket should fall apart. More likely is a comfortable victory that would lead nicely into the meat of Happy Ticket's season. Leggio and Madison plan to ship Happy Ticket around to high-profile stakes again this year, and Leggio said he has his eye on the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn later this spring.