12/17/2008 12:00AM

Wise River returns to his best surface

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NEW ORLEANS - For a horse that prefers a mile on the turf, Wise River did well to come home second in the off-the-turf Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap at 1 1/16 miles.

He gets the same distance in Friday's seventh race, a fourth-level allowance, but with fair skies predicted, he should enjoy a return to the turf and the tighter configuration of the grass course.

"The stretch is a little shorter on the turf, and he's ready to run," said his trainer, Clark Hanna. "He's a better miler, but this is the race they had for him."

Wise River has had a successful 5-year-old campaign, winning the Grade 3 Carey Memorial Handicap at Hawthorne on Sept. 27, and finishing second in the Grade 3 Miami Mile Handicap at Calder in October.

His connections have one more challenge in mind for 2008.

"Two hundred thousand was the goal we set for the year," said Hanna. "And this race is the last chance we've got to get that goal."

Wise River has earned nearly $177,000 this year, and the winner's share of the $48,000 purse would put him over the $200,000 mark.

His second-place finish in the Diliberto was a strong showing. He took the lead early, led into the stretch, but was unable to last over the sloppy main track. He was overtaken by Classic Campaign, and lost by 1 1/4 lengths.

Wise River finished 12 3/4 lengths in front of third-place finisher Gun Salute, who returns in this race.

Gun Salute was coming off a layoff in the Diliberto. The race was his first time on the dirt, and was an experiment.

"He had never run on the dirt, but he needed a race," said trainer Cody Autrey. "He should run a good race this time if it stays on the turf."

Also entered is one of last year's Fair Grounds standouts, French Beret. After finishing second in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Handicap on the turf in March, he has seemed content to race well, but has not lived up to the promise that race suggested, with only three third-place finishes to show from eight starts.

French Beret returns two weeks after finishing fourth in a mile allowance on the turf, and the extra sixteenth should suit him.