02/03/2005 12:00AM

Witt Ante in shape to steal the show

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Take a little chestnut gelding by a $1,500 stud and out of a modest mare, and make a half-million dollars with him. That is the story of Witt Ante, and a parable for the allure of Louisiana-bred racing, where racetrack slot machines have fueled an ascendant breeding industry, offering riches to horses foaled in the Pelican State.

pre-dates the current statebred boom by about a year, but he is the star of the show at Louisiana Premier Night on Saturday at Delta Downs, where 10 statebred races - four for starter-allowance horses, six at the stakes level - comprise an excellent card boasting $1 million in purse money.

Happy Ticket, the unbeaten filly, is missing from the $150,000 Ladies, but she is about the only Louisiana-bred of significance who won't be in tiny Vinton, La. on Saturday evening. A guaranteed $25,000 pick four ends with the $200,000 Championship, where Witt Ante pursues his third straight stakes score and a stronger lock on the older statebred route division.

And to listen to trainer Larry Robideaux talk, only bad racing luck or a breakout performance from one of his nine rivals is going to get Witt Ante beat. Witt Ante, an Upping the Ante 4-year-old owned by David Beard, came from the back of the pack to win the $100,000 Gold Cup three months ago at Delta, but in his last start, Dec. 11 at Fair Grounds, he set a breakneck pace on the way to a comfortable 2 1/2-length victory in the Louisiana Champions Day Classic.

"After he won on Champions Day, he's only had one work since then, but he's been doing a lot of two-minute-licking," Robideaux said. "He's keeping my gallop boy fit. He's a strong horse right now."

Robideaux said Witt Ante, who breaks from post 2 under Tracy Hebert, will show speed, and "if somebody wants to go with him, that won't bother him."

In fact, there are two horses who could run with Witt Ante: Angora, who will be sternly tested for class, and Nitro Chip, an easy statebred stakes winner three weeks ago at Delta. In the next flight will come Spritely Walker and Meteor Impact, the former trying to regain his best form from 2004, the latter attempting to break through with an overdue win after crossing the wire second in 7 of his last 10 starts.

Spritely Walker was the best Louisiana-bred going early last season, and won this race during his run, but he missed eight months of work between March and December, and has finished third as the favorite in his two starts since the layoff.

"He's not going over there with the same credentials as last year," said trainer Steve Asmussen, "but I wouldn't trade places with anybody."