02/09/2008 12:00AM

Won Awesome Dude seeks repeat

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NEW ORLEANS - Two career wins at age 5 are hardly worth discussing. Two wins from five starts, with steady improvement, though, and you are talking about Won Awesome Dude, a top contender in Monday's ninth race, a second-level optional claimer going a mile on the main track for a purse of $41,000.

If he has begun to figure it out now, the question is why is he figuring it out so late?

"He's a late bloomer," said Dalton Nedrick, assistant trainer for Michael Mareina. "He was lazy as a 2- and 3-year-old, then he started enjoying the training."

Won Awesome Dude stalked the pace before taking over on the turn in his last race, a first-level allowance at the Fair Grounds on Jan. 12. He has three works since that effort and any improvement should put him back in the winner's circle.

The main threat to a repeat by Won Awesome Dude is the Ralph Nicks-trained Catmantoo. Catmantoo was just beaten at this condition in his last race, when he finished second to Honest Man and 5 1/2 lengths in front of the third-place finisher.

"He caught a monster last time with Honest Man, and we were second best that day," Nicks said. "He's won at a mile and that may be his niche, but watching him train, he may want to go a little longer."

Both Catmantoo and Won Awesome Dude may have to overcome slow fractions up front. Heaven's Hope has gone to the front in previous races, but has set slow fractions. None of the other horses in the eight-horse field have shown speed out of the gate.

In the sixth race on the card, a 3-year-old allowance, He's the Commander returns after finishing fourth to an extraordinarily tough bunch last time out. He'll find the going easier against his seven rivals in Monday's sixth race, a first-level allowance going 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf for a purse of $40,000.

In his last race, he finished fourth over a muddy track against Denis of Cork, Unbridled Vicar, and Sagaponack, three promising 3-year-olds.

"He was not comfortable on the muddy track," said Bill Mott's assistant trainer Rodolphe Brisset. "But he's learning every race. We are trying to see if he's better on the turf than the dirt."

He'll have to defeat Mapmaker, who won his last race and ran well his first time on the turf.