08/16/2006 11:00PM

Zarb's Dahar seeks his third Cajun


BOSSIER CITY, La. - Zarb's Dahar is the two-time defending champion of the $100,000 Cajun Stakes, and he goes for the hat trick Saturday in one of the most anticipated events of the 13-race Louisiana Downs Champions Day program. He will square off against nine rivals at six furlongs.

Trained by James Hodges, Zarb's Dahar was named the 2005 horse of the meeting after winning all three of his starts here, including the Cajun. He also won the Folklore Stakes, and picked up right where he left off at the Fair Grounds meeting that was held here, winning the Thanksgiving Handicap against open company and the Louisiana Sprint.

Unlike the last two years, however, Zarb's Dahar comes into the Cajun without the benefit of a prep race.

"Of course we would have liked to have gotten a race into him," Hodges said Thursday morning. "We just could not get an allowance race to fill for us. There is nothing like a race, but we feel like we have him as ready as we can possibly get him on works alone. He went very well this past Sunday."

His five-furlong work in 1:00.40 on Sunday was fourth-fastest of 45 at the distance.

Regular rider Gerald Melancon will once again be in the saddle as the 6-year-old Zarb's Dahar looks to extend his remarkable local win streak to 12 races.

Cort's P. B. appears to be the primary obstacle to a successful return by Zarb's Dahar. Trained by Keith Bourgeois, he comes off a 1 1/4-length win in the $75,000 Junis Delahoussaye Stakes against statebreds on Louisiana Legends Night at Evangeline Downs on July 1. Kirk LeBlanc has the call.

Matchmaker: Our Love seeks repeat

In the $100,000 Matchmaker for fillies and mares, a full field of 13 will go 1 1/16 miles over the turf.

Our Love is back to defend her crown from a year ago, and looked more than ready in winning an allowance prep on July 30 in front-running fashion for trainer Jeff Trosclair. The 6-year-old mare has been marvelously consistent since last year's Matchmaker, finishing first or second in four of her five starts. Melancon returns to the saddle.

Intractable, winner of both of her turf starts here this season, appears ready for another big effort with her late-running style.

Trained by Pat Mouton and ridden by E.J. Perrodin, Intractable, a 6-year-old Sandpit mare, should pick up a lot of the pieces should the expected pace battle develop between Our Love and others who prefer the front end.

Shiskabob: Chip Hunter top contender

Hodges can open the card on a high note when he sends out possible favorite Chip Hunter in the $100,000 Shiskabob, a 1 1/16-mile grass race which also drew defending champ Spruce's Prince; Louisiana Champions Day Classic winner Badtotheboneandrew; and multiple stakes winners Witt Ante and Spritely Walker.

The race goes as the fourth, and it is the first stakes on the card for Thoroughbreds.

Chip Hunter won an off-the-turf allowance prep for the Shiskabob in his last start July 20. He took the lead soon after the start of the race, and was in command throughout for a six-length win under leading rider Carlos Gonzalez.

"He ran a big race, about the best race he's ever run," said Hodges, who trains Chip Hunter for Keep Moving Stable.

Chip Hunter earned a career-best Beyer Figure of 92. On turf, he has won 4 of 6 starts, including the $50,000 A.L. Erwin last year at Louisiana Downs. In his two starts this year, Chip Hunter has used front-running tactics to win, but he is versatile, said Hodges.

"His best running style, I think, is to kind of lay off of it because he's a good, good finisher," said Hodges.

Chip Hunter could secure a stalking trip behind Witt Ante in the Shiskabob.

Siblings likely favored in two stakes

Tortuga Straits, an impressive winner here at first asking in July and most recently the winner of the colt and gelding division of the $100,000 John Franks Memorial Sales Stakes at Evangeline, should rule a solid favorite in the Stardust for 2-year-olds. His half-sister, multiple stakes winner Tortuga Flats, will likely be the public's choice in the Louisiana Breeders' Oaks. Ralph Irwin trains Tortuga Straits for Karla Balensiefen and Tortuga Flats for John Balensiefen.

* The Victoria, for filly and mare sprinters, is one of the most wide-open races on the card, with last year's runner-up, Destiny Calls, perhaps ruling a slight choice.

* The Laurel Lane for 2-year-old fillies also appears to be up for grabs, with several coming off a sharp maiden score. Princess Deelites is the veteran of the group with four starts, the most recent a runner-up performance in the filly division of the Franks Sales Stakes at Evangeline on Aug. 4.

- additional reporting by Mary Rampellini