03/22/2003 1:00AM

Zarb's Music handles turf far better than 3-5 favorite

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NEW ORLEANS - Zarb's Music took to turf racing as surely as favored Witt Ante rejected it and won the $100,000 Gentilly Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds.

Racing on grass for the first time, Zarb's Music ($35.20) scored the biggest win of his career for owner LaFleur Russo Stable and trainer Samuel Soileau. Zarb's Music just won his maiden three starts ago, but he outkicked a solid field of Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds to win by a length. Racing in midpack for much of the race, Zarb's Music and jockey Gerard Melancon moved up on the far turn and wore down a game Lighter Knot in the final half-furlong.

The top two finishers were much better than the rest of the field, as the early pacesetter Lac Lorange finished almost six lengths behind Lighter Knot and a neck in front of Witt Ante, who never got untracked in an uncharacteristically dull performance. Witt Ante went off at 3-5 after he easily won three straight stakes races, but a change of surface from dirt to turf proved his undoing.

"It was an experiment, and it will probably be the last time you see him on turf," said trainer Larry Robideaux.

Lac Lorange set solid splits of 24.10 seconds for a quarter-mile and 48.32 for a half while pursued by Light Up the Board and Lighter Knot. Light Up the Board quickly gave way on the far turn as Lighter Knot took command turning for home, but Melancon and Zarb's Music quickly attacked, and Lighter Knot couldn't contain the winner after about one mile in 1:40.86.