01/09/2003 1:00AM

Zydeco Affair tops deep Black Gold


NEW ORLEANS - Zydeco Affair has raced eight times in his life, and already he has started at five different tracks. Track number six is Fair Grounds, where Zydeco Affair runs Saturday in the Black Gold Handicap.

He has landed in surprisingly deep water.

For 3-year-old turf horses at about 7 1/2 furlongs, the $75,000 Black Gold drew a field of eight with several promising young horses. There are no automatic throw-outs, and several first-time turf horses with proven dirt ability complicate the picture.

With three grass wins, two of them in stakes, Zydeco Affair has accomplished more than his opponents, but he does not tower over them on ability. Zydeco Affair immediately took to two-turn turf races last summer, winning his maiden and the El Joven Stakes at Retama Park, the Manila at Arlington, and finishing second in the Hopemont at Keeneland.

Zydeco Affair tried dirt in his final 2-year-old start, finishing third in the $150,000 Texan Juvenile at Sam Houston. "He had a lot of trouble there, too," said trainer Larry Robideaux.

This is Zydeco Affair's first race with Robideaux (he leaves the barn of trainer Tony Richey), and Robideaux hopes Zydeco Affair eventually will transfer his turf ability to the main track and compete in dirt stakes later this meet. "I hope he's not one-dimensional that way," Robideaux said.

While Zydeco Affair clearly likes grass and may handle dirt, Midway Road clearly likes dirt and may handle turf. Midway Road could become a major player in the 3-year-old dirt division here, but for now trainer Neil Howard simply wants to get his season started. After losing his air during a seventh-place finish in the Nov. 30 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Midway Road had minor throat surgery to correct the problem. This is the first start of Midway Road's 3-year-old season, and with it Howard can see how Midway Road handles turf, while giving him a useful comeback race around two turns.

Canaan Land also looks like a legitimate threat. After a pair of close seconds, he won his maiden at Arlington last fall in a one-turn dirt mile, but he was more impressive here Dec. 12 in his two-turn and turf debut, closing fast to win an allowance race by 1 1/2 lengths. The horse Canaan Land beat, Prince Alphie, returned to win easily and also will try the Black Gold.

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