Home of the Louisiana Derby

Brisnet Handicappers Edge Fair Grounds Notes 3/23/10

Discreetly Mine heads baker's dozen in Louisiana Derby

Discreetly Mine may face more pace pressure than he did in the Risen Star (Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography)If the Todd Pletcher-trained DISCREETLY MINE (Mineshaft) makes it to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, he will enter the Kentucky Derby (G1) well versed in the ways of negotiating large fields. The bay defeated 11 rivals when notching his first stakes win in the February 20 Risen Star S. (G2), and will be asked to outrun 12 in Saturday's $750,000 Louisiana Derby (G2) over the same Fair Grounds track. He's been installed as the lukewarm 7-2 morning-line favorite and will again be guided by Javier Castellano.

The Louisiana Derby, which will have its latest renewal in many years, anchors a 13-race program on the penultimate day of the 2009-10 Fair Grounds meet. Due to its closer proximity to the Kentucky Derby, the Louisiana version has returned to its original 1 1/8-mile distance, which was last used in 1987.

Discreetly Mine, who placed in the Champagne S. (G1) and Futurity S. (G2) last fall, entered the Risen Star off a fourth in the six-furlong Spectacular Bid S. at Gulfstream. The stretchout to 1 1/16 miles and the lack of other speed aided the bay, who took an uncontested lead and crossed the wire 1 1/2 lengths in front after setting a modest pace.

The fractions might be more lively this time with the likes of WOW WOW WOW (Broken Vow) and THE PROGRAM (Harlan's Holiday) in the mix. The latter is trained by Bob Baffert, who already has prominent classic candidates Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike) and Conveyance (Indian Charlie), and enters off respectable minor placings in the Sham S. (G3) and CashCall Futurity (G1).

Among those invading from Florida are A LITTLE WARM (Stormin Fever), who took the Spectacular Bid by 1 1/2 lengths prior to a second to D' Funnybone (D'wildcat) in the Hutcheson S. (G2). The Tony Dutrow charge, listed at 4-1 in the morning line, is taking a big step up in distance stretching out from seven furlongs, and thus might be closer to the pace than what he's shown in recent sprints. MISSION IMPAZIBLE (Unbridled's Song), an even fourth in the Southwest S. (G3) in his two-turn debut, might be more likely to play a pace-setting role for stablemate Discreetly Mine, while nine-furlong allowance winner FLY DOWN (Mineshaft) seeks to give trainer Nick Zito his second biggest classic prep win in the span of a week.

Risen Star also-rans hampered by the soft pace of that race will seek to make amends on Saturday. RON THE GREEK (Full Madate), who turned in an explosive run to capture the Lecomte S. (G3) in January, perhaps took the worst of it as the deepest closer erased a near nine-length deficit to finish sixth, 4 1/4 lengths in back of Discreetly Mine. Making up almost as much ground was fifth-placer STAY PUT (Broken Vow), who also lagged far behind early and was only a short margin ahead of Ron the Greek during the early part of the race. DROSSELMEYER (Distorted Humor), who went favored in the Risen Star at 2-1, was no worse than sixth throughout the Risen Star but only creeped up to fourth by the finish. HOTEP (A.P. Indy), meanwhile, showed little when settling for 10th and would need vast improvement to contend here.

The remainder of the Louisiana Derby field, consisting of locally-based runners, will be tested for class. BACKTRACK (Grand Slam) enters undefeated after two starts, both at six furlongs. Claimed for $25,000 off his winning debut, trainer Gary Scherer upped the gelding in class next time and knocked out his entry-level allowance condition by a length at 27-1. The other two, on the other hand, do have two-turn experience. MISTER MARTI GRAS (Belong to Me), proficient on dirt, displayed some turf prowess when graduating last time over the infield course by a half-length. ISLAND SOUL (Perfect Soul [Ire]), who took an off-the-turf maiden in late January, returned to finish second against entry-level allowance foes in the slop for Steve Asmussen.

Pletcher holds strong hand in New Orleans, Muniz Memorial

In addition to having the early favorite in the Louisiana Derby (G2) with Discreetly Mine (Mineshaft), trainer Todd Pletcher will enter New Orleans on Saturday well-equipped to land the two marquee events on the undercard for older males, the $300,000 New Orleans H. (G2) at 1 1/8 miles and the $300,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial H. (G2) at about the same distance over the turf.

For the New Orleans, Pletcher has the unlikeliest of favorites in BATTLE PLAN (Empire Maker), a five-year-old with just four career starts to his credit and none in a stakes. However, the Overbrook homebred possesses a blue-blooded pedigree and an impressive three-race win streak heading into his stakes debut.

Produced by the 1994 juvenile filly champion Flanders, who died last month, Battle Plan is a half-brother to 2000 champion three-year-old filly Surfside. Presumably beset by physical issues for much of his career, he did not debut until November of his three-year-old season when he finished a well-beaten eighth. He reached the winner's circle at Gulfstream two months later, however, but again fell victim to infirmities and was shelved for nearly a year. Returning to the track on January 8, Battle Plan has been able to string two races together at Gulfstream, earning facile allowance wins by 3 1/4 lengths and five lengths, respectively. The latter, over the New Orleans distance of nine furlongs, was good enough to earn a strong 111 BRIS Speed rating.

GENERAL QUARTERS (Sky Mesa), a bridesmaid throughout the Fair Grounds meet including seconds in the Mineshaft H. (G3) and Louisiana H., is due for better racing luck. Runner-up to arch-rival Friesan Fire (A.P. Indy) in the Louisiana two back, the Tom McCarthy charge was beaten a neck in the Mineshaft by 16-1 outsider STONEHOUSE (Chester House), who would likely produce additional fireworks if he were to pull off another win. GIANT OAK (Giant's Causeway), two lengths third in the Mineshaft in his first start of the season, has the potential to move way up second time off the bench.

The other major threats in the New Orleans are Grade 2 veterans AWESOME GEM (Awesome Again) and HOLD ME BACK (Giant's Causeway), as well as Louisiana-bred ace STAR GUITAR (Quiet American). Awesome Gem has spent the better part of his career competing on turf and synthetics even though most of his success has occurred on dirt. In his last two starts on a conventional surface, he won the Hawthorne Gold Cup (G2) by more than a length and was second, beaten less than a length, in the Longacres Mile (G3). Hold Me Back, on the other hand, might be more partial to synthetics having taken the Lane's End S. (G2) and running second in the Blue Grass S. (G1) last year. Though his last two starts on dirt resulted in second-place efforts, the Travers S. (G1) was held over a sloppy track while a recent Gulfstream allowance did not come up especially strong.

Star Guitar, who has won 12 of 15 lifetime, will be taking his second stab at the New Orleans following a nondescript seventh in the slop last year. A dominant figure in state-bred company, the five-year-old has shown signs of competence against open foes when taking the Evangeline Mile and running third in the Alysheba S. (G3) last season.

Pletcher's ace in the hole for the Muniz is BLUES STREET (Street Cry [Ire]), a high-end claimer in New York and Florida who completely dominated eight rivals in the course-and-distance Fair Grounds H. (G3) on February 20. He will be joined by fellow Florida invaders JET PROPULSION (Double Honor) and PICKAPOCKET (Mecke), one-two in the Sunshine Millions Turf in January, and BALETTI (Gulch), who has won three of his last four, the one loss being a third in the King Edward H. (Can-G2) at Woodbine.

The strongest of the local contingent is EL CABALLO (El Corredor), who missed upsetting this race by a nose at 17-1 last season. The six-year-old subsequently showed that performance was no fluke, winning two of his next three starts including the Colonel E.R. Bradley H. (G3) last time.

Others to watch for are YATE'S BLACK CAT (Black Minnaloushe), who took a minor stakes at Mountaineer Park over Blues Street last summer; PICK SIX (Dynaformer), a head second in the Buddy Diliberto Memorial S. in his lone trip over the Fair Grounds sod; and FEELS ALL RIGHT (Ire) (Danehill Dancer), third in the Mac Diarmida S. (G2) in his U.S. debut four weeks ago.

A field of only five will line up for the $105,000 Duncan F. Kenner S. for older horses over six furlongs. KENSEI (Mr. Greeley), who notched the Dwyer S. (G2) and Jim Dandy S. (G2) after missing last year's Triple Crown, makes his return from a layoff of more than five months for Steve Asmussen. Co-owned by Stonestreet Stables' Jess Jackson, the bay has been idle since a third in the Jerome H. (G1) in October.

The likely favorites for the Kenner, however, are sprint specialists CASH REFUND (Petionville) and EUROEARS (Langfuhr). Cash Refund has won four of five including the F.W. Gaudin Memorial S. in impressive fashion last time. Euroears, who took this race two years ago, saw his two-race win streak snapped in the Gaudin when he was a virtually-eased sixth after chasing Cash Refund early on.

The $60,000 Grindstone S. for three-year-olds at about 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf, and the $60,000 Crescent City Derby for three-year-old Louisiana-breds at 1 1/16 miles, will also be run Saturday.

Jody Slew entered in Fair Grounds Oaks

Jody Slew (outside) gutted out the win in the Silverbulletday (Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography)

Silverbulletday S. (G3) winner JODY SLEW (Slew City Slew), who was considered unlikely for Friday's $300,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) Saturday morning due to days of missed training after being cast in her stall last week, was doing much better Sunday morning during training hours and was entered in Friday's main event for three-year-old fillies.

"She jogged a mile and galloped a mile this morning and looked good doing it," trainer Bret Calhoun said shortly after her Sunday training. "She looked very happy out there, so we'll continue to take it day-by-day this week and not make any decisions (on the Fair Grounds Oaks) until we have to. But her performance today was very encouraging for us."

Should Jody Slew run in the Fair Grounds Oaks and win it, she would become the first filly in Fair Grounds history to sweep all three legs of the Crescent City oval's series for three-year-old members of the distaff set, after winning the $75,000 Tiffany Lass S. on January 23 and then coming back to capture the February 20 Silverbulletday.

AILALEA (Pulpit), clearly best in Aqueduct's Tempted S. (G3) on November 7 in the final start of her juvenile campaign, has been installed as the lukewarm 3-1 morning-line choice in the wagering for the 44th running of the Fair Grounds Oaks. During four of the last five local season, the winner of the 1 1/16-mile test has gone on to take the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs, and the Todd Pletcher-trained Ailalea will attempt to add her name to that list.

Ailalea's last win came in the Tempted at Aqueduct (Ross Woodson/Horsephotos.com)

The bay lass returned off a two-month break to run sixth in her only start this winter, the Forward Gal S. (G2) on January 31 at Gulfstream Park. Javier Castellano, who shipped in to ride the Pletcher trainees during Louisiana Derby Preview Day on February 20 and posed in the winner's circle astride two of those that day, will be aboard Ailalea in Friday's race.

Following a 7 3/4-length victory in the Delta Princess S. (G3), QUIET TEMPER (Quiet American) entered the Fair Grounds season with some high expectations and immediately appeared ready to live up to them with a 1 1/4-length score in an allowance/optional claimer at the New Orleans venue. She hasn't visited the winner's circle since, though, finishing a tiring fifth in the Tiffany Lass and just being caught by Jody Slew on the wire of the Silverbulletday after setting the pace in that 8 1/2-furlong event. Assigned 7-2 morning-line second favoritism in the Fair Grounds Oaks, the Dale Romans trainee will keep Robby Albarado in the saddle.

Other contenders in the Fair Grounds Oaks field of 11 include MAMBO FEVER (Stormin Fever) and CHAMPAGNE D'ORO (Medaglia d'Oro). Mambo Fever was second to Ailalea in the Tempted last year and opened her sophomore season with another second in an allowance at Gulfstream Park. She just missed second by a head when finishing third in the Davona Dale S. (G2) at that track last out, and will get David Cohen, last aboard for the Tempted, returning to the irons.

Champagne d'Oro has spent all but one of her seven career starts running on the synthetics in California. She made her dirt debut last out at Fair Grounds and immediately broke her maiden in front-running fashion. John Jacinto retains the mount.

Tizaqueena was a nice winner of the Distaff Turf Mile last season (EquiSport Photos)

Three undercard stakes have also been scheduled for Friday, and TIZAQUEENA (Tiznow) is the strong 9-5 favorite for the $100,000 Bayou H. The Michael Stidham trainee captured the Distaff Turf Mile (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day last spring and most recently was seen adding the Allen Lacombe Memorial H. to her line on February 27. Leading rider Shaun Bridgmohan will handle the reins on the five-year-old mare in the about nine-furlong test over the Stall-Wilson turf course.

There are eight named to oppose Tizaqueena in the Bayou, including CATEGORY SEVEN (Gulf Storm) and NEVER RETREAT (Smart Strike). The latter mare was a neck up on Category Seven in the Furl Sail H., but was disqualified and placed second after drifting into her rival. James Graham has the call on Never Retreat, while Richard Eramia will be the pilot on Category Seven.

Eleven Louisiana-bred three-year-old fillies will take center stage in the $60,000 Crescent City Oaks. SHEZACRAZYGIRL (Ide) has been installed as the 8-5 morning-line choice in the one-mile-and-40-yard event. Albarado will be up on the Al Stall Jr. charge, who captured the Premier Night Starlet S. last out.

Prior to the Crescent City Oaks, 11 distaffers, including one main-track only runner, has been entered to sprint about 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf in the $60,000 Bienville S. Dual stakes scorer COY CAT (Hold That Tiger) will attempt to get back to her winnings ways after running second and third in black-type events at Fair Grounds this winter. The Paul McGee is the defending champ of this race and will have Albarado in the irons.

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