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Offseason And A Weekend Preview

At about 5:15 last Sunday afternoon, it officially became the offseason at Fair Grounds.

Those of us involved with Fair Grounds' racing operation gathered, at the terrific suggestion of vice president and general manager of racing Eric Halstrom, to watch the final race of the season from the winner's circle, and after the final winner - not surprisingly, a Steve Asmussen trainee - was on his way back to the barn, we took a group photo.

So now, we watch other tracks, some more intently than others, to see what the horses we saw in person for the last 20 weeks will do for the rest of the campaign.

There are a trio of major Kentucky Derby preps on Saturday, but the local interest will fall on the horses in one race and one jockey in another.

Start with the jockey. Teenager Joe Talamo, the New Orleans native who made a name for himself by becoming the first apprentice rider to win a Fair Grounds title in 2006-07, is back aboard I Want Revenge in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

Talamo has been aboard for each of I Want Revenge's career starts, including a breakthrough win in last month's Gotham.

If a New Orleanian possibly headed to the Kentucky Derby wasn't enough rooting interest, consider this: if Talamo wins the Derby with I Want Revenge, he will donate $25,000 to Children's Hospital in New Orleans.

Now to a couple of horses we saw here in the Louisiana Derby three weeks ago. Two of them are among the favorites for the Illinois Derby (past performances here) - Giant Oak and Free Country.

These horses were high on racing fans' radars in February, but each has disappointed in his last two starts. Now, on this Final Four weekend, Giant Oak and Free Country look to provide that "one shining moment" on the first Saturday in April at Hawthorne that might earn one or both of them a berth in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

Then, there's Fair Grounds "horse of the meet" Friesan Fire, who will now train up to the Kentucky Derby, according to Larry Jones.

All of this, and we haven't even mentioned the 3-year-old filly division or the start of another spring meet at Keeneland!

Two big races for the fillies are this weekend - the Ashland on Saturday at Keeneland, and the Fantasy on Sunday at Oaklawn, where Fair Grounds Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra is scheduled to go.

What all this means is that even though live Thoroughbred racing is done at Fair Grounds, you have lots of reasons to continue to check out the action at one of our OTB facilities or at TwinSpires.com.