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Fair Grounds Ties Plentiful At Kentucky Derby
NEW ORLEANS, La. (April 30, 2008) - Led by Louisiana Derby winner Pyro, seven horses who raced at Fair Grounds this winter were entered for Saturday's 134th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
Winchell Thoroughbreds' Pyro was Fair Grounds' Horse of the Meeting after he followed up a jaw-dropping, last-to-first stretch rally in the Grade III Risen Star Stakes with a solid three-length victory in the Grade II Louisiana Derby four weeks later.
Much of the discussion about Pyro in the last two weeks has been his surprising 10th-place finish as the even-money favorite in the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes over Keeneland's Polytrack surface. The Derby, of course, is on a traditional dirt surface, and Churchill Downs' track layout and composition is very similar to Fair Grounds.
Seven-time Fair Grounds leading trainer Steve Asmussen conditions Pyro, and his first-call rider throughout the winter, Shaun Bridgmohan, will again get the call on Saturday.
The other Asmussen trainee in the Derby field won the other graded stakes race for 3-year-olds in New Orleans. Zayat Stables' Z Fortune captured the Grade III Lecomte in January, then finished second to Pyro in the Risen Star before moving onto the Arkansas trail, where he was fifth in the Rebel and a solid second to Gayego in the Grade II Arkansas Derby three weeks ago.
Robby Albarado, a Lafayette native and six-time leading rider at Fair Grounds, will ride Z Fortune. Albarado and Asmussen have some history themselves, as Albarado is the regular rider of reigning Horse of the Year Curlin, who provided both jockey and trainer with their three biggest career wins, all in the last 12 months - the Preakness, Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup.
Not only did Recapturetheglory race at Fair Grounds, just missing in a first-level turf allowance on Feb. 29, but his connections are New Orleans natives.
Co-owner and trainer Louie Roussel III and co-owner Ronnie Lamarque are New Orleans natives, and they were the stars of the Triple Crown trail 20 years ago with eventual 3-year-old champion Risen Star, who rebounded from a third-place finish behind the filly Winning Colors in the Kentucky Derby with wins in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Following his race in New Orleans, Recapturetheglory headed to Illinois, where he led throughout in capturing the Grade II Illinois Derby at Hawthorne four weeks ago.
Charles Fipke's Tale of Ekati made his 3-year-old bow in the Louisiana Derby and was sixth, beaten 6 1/2 lengths, but the Barclay Tagg trainee rebounded last month by overtaking 2-year-old champion War Pass in the final strides to win the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
Tale of Ekati won the Grade II Futurity at Belmont as a 2-year-old.
Tagg knows something about the road from Louisiana to Louisville. The Tagg-trained Funny Cide placed second in the 2003 Louisiana Derby before the popular New York-bred gelding captured the roses eight weeks later.
Mr. and Mrs. William Warren's Denis of Cork did not make a stakes start at Fair Grounds, but captured a first-level allowance over a sloppy track Jan. 19. With trainer David Carroll, who also conditions then-Derby hopeful Blackberry Road, electing to keep his top prospects apart, Denis of Cork headed to Oaklawn, where he captured the Grade III Southwest Stakes.
Denis of Cork was a non-threatening fifth as the odds-on favorite in the Illinois Derby. With graded stakes earnings serving as the deciding factor in the maximum 20-horse Derby field, Denis of Cork's connections learned earlier this week they would grab the final spot.
Louisiana native Calvin Borel, who won the Derby last year aboard Street Sense, gets the mount. Albarado, Borel and Maurice's Kent Desormeaux, who will ride likely favorite Big Brown, make up the Louisiana jockey contingent in the Derby.
Fox Hill Farms' talented filly Eight Belles needed three tries to win a first-level allowance at Fair Grounds, but when the Larry Jones trainee finally won, it was in impressive fashion - a 15-length score on Jan. 21 that earned her a career-best 100 Beyer speed figure.
Eight Belles has done nothing wrong since, sweeping the 3-year-old filly series at Oaklawn and prompting principal owner Rick Porter to test the boys in the Derby. Only three fillies have worn the roses, most recently Winning Colors.
Gabriel Saez, who rode regularly for Jones this winter at Fair Grounds, will ride Eight Belles in the Derby.
Jones' other talented filly, Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks winner Proud Spell, is the 7-2 early second choice in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday. Eight Belles was cross-entered in the Oaks and is the 5-2 morning-line favorite, but barring an unfavorable post position, is expected to run on Saturday.
Rounding out the field of horses who passed through New Orleans this winter is Team Valor et al's Visionaire, who was third behind the Asmussen duo in the Risen Star before rebounding in his next start with a fast-closing win in the fog in the Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct. In his final Derby prep, he finished fifth in the Blue Grass.
Eight Belles and Proud Spell are two of four fillies entered in Friday's Oaks who started at Fair Grounds this winter. Proud Spell can become the third filly since 2004 to achieve the Fair Grounds Oaks-Kentucky Oaks double, joining Ashado in 2004 and Summerly in 2005. The Fair Grounds Oaks was not run in 2006, but the Kentucky Oaks winner that year, Lemons Forever, raced at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs that winter.
The other Fair Grounds starters entered in the Oaks are Absolutely Cindy, who was sixth in the Grade III Silverbulletday in February, and Rasierra, who was second in an optional claimer in her 3-year-old debut on March 14.
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the nation's third-oldest Thoroughbred racing facility, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN); it also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and nine off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. Fair Grounds' 137th season will run from Nov. 14, 2008, through March 29, 2009. Information about Fair Grounds can be found on the Internet at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.