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FG, Louisiana Connections Plentiful on Oaks, Derby Cards
NEW ORLEANS, La (April 30, 2009) - Led by Grade II Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire, three horses who raced at Fair Grounds last winter were entered Wednesday for Kentucky Derby 135 Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Friesan Fire, co-owned by Fox Hill Farm and Vinery Stables, became the first horse in 16 years to sweep the Louisiana Derby series, capturing the Grade III Lecomte Stakes and Grade III Risen Star Stakes before his 7 1/4-length score in the Louisiana Derby.
Trainer Larry Jones has elected to train Friesan Fire up to the Kentucky Derby. Gabriel Saez, who teamed with Jones to win the 2008 Kentucky Oaks on Proud Spell, gets the return mount on the son of A.P. Indy, who is the 5-1 fourth choice on Mike Battaglia's Derby morning line.
Only two Louisiana Derby winners have gone on to capture the "Run for the Roses" - Black Gold, who captured the 50th running of the Kentucky Derby in 1924, and Grindstone, who swept the races in 1996.
The Louisiana Derby runner-up, Papa Clem, went on to take the Arkansas Derby three weeks ago for trainer Gary Stute. Prior to shipping from California to Louisiana, Papa Clem was second to Pioneerof the Nile in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, where he also finished a length in front of Derby morning-line favorite I Want Revenge.
A last-minute addition to the Derby field, Nowhere to Hide was fourth behind Friesan Fire in the Risen Star. He has a pair of fourth-place finishes since, in the Tampa Bay Derby and Illinois Derby.
Louisiana-born jockeys have won the Derby the last two years - Calvin Borel in 2007 on Street Sense, and Kent Desormeaux, who claimed his third Derby last year aboard Big Brown. Four riders have a chance to extend that streak on Saturday, led by 19-year-old Marrero native Joe Talamo, who has the mount on I Want Revenge.
Talamo, who won the Fair Grounds riding title as an apprentice in 2006-07 but has ridden in southern California ever since, is remembering his roots Saturday. He has pledged to donate $25,000 to Children's Hospital in New Orleans if he wins on his first career Derby mount.
Lafayette native Robby Albarado, who won his record seventh Fair Grounds riding title last winter, will break longshot Flying Private from the outside post in the field of 20 - the same post position from which Big Brown started last year.
Desormeaux, who hails from Maurice, has the mount this year on Lane's End winner Hold Me Back, while Catahoula native Borel has the call on Mine That Bird.
The Kentucky Derby is the 11th race on Saturday's 13-race Churchill program. Post time is scheduled for 5:24 p.m. CDT.
Five other graded stakes are on Saturday's Churchill card, including the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, which traditionally precedes the Derby. The last three winners of the Grade II Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap are in the Turf Classic - 2007 winner Einstein, and the winner of the last two runnings of the Muniz, Proudinsky, who will make his first start since winning this year's edition in a thrilling three-horse photo.
The second-place finisher in that photo, El Caballo, also returns in the Turf Classic. Albarado will be aboard as he seeks his fourth win in this race.
Half the field in the Grade III Eight Belles for 3-year-old fillies started at Fair Grounds this winter. Three of the top four finishers in the Tiffany Lass Stakes - winner Just Jenda, third-place finisher Four Gifts and fourth-place finisher She's Extreme - will be joined by impressive allowance winner Auspicious and Louisiana-bred Warrior Maid, who was third as the favorite in the Crescent City Oaks in her last start.
Also Saturday, Albarado has the return mount on Esplanade Stakes winner Secret Gypsy in the Grade I Humana Distaff, where the competition includes Fair Grounds allowance winner Dubai Majesty and Truly Bound Handicap runner-up Bear Now; Fortin Handicap winner Tizaqueena tries graded stakes company for the first time in the Grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile; and Thanksgiving Handicap and Duncan F. Kenner Stakes winner Sok Sok faces Kenner runner-up and Grade I winner Kodiak Kowboy, New Orleans Handicap fifth-place finisher My Pal Charlie and state-bred and 2008 Crescent City Derby winner Ide Like a Double in the Grade II Churchill Downs.
On Friday, the filly counterpart to the Derby is the 135th running of the Kentucky Oaks, and a recent trend involving a Fair Grounds pipeline has a great chance to continue.
Fair Grounds Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra is the odds-on morning-line favorite in the Kentucky Oaks. If Rachel Alexandra wins, she will be the fourth Fair Grounds Oaks winner in the last five runnings to capture the Kentucky Oaks, joining Summerly (2004), Ashado (2005) and Proud Spell (2008).
Calvin Borel, who has been aboard Rachel Alexandra throughout her current four-race winning streak, gets the return call from trainer Hal Wiggins.
Flying Spur, who was second to Rachel Alexandra in the Fair Grounds Oaks and fourth in the Silverbulletday Stakes, makes her first start since the Fair Grounds meet on Friday. Garrett Gomez will ride Flying Spur for the first time for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Also Friday, Macho Again makes his first start since his upset score in the Grade II New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds March 14 in the Grade III Alysheba. Also in the field is talented Louisiana-bred Star Guitar, who is 6-for-8 lifetime but was seventh in the New Orleans Handicap in his last start; Prom Shoes, who was seventh in the Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap, and Mambo in Seattle, who finished third in the Tenacious Handicap.
Elsewhere on Friday's card, Colonel Power Stakes winner Chamberlain Bridge looks for his first win since that Fair Grounds score in the Grade III Aegon Turf Sprint; Chou Croute Handicap fourth-place finisher Unforgotten returns to action in the Grade II Louisville; Mardi Gras Stakes runner-up Fleet Streak and Silverbulletday Stakes seventh-place finisher More of the Best try the Edgewood Stakes for fillies on the turf;
Racing fans in southeast Louisiana can catch the Oaks and Derby cards at any of the nine Fair Grounds OTB locations in southeast Louisiana (Fair Grounds is only open at night because of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival). All locations will open by 9 a.m., with first post each day at Churchill Downs scheduled for 9:30 a.m. CDT.
NBC (WDSU in New Orleans) will have coverage of the Kentucky Derby, while cable channel Bravo will televise the Kentucky Oaks.
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' 138th Thoroughbred meet will run from Nov. 6, 2009, through March 28, 2010, and its second Quarter Horse meet will run from Sept. 8-19, 2009. Information about Fair Grounds can be found on the Internet at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.