Seven Graded Stakes Winners Top La. Derby Early-Bird Nominees

NEW ORLEANS, La. (December 18, 2008) -Seven graded stakes winners, including Grade I winner Square Eddie, lead the list of 93 early-bird nominations to the $600,000 Grade II Louisiana Derby, the headline event of Fair Grounds' 137th season on March 14.

Square Eddie, trained by Doug O'Neill for owner J. Paul Reddam, won the Grade I Breeders Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 4, then came back three weeks later to finish second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. Square Eddie has $736,000 in graded stakes earnings, which would virtually assure the son of Smart Strike a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

O'Neill and Reddam teamed to win the 2006 Risen Star Stakes with Notional and the 2006 Fair Grounds Oaks with Mistical Plan.

The most heralded of the early-bird nominees currently stabled at Fair Grounds is Fox Hill Farms' Old Fashioned, who arrived here earlier this month after a 7 1/2-length victory in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct Nov. 29, his third win in as many starts.

Trainer Larry Jones has sent out the second-place finisher in each of the last two runnings of the Kentucky Derby. Both Hard Spun and Eight Belles scored wins at Fair Grounds on the path to Churchill Downs.

Another Grade II winner from that same day, Beethoven, is also among the early nominees. Beethoven captured the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs for the owner-trainer combination of John Oxley and John Ward.

Other graded stakes winners among the early-bird nominees include Azul Leon, another O'Neill trainee who won the Grade III Hollywood Juvenile in July; Southern Equine Stables' Elusive Bluff, who is a perfect 2-for-2 after winning the Grade III Pilgrim at Belmont in October; Screen Your Friend, who won the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill for trainer and New Orleans native Bernard Flint in July and is entered in Saturday's Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds, and Adele Dilschneider's Terrain, who was placed first after a rare double disqualification in the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity in September at Arlington Park.

Nine other nominees are graded stakes placed, including the Richard Violette-trained Cribnote, who was second and third in a pair of Grade I races, the Hopeful and Champagne, in his last two starts, and another Jones trainee; Friesan Fire, who was third in the Grade II Futurity at Belmont and is entered in a first-level allowance at Fair Grounds later Thursday; Giant Oak, who missed by a neck behind Beethoven in the KJC for trainer Chris Block, and Mark Casse trainee Stimulus Plan, who is based at Fair Grounds this winter and was third last time out in the Delta Jackpot.

Early-bird nominees are nominated to all three races in the Louisiana Derby Series. In addition to the Louisiana Derby, the series includes the $100,000 Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 10 and the $200,000 Grade III Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 7.

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 Thoroughbred season will run from Nov. 14, 2008, through March 29, 2009, and its inaugural Quarter Horse meet was conducted from Aug. 20-24, 2008. Information about Fair Grounds can be found on the Internet at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.