Stall's Stars Will Be Out Louisiana Derby Day

Late last October, Al Stall Jr. was just a little busy. He had this horse, Blame, who readers may recall was prepping for a start against (and eventual victory over) Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. So jockey Jesse Campbell, checking in after working a runner at Fair Grounds, wasn’t very surprised when the trainer didn’t answer his phone. He left a message.

“It was about three days before the Breeders’ Cup,” Campbell recalled. “I left him a voicemail and said, ‘Look, Al, I know you’re busy, but I just wanted to let you know I really like this horse. It’s hard to say that about one that’s three months away from even starting, but for whatever reason, I do.’”

“This horse” is Left, an unbeaten son of Arch who makes his third career start in Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby. Going into the 1 1/8-mile event against stakes-savvy horses like Risen Star winner Mucho Macho Man and Southwest Stakes runner-up Elite Alex is no small order, but so far this colt has done nothing wrong. He won his debut by a neck on the turf here on Jan. 29, then increased his margin of victory in a first-level allowance on the dirt on Feb. 26 over stablemate Sour, whose next start will be in the April 9 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Park.

“The Louisiana Derby is certainly a test, and he’s a lightly raced horse, but at this time of year most 3-year-olds get put in that position and either pass the test or don’t,” Campbell said. “I couldn’t have more confidence in a horse than I do in this one. Everything he does, I like. He’s so confident right now, which has me confident in him. I’m looking forward to Saturday, and not because it’s the Louisiana Derby – I’m excited every time I get to ride him.”

According to Stall, there’s no pressure on the gelding, bred and owned by Claiborne Farm & Adele Dilschneider. He’s perfectly at home at Fair Grounds, the only track he’s ever known, and he doesn’t know what it’s like to lose.

“He’s looked good every day he’s been here, and he’s only been here, he wasn’t at Churchill Downs or Keeneland earlier in the year,” the trainer said. “We’re trying to figure out what level the horse is at, but it’s not that big of a deal as opposed to a horse that’s already been there and has proven that he’s something and you have to make sure he shows it to everybody. This one, if he doesn’t run any good, we’ll just regroup and do something else like an allowance race on the grass or something.”

Regrouping is something Stall is hoping to avoid with another Saturday contender, 2010 Super Derby winner Apart, who starts in the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap. The 4-year-old Flatter colt has not won since November 5 of last year, when he took the Grade III Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs.

After finishing eighth in the Grade I Clark Handicap at that track on Nov. 26, he got a little break, then came back here on Jan. 22 to run second in the Louisiana Handicap behind Recapturetheglory. His most recent start came in the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap, where he finished third by 3 ½ lengths behind Demarcation and Mission Impazible.  

“If he doesn’t run good in this race, he’s not going to go run against tough horses the rest of the year,” Stall said. “We’ve been pointing for the New Orleans Handicap for this whole meet, this is his race that we’ve had earmarked since last year, so we’ll see if he shows up. I mean, he’s shown up in his other races, he’s run second and third, it’s not like he’s been eased or anything like that.”

Campbell also has the mount on Apart, who he rode to victory in the Super Derby and in Apart’s prep for that race, the Prelude Stakes. The duo was reunited in the Mineshaft after jockey Garrett Gomez had been aboard for the colt’s three starts in between.

“His first race off that little layoff, he didn’t break that sharp and had some work to do and came running for second,” the jockey said. “When I rode him last time he didn’t have any excuses, he just kind of came home a little flat. But since then, he’s been training very well. I’ve worked him twice since then and I can tell you his last breeze was everything you want to see from a horse; he was very willing and did everything well within himself. All signs are positive, there’s nothing negative about him going into this race.”

Aside from stakes contenders, Stall’s string will be represented by two additional runners on the Louisiana Derby Day card. Impressive maiden winner Bind, who earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure for his 9 ½-length victory in 1:08.80 for six furlongs here on Feb. 19, runs in the fourth race on Saturday. Might, full sister to 2010 Champion Older Male Blame and second by a head in her debut here on Feb. 20, is entered in race 12. Rosie Napravnik gets the call on both.

 “There she goes, whizzing on by,” Stall said of Might as he stood by the rail this morning. “She’s her normal fiery self, very fiery. In hindsight, I’m glad she didn’t win her first race because she got a lot out of it and she can run against maidens again. So she’s back in going two turns, and we’ll see how that works. Hopefully she gathered a lot of information from her first race.”

As the season winds to a close at Fair Grounds, Stall will deploy strings to Keeneland and Louisiana Downs. All four of his Saturday starters will depart for Kentucky by van on March 30 to join about 10 runners already there with assistant Glenn Brookfield. Stall himself heads up about a week before the Lexington oval’s April 8 opening day, where he initially considered running Bind.

“We thought of a race at Keeneland on opening day, but then the condition book came out here and there was a two-turn race on Louisiana Derby Day, so we started pointing for that,” he said. “He’s had three breezes since he broke his maiden, and everything seems fine with him. You can’t expect a horse to run 1:08 and four like that, although we knew he was a nice horse, good to go, so we were pleasantly surprised by his debut.”

Asked if he got tired of people inquiring if the promising 3-year-old would contest the Triple Crown trail, Stall smiled.

“’No’ is a pretty short answer,” he said. “It doesn’t take much energy to say that.”