Larry Jones always knew Vinery Stable and Fox Hill Farm’s Friesan Fire had loads of talent. But unlike his stablemate Old Fashioned, who had a burning desire to win from the start, Friesan Fire did not get his competitive streak until just recently.
“Friesan Fire was just satisfied to go out and play (as a 2-year-old),” Jones said. “But it’s all turning around now. He wants to be top dog.”
That does not bode well for the nine rivals who will go to post with him in the $600,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds March 14. Winner of the Jan. 10 LeComte Stakes (gr. III) and Feb. 7 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III), Friesan Fire will try to sweep the Louisiana series for 3-year-olds and stamp himself as one of the top Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contenders in the nation. The son of A.P. Indy--Bollinger was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite.
The Louisiana Derby, like the Risen Star, will be run at 1 1/16 miles. It is the last of four graded stakes on the Fair Grounds program March 14 and will go to post at 4:45 p.m. CDT.
HorseRacing TV will be onsite to provide live coverage of the Derby card. HRTV's tandem of Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens and analyst Jon White will be trackside to offer insights, analysis, interviews, and up-to-date information throughout the day.
Radio coverage will be provided by the Horse Racing Radio Network from 4-6 p.m. (Eastern) with live streaming at www.horseracingradio.net.
“He is maturing and coming around the right way," said Jones. "We added blinkers. (Before that) he didn’t seem to focus or have the desire to be Number One. But now he’s getting that frame of mind. It’s all coming together at the right time.
“He kind of tipped his hand the other day. He had a really good work.”
Jones was referring to Friesan Fire’s work March 9 at Fair Grounds went he went five furlongs in :58 1/5, the best of 29 that day.
Friesan Fire will face five of the same horses he met in the Risen Star, including Virginia Tarra Trust’s Giant Oak (4-1), who finished fifth in that race but has reason to improve. The son of Giant's Causeway had traffic problems that prevented him from getting into winning position in the Risen Star, but was coming hard in the final furlong.
“It was frustrating,” admitted Giant Oak’s trainer Chris Block. “He was doing extremely well coming into that race. He got beat by 5 1/2 lengths and never had a chance to run until the eighth-pole. If he got a clean trip he might have been running right over the top at the wire.
“Do we have a Derby contender is the question we want to answer.”
Giant Oak, who finished runner-up by a neck in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) at Churchill Downs to close out his juvenile season, will be ridden by James Graham for the first time. Graham is the colt’s regular exercise rider.
Finishing runner-up to Friesan Fire in the Risen Star was James Spence’s Flying Pegasus (8-1), who also has reason to improve. The Ralph Nicks trainee was compromised by breaking from post 12 in that race, but drew better this time. The son of Fusaichi Pegasus will break from post 5 and will be ridden by John Velazquez, who was also aboard when the dark bay finished second in the Futurity Stakes (gr. II) in September at Belmont Park. Flying Pegasus will also make his second start around two turns.
One contender who did not start in the Risen Star is Patena (7-2). The son of Seeking the Gold experienced a hind-end problem and a cough shortly after finishing runner-up to Friesan Fire in the LeComte, which caused him to miss some training. But Rick Dutrow Jr., who took over training when Patena was bought privately by IEAH Stables in January, is very pleased with his progress. Patena fired a bullet work at Gulfstream Park March 9.
Robby Albarado, who was aboard in the LeComte, chose to remain on Patena. He was also the rider of Flying Pegasus last out.
When California shipper I Want Revenge destroyed the field in his first start on natural dirt in last week’s Gotham (gr. III) at Aqueduct, it had to encourage the connections of Papa Clem, who will look for the same outcome for their colt in similar circumstances. A homebred of Bo Hirsch, Papa Clem has made all four of his starts on synthetic surfaces in California, including the Feb. 7 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) when losing by only a half-length to leading West Coast Derby contender Pioneerof the Nile, while also finishing a length better than third-place I Want Revenge.
Trained by Gary Stute, Papa Clem, a son of Smart Strike, broke his maiden at third asking in December going a mile on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride. Regular rider Rafael Bejarano will also make the trip in from California for the mount.
A leading Kentucky Derby contender as a 2-year-old, Adele Dilschneider’s Terrain will be making his sophomore debut after battling health issues to start the season. Terrain won the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) through disqualification last September to record victories in the first three starts of his career, and then finished runner-up in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Santa Anita three weeks later.
Trained by Al Stall, Jr., Terrain ran a disappointing fifth in the Delta Jackpot (gr. III) to close out his aggressive 2008 campaign. The Sky Mesa gelding has been working steadily at Fair Grounds for his 3-year-old debut, including a pair of bullet works over the past two weeks. Julien Leparoux will ride him for the first time. Stall will take blinkers off Terrain, who has recorded all three of his wins without the equipment.
Silver Wing Stable’s Free Country will also look to shake off a disappointing effort last out. The Ken McPeek trainee was a well-beaten fourth in the Feb. 14 Sam Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs in his third career start. The son of Big Country won a 1 1/8-mile allowance test at Gulfstream in January to make a name for himself.
McPeek will add blinkers to Free Country for the first time. He will ship in from Florida, where he has posted solid works leading up to the race. Regular rider Kent Desormeaux will ride and they will break from the rail.
Steve Asmussen will saddle a pair of starters, but they will both be longshots. Uno Mas finished third in the Risen Star and sixth in the Lecomte. As a 2-year-old he defeated Friesan Fire by 2 1/4 lengths in an allowance event at Fair Grounds.
Asmussen’s other entry, Soul Warrior, was sixth in the Risen Star after breaking poorly and making a mild rally late. The Lion Heart colt broke his maiden by nearly four lengths at Fair Grounds in December.
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito will try to jump into the Derby mix with his entry, Nowhere to Hide, who was fourth in the Risen Star in his first graded stakes effort. The Vindication colt broke his maiden at Calder Race Course in December in his fifth try. He will break from post 10 and be ridden by Corey Lanerie.