West Virginia, morning line favorite for the New Orleans Handicap, winning the Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap.

West Virginia, morning line favorite for the New Orleans Handicap, winning the Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Equi-Photo/Bill Denver

West Virginia Tops Balanced Field in New Orleans Handicap

Edited Fair Grounds report
A balanced field of eight, half of them graded stakes winners, was entered for Saturday's 81st running of the $400,000-added grade II New Orleans Handicap, the marquee race of the Fair Grounds meet at Harrah's Louisiana Downs.

The most recent graded stakes winner in the field is the Neil Howard-trained Alumni Hall, who captured the grade III Fayette on closing day of the Keeneland fall meet. Howard-trained horses have won two of the last four runnings of the New Orleans Handicap, including eventual Horse of the Year Mineshaft  in 2003.

Regular rider Robby Albarado gets the call aboard the 7-year-old son of A.P. Indy, who was sixth in last year's New Orleans Handicap.

West Virginia, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, ships in from the powerful barn of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. The 5-year-old son of Tomorrows Cat was second in the grade III Queens County Handicap at Aqueduct in his last start. West Virginia became a graded stakes winner last summer when he captured the grade III Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park.

Eddie Castro, who made racing history last year by winning nine races on a single card at Calder Race Course, comes in to ride West Virginia, who drew the outside post.

The other graded stakes winners in the field are Brass Hat, who won the grade II Indiana Derby in 2004 and is making his third start off a 13-month layoff for trainer William Bradley, and M B Sea, who won the Fayette in 2003 and had solid efforts in graded company last season.

Two contenders are looking for their first graded stakes wins: Mr. Trieste, who has won his last eight starts for owner Richard Lueck and trainer Gary Cross, and Silver Axe, a 9-year-old who was second and third in two grade II starts last year for two-time New Orleans Handicap-winning trainer Tom Amoss.

With a win, Amoss and Howard can tie a New Orleans Handicap record with three victories in Fair Grounds' flagship event for older horses.

The other entrants are Dixie Meister, from the barn of leading trainer Steve Asmussen, and Sanctuary's Omooni, who was third in the Louisiana Champions Day Classic here last month.

The New Orleans Handicap is the 10th race on an 11-race card, which also includes the Red Camelia for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares and the Pan Zareta overnight stakes for distaff sprinters.

Field for the New Orleans Handicap:
1--Brass Hat, 117, Willie Martinez
2--Dixie Meister, 113, Roman Chapa
3--M B Sea, 115, Carlos Gonzalez
4--Silver Axe, 114, James Graham
5--Sanctuary's Omooni, 110, Jeffery Burningham
6--Mr. Trieste, 117, Ken S. Tohill
7--Alumni Hall, 116, Robby Albarado
8--West Virginia, 115, Eddie Castro