Proving Ground

by Ed Meyer

posted on March 10, 2009 in News, Other Events | No Comments >>

Friesan Fire, a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby, was installed Monday as the early favorite for the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds.

Coming into the US $600,000 race Saturday with victories in the Risen Star and the Lecomte Sakes, Friesan Fire was the top choice at 5-2 and drew the No. 9 post in a field of 10 three-year-olds. The colt, trained by Larry Jones, will be ridden by Gabriel Saez.

Patena was the second choice at 7-2, followed by Giant Oak at 4-1. Among other top challengers are Risen Star runner-up Flying Pegasus and Papa Clem, which finished second in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita last month.

Jones said he’d rather see Friesan Fire start closer to the inside, but added that his jockey didn’t seem to mind.

“Gabriel seems happy with it and he’s the one that’s got to ride him, so I’ll let him figure it out,” Jones said. “This is a good field of horses. … I think who ever wins it definitely is going to come out of here and be a major player in the (Kentucky) Derby.”

Jones, who plans to make this year his last as a trainer for a public stable, may have two major players in the Kentucky Derby on May 2nd. The other is Old Fashioned, who is training and racing at Oaklawn Park, and won the Southwest Stakes there by 3 1/4 lengths last month.

“What a way to go out,” Jones said. “It’s definitely still mind-boggling to me. I don’t know how we got so lucky, but I’m glad we did.”

Despite numerous successes during about three decades as a trainer, Jones gained new levels of notoriety last spring as the trainer of 2008 Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles. The filly had to be euthanized when she broke down moments after crossing the finish line behind Big Brown.

Big Brown’s trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., is overseeing Patena’s conditioning for the stable IEAH, which bought the colt after Robby Albarado rode it to a second-place finish in the Lecomte. Albarado also will ride Patena out of the third post in the Louisiana Derby.

Giant Oak, which drew the sixth post, finished fifth in the Risen Star, after running into traffic trouble, in the colt’s debut as a three-year-old. In his last race as a two-year-old, Giant Oak was second by a neck in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, which was more of the performance jockey James Graham expects in the Louisiana Derby.

“He got into a lot of trouble the last day, but if everything works out the way I think it should, the way I think it can, he can beat these other horses,” Graham said. “He’s a good horse. He’s coming into himself and they better be ready.”

The rest of the Louisiana Derby field includes Free Country, Nowhere To Hide, Soul Warrior, Terrain and Uno Mas.