01/14/2006 1:00AM

Baghdaria nails French Park at wire

Lou Hodges Jr.
Baghdaria gets her head in front of French Park to win Saturday's Silverbulletday Stakes.

BOSSIER CITY, La. - The connections of the 3-year-old filly Baghdaria could have taken the path of least resistance and entered a lesser grass stakes Sunday at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs, but they rolled the dice and came up with a Grade 3 stakes win when Baghdaria edged heavily favored French Park in Saturday's $269,200 .

"It's a quarter-million dollars and a Grade 3, and we thought she fit as well as anyone in there, so we took a shot," said Bret Calhoun, who trains Baghdaria for owners Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch.

Baghdaria came into the Silverbulletday after two straight wins, one in a Hawthorne dirt sprint, the most recent in a turf route here. Her form paled in comparison to that of French Park, who shipped in from Florida undefeated after three starts and closed her 2-year-old season with a pair of graded stakes wins in Kentucky.

And at the top of the stretch, after Baghdaria had seized the lead from pacesetting Seen Dancing, it looked as if French Park would assert her superiority. Having stalked from third under Calvin Borel, French Park passed Baghdaria with just more than a furlong left to race.

"I wasn't completely out of horse," said Baghdaria's jockey, Cliff Berry, "but I thought she was beat. I was riding for second."

Running on gamely along the rail, Baghdaria crept back up on French Park in the final 50 yards and stuck her head in front strides before the wire. "She just wouldn't give up," Berry said.

Baghdaria was timed in 1:46.07 for 1 1/16 miles and paid $23.60 to win. She and French Park drew well clear of third-place Cappozene in the stretch, and French Park's race, her first since November, was a useful one.

"Maybe the last little bit she got a little tired," said trainer Helen Pitts. "I couldn't be happier. I couldn't ask for anything more."

Pitts said French Park might start next in the Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream.

Bayou victory never in doubt for Snowdrops

Snowdrops was bet like the only possible winner of the Grade 3, $269,600 , and she ran like a stone-cold standout, cruising to the lead coming off the far turn and running alone through the stretch. Her margin of victory was two lengths, but it might as well have been 20, for Snowdrops was far the best.

It looked that way on paper, too. Snowdrops, in from Florida for trainer Christophe Clement, entered the Bayou with 9 wins in 21 grass starts, and she was proven as a high-end, Grade 3 kind of turf horse, having run out more than $433,000 in earnings. The horses who would have been her chief rivals in the 1 1/16-mile Bayou all wound up passing the race, and Snowdrops looked like the proverbial stone-cold cinch.

The race wound up paceless, with Pad the Wallet - usually a closer - winding up on the early lead, tracked by Black Rock Road. Jockey Brice Blanc kept Snowdrops covered up near the back of a tight pack, but started looking for room approaching the far turn and made his move before the quarter pole. Snowdrops made the lead effortlessly as she cornered for home, and Blanc's job from there consisted of keeping his seat.

Snowdrops, a 6-year-old Gulch mare owned by G. Howard Spink, paid just $3.20 to win and was timed in 1:43.23 on a firm course. La Reason, a dirt horse all her life, rallied for second, with Lenatareese up for third.

Rodeo's Castle catches Beau's Town

Trainer Cole Norman's four horses weren't enough to win the Duncan F. Kenner Breeders' Cup Handicap, as Rodeo's Castle, a local standout from a little-known barn, rallied behind a hot pace to win by a neck over the classy sprinter Beau's Town.

Beau's Town's second-place finish while making his first start in more than 13 months led the Norman quartet, and Norman's other three horses finished sixth, eighth, and ninth. But this race belonged to Beverly Fowler, who trains Rodeo's Castle for Byron House III. Fowler won nine races in 2005, five of them with Rodeo's Castle. Fowler bases here at Louisiana Downs, and that is where Rodeo's Castle excels; his win in the $274,100 Kenner ran his local record to four wins and two seconds from six starts.

Rodeo's Castle typically races on or just off the early lead, but he came from fourth in the Kenner, picking up the leaders coming off the turn, and pushing past Beau's Town in the final 100 yards. Ridden to victory by John Jacinto, Rodeo's Castle paid $11 to win and was timed in 1:10.59 for six furlongs.