03/09/2004 1:00AM

Callies First Effort looks to be favored in Mardi Gras


Fastest qualifier Callies First Effort, a two-length trial winner, should be favored to become the year's first futurity winner in the Grade 2, $119,376 Mardi Gras Futurity for Louisiana-breds on Thursday afternoon at Fair Grounds.

On Friday afternoon, trainer Richard Louis Smith will send out two of the three fastest qualifiers in the Grade 3, $39,364 Mardi Gras Derby.

The futurity and derby contestants were determined by qualifying races at Fair Grounds on Feb. 23 and 24. Each of those days featured two futurity trials and one derby trial, and the five fastest futurity horses and five fastest derby horses on each day qualified for the finals.

Callies First Effort did everything that could be desired of a first-time starter with her daylight win in 15.656 seconds for the 300 yards on the second day of trials. Her time was also 0.245 seconds faster than that of Games Gambler Magic, the fastest qualifier on the first day of trials. This time differential - equal to more than 1 1/2 lengths - should earn Callies First Effort the favorite's designation.

Games Gambler Magic was also a dominating trial winner. He opened up three lengths in just 300 yards while stopping the timer in 15.930 seconds. The next-fastest time from the first day of trials was 16.272 seconds, set by Ill Shine.

The derby finalists are getting a break because last year's Mardi Gras Futurity winner, Vals Fortune, did not compete in the trials. Vals Fortune was easily named 2003's champion 2-year-old gelding when he ended the year with 10 straight wins, including five futurities.

Smith can take advantage of Vals Fortune's absence with either Toast to Mallard or Paradise Jayne, the first- and third-fastest qualifiers.

Toast to Mallard could gain her first stakes victory after beating Toast the Effort by a half-length to win the Feb. 23 trial. Toast to Mallard was clocked in 20.458 seconds for 400 yards over a sloppy track.

Last year, Toast to Mallard won four of 10 starts and was second in the $117,000 Lassie Futurity at Delta Downs. Three of her losses were to Vals Fortune.

Paradise Jayne, who has yet to win or place in a stakes, earned her spot in the Mardi Gras Derby with a neck win over I Can Reed in 20.944 seconds on a track listed as good. Paradise Jayne has two wins from eight starts, with three of her defeats coming behind Vals Fortune.