05/09/2007 11:00PM

Ceasers March tries to rebound

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Ceasers March, unplaced in the Derby Trial two weeks ago at Churchill Downs, returns to his home state in Saturday's $50,000 Free Spirits Joy Stakes at Louisiana Downs. The six-furlong affair for Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds is one of four stakes on the afternoon program, including a $40,000 starter stakes.

"We don't have any big excuse," trainer Bret Calhoun said of Ceasers March's eighth-place finish in the Derby Trail, won by Flying First Class for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "We shipped up there thinking we might run them off their feet since we are pretty quick, but we were the ones that got our feet run off. Lukas's colt just kept going."

The defeat at the hands of Flying First Class, who made the short list of Derby hopefuls following a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure in a maiden win early in the year at Oaklawn Park, was hardly a discouraging setback for Calhoun, who won with the two other starters he has shipped to Churchill this spring.

"We have always been high on Ceasers," Calhoun said from his Lone Star Park base Thursday morning. "He is probably better suited from a distance standpoint to go short, at least against better horses, but he has won going long and there is a lot of money available in Louisiana if you are a statebred, so we will likely keep him in the state."

Prior to the Derby Trial, Ceasers March was a runaway winner in an entry-level allowance at two turns at Fair Grounds, winning off by 11o1/2 lengths. A son of Leestown, Ceasers March graduated at first asking in late December in New Orleans by almost 10 lengths, the only time other than the Derby Trial that he has attempted one turn. Calhoun has given the riding call to Gerard Melancon.

With plenty of speed in the Free Spirits Joy, handicappers will immediately look for someone to come from off the pace. The Steve Asmussen-trained Hallway fits the bill as the primary closer following a near miss in the $100,000 Crescent City Derby at Fair Grounds in late March. Hallway, a colt by Graeme Hall, also finished second in the $75,000 Gentilly Stakes in late January. While both of those stakes tries were at two turns, Hallway also has proved he can run late sprinting, having won his maiden with a solid rally at six furlongs here late last summer. Donnie Meche will handle the riding chores.

* In the $50,000 John Franks Memorial Stakes on grass, Diggy Fresh rates as the one to beat. The turf course itself is also named for Franks, the oilman and Eclipse Award-winning owner.

Trained by James Hodges, Diggy Fresh won the Shiskabob Stakes here last summer. Though winless over the Fair Grounds turf over the winter and early spring, the 6-year-old gave a good account of himself each time. Donnie Meche rides.

* Raspberry Wine, winner of her last three races, all in stakes company, puts that win streak on the line in the $50,000 Seven Stars for fillies and mares on the grass. The Al Stall Jr. charge most recently proved victorious in the Red Camelia Stakes at Fair Grounds, her second career turf start. John Jacinto will be in the saddle.

* The $50,000 Fantasia Stakes brings together a talented group of 3-year-old fillies set to go six furlongs. Ahead of Her Time, unbeaten in two starts here last year, including the Princess Stakes, makes her 2007 debut for trainer Jerry Hardin.