Updated on 09/17/2011 11:03AM

Crash survivor detours to La. Derby


NEW ORLEANS - Winning Fans was 108-1 when he finished third in the Lecomte Handicap at Fair Grounds on Jan. 25, and he will be a similarly priced longshot against such horses as Badge of Silver, Kafwain, and Peace Rules in Sunday's $750,000 Louisiana Derby. But an improbable victory would certainly be a tear-jerking conclusion to the heart-wrenching saga in which Winning Fans has been involved.

On Feb. 25, Winning Fans was being transported from Sam Houston Race Park to Sunland Park in New Mexico, where he was scheduled to run in last Sunday's Borderland Derby. En route, however, Winning Fans was involved in a traffic accident near Schulenberg, Texas, that killed his trainer, . The 3-year-old Winning Fans, and two other horses in the van, suffered minor injuries.

"He was body sore, and he had a few scratches here and there," trainer Junior Martinez said from Sam Houston Race Park. "He was at a vet hospital in Schulenberg for three or four days. That's where I picked him up. I took him back to Sam Houston."

Martinez, 54, owns a farm where he breaks yearlings in San Diego, Texas, 30 miles west of Corpus Christi. He manages the runners owned by Gonzalo Fernandez of Mexico City, who races as Cuadra Valedor Inc. Since Flores's death, Martinez has taken over the training of Fernandez's horses, including Winning Fans.

Winning Fans, a colt by You and I who was an $11,000 yearling purchase, began his career in Mexico City, where he won his first three starts. He has raced in stakes since heading to the United States. He was fifth in the Texan Juvenile at Sam Houston, fourth in the Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs, and was third of 11 in the Lecomte, which was won by Saintly Look.

Winning Fans could not run in the Borderland Derby because he needed time to recover from the accident, Martinez said.

"He was in no condition to run that weekend, and there was a lot of sadness because of what happened to Ramon," Martinez said.

Flores, 34, was a rising star in the Southwest. He was fifth in the trainer standings at Sam Houston at the time of his death, and he was sixth last year at Lone Star Park.

Martinez said Winning Fans "seems all right" now. Winning Fans, and a filly named Pleasant State - who is scheduled to run in a race here at Fair Grounds on Monday - were both scheduled to travel by van with Martinez on Thursday afternoon from Sam Houston to Fair Grounds.

Calhoun has strength in numbers

Trainer Bret Calhoun suddenly is playing at a higher level than he ever has before, and in the two graded stakes races at Fair Grounds this weekend, Calhoun has three horses to saddle. Calhoun just wishes he could go into the weekend with a little more confidence.

All three of Calhoun's horses - Afternoon Dreams and Rebridled Dreams in the Saturday's Fair Grounds Oaks, and Commander's Affair in Sunday's Louisiana Derby - are longshots.

Afternoon Dreams and Rebridled Dreams ran two-three in the Silverbulletday here

Feb. 15, but they finished far behind Belle of Perintown, one of the main contenders in the Oaks. Sunday, Calhoun will tackle Badge of Silver and Kafwain with Commander's Affair, a horse who has never been in a stakes race.

"Saturday, I'm taking on a filly that beat me by 8 1/4 lengths, and you add in Lady Tak and Atlantic Ocean. Sunday, I'm going against the two top-ranked 3-year-olds in the country," Calhoun said.

But Calhoun, ranked eighth nationally in wins this year, isn't just taking blind stabs with these horses.

"Believe me, if I'm going to be in these races, I'd rather be in them with a favorite than a longshot," he said. "But this time of year, there aren't that many spots that you can point a horse for. They're here and they're doing well, and even if we don't win, I still think we have a chance to make some good money this weekend."

Commander's Affair may be the most interesting of Calhoun's stakes horses, if only because he remains a relatively unknown quantity. Commander's Affair has won a maiden race and an allowance in his last two starts, both at 1 1/16 miles, the Louisiana Derby distance.

"He's done only what he had to do to win the last two races," Calhoun said. "I still don't think we've gotten to the bottom of this horse. He's lazy. He's lazy in the morning, lazy when he breezes. Obviously he's going to be challenged this time. We'll see how much more there is in the tank."

Learned, Even the Score to Explosive Bid

Learned, fifth in the New Orleans Handicap last weekend, and Even the Score, who won the Mardi Gras Handicap on Tuesday, could make their next start in the Grade 2 Explosive Bid Handicap here on March 23.

The Explosive Bid would be Learned's turf debut. For Even the Score, the race would mark a return to turf after a rare dirt appearance here this week. Racing on the main track for the first time in more than a year - the Mardi Gras was taken off grass because of rain - Even the Score rallied sharply in the final quarter-mile to beat Discreet Hero, an accomplished dirt horse, by a nose.

"You never know what these horses are going to do," trainer Dallas Stewart said. "That race opened some options for us."

Even the Score finished a good third at 70-1 in last year's Explosive Bid.

Learned never threatened in the New Orleans Handicap, though he finished decently to grab fifth. Trainer Bobby Barnett said Learned came out of the race in good physical condition and was likely to try the Explosive Bid. "We've wanted to try him on grass for awhile," Barnett said.

West Coast horses due to arrive

Kafwain and Peace Rules, along with Atlantic Ocean, a filly scheduled to run in Saturday's $350,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, all were scheduled to arrive at Fair Grounds late Thursday after a flight from California that was delayed for several hours.

Kafwain and Atlantic Ocean are trained by Bob Baffert and are based at Santa Anita. Peace Rules is trained by Bobby Frankel and is based at Hollywood Park. The horses were sent to the airport in Ontario, Calif., for the flight to New Orleans.

- Funny Cide, who is scheduled to run in the Louisiana Derby, arrived late Wednesday from his base in south Florida.

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh