09/16/2003 11:00PM

Dad, this one's for you

Email

BOSSIER CITY, La. - A win in the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs by Crowned King on Saturday would have great meaning for trainer Billy McKeever Jr., and his brother, David. Their father, longtime Louisiana resident and horse owner Billy McKeever Sr., died in December.

McKeever introduced his sons to racing, and had high hopes for Crowned King, who since his death has won three stakes as a 3-year-old, including the $125,000 Rebel at Oaklawn and the $200,000 USA Stakes at Lone Star Park.

"It would mean more to me to win the Super Derby than it would to even go to the Kentucky Derby," said Billy McKeever Jr., 40. "I was raised here, and have been coming out to this track since they started. I was looking at the program on [past] Super Derby days, and I've been to most all of them.

"I've always said, 'Wouldn't that be neat to have one in the Super Derby one day?' That's before I ever thought of pursuing the training business."

McKeever took out a trainer's license a few years ago, and picked up his first stakes win when Crowned King won The Minstrel at Louisiana Downs last fall. He trained the horse for his father until his father died from a blood clot the day Crowned King was entered in the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds.

"I think he would be very happy," said McKeever. "He always wanted to have a horse go to the Kentucky Derby and he got close a time or two when Gene Norman was training for him. [This race] would mean a lot to him, him being a local, too."

Crowned King, a closer, had little pace to fuel his late run last out when he finished third in the $50,000 Prelude but should get more pace on Saturday. Chandra Rennie is the regular rider on Crowned King, and will try to become the first female jockey to win the Super Derby.

Melancon finally gets a mount

Last year, jockey Gerard Melancon was leading the standings at Louisiana Downs and was offered his first-ever mount in the Super Derby, aboard leading contender The Judge Sez Who. He was thrilled because the race is one of the biggest in his home state, but had to turn down the offer because he was booked to ride Bonapaw in the Grade 1 Vosburgh.

It was a shrewd call. The Judge Sez Who finished fourth, while Bonapaw was an impressive winner of the Vosburgh.

Fast forward a year, and Melancon will finally get his chance at a Super Derby with Zydeco Affair, runner-up to Kool Humor in the the Prelude. Zydeco Affair is a two-time stakes winner on turf who is looking for his first stakes win on dirt Saturday.

"He can run either way," said Larry Robideaux, who trains Zydeco Affair for David Beard and noted the colt earned his best Beyer Figure on dirt, a 92, last out in the Prelude.

Zydeco Affair finished a close fifth in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in January. After the race, Robideaux thought Zydeco Affair was a little off in his hind end. A bone chip was found in the colt's left hock and was removed. He returned to the races and finished second to older stakes winner One Eyed Joker in a turf allowance in July.

From there, Zydeco Affair finished second in the Bossier City Handicap. He is a grandson of Storm Bird, who is the sire of Beard and Robideaux's other Super Derby starter together, Mystery Storm, who finished fifth in 1995.

Longshot trains like a favorite

Taxicat, who finished fourth in the Prelude, will be a longshot in the Super Derby, but he's training like anything but, said his trainer, Carl Giesse.

"He's such a strong colt, and he's really on the improve," said Giesse, who co-owns Taxicat with Lou Block. "He's only had a few starts, but he performed really well in his first start around two turns last out and has improved so much since then I can't not run him.

"We're willing to risk $7,500 [in entry fees] to try and beat some of the nation's best colts."

Taxicat, by Tale of the Cat, has shown speed in each of his four starts, winning one of those races and finishing second in two others before the Prelude. He will be the first Super Derby starter for Giesse, as well as his rider, John Jacinto.

Last year, a local longshot ran big in the Super Derby when Walk in the Snow was second at 30-1.

- A week after hosting two stakes for Texas-breds, Louisiana Downs will host one for Alabama-breds. The $35,000 Alabama Belle on Friday drew seven fillies and mares.

Also on the card is a seven-furlong allowance for fillies and mares that drew a competitive group, including Princess Jen and Sira.