03/19/2011 3:06PM

Elite Alex one of several new prospects for Louisiana Derby

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Jeff Coady. Coady Photography
Elite Alex scratched from Saturday's Rebel Stakes in favor of the Louisiana Derby.

It never made any sense, even with a current glut of 3-year-old stakes races, that the Louisiana Derby and its new-for-2011 $1 million purse would wind up with short field. The number of horses considered probable starters sagged last week, but new names have been thrown into the mix – chief among them Elite Alex – and it’s possible that as many as 12 horses will wind up in the race when Louisiana Derby entries are taken late Sunday morning.

KENTUCKY DERBY NEWS: Track all the 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail

Elite Alex, a promising Oaklawn Park-based colt, was scratched from the Rebel Stakes on Saturday morning by trainer Tim Richey in favor of the Louisiana Derby. But Elite Alex isn’t the most prominent horse whose connections have late-breaking interest in Fair Grounds multi-stakes day on March 26. Giant Oak, winner of the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in his most recent start, has become a serious candidate for the New Orleans Handicap, trainer Chris Block confirmed Saturday. Giant Oak, based at Gulfstream Park, is scheduled to work Sunday morning, Block said.

“If he breezes well and scopes clean, then I’ll make the call and enter him,” Block said.

The connections of Giant Oak, who was placed first via disqualification in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap last fall, originally had the Oaklawn Handicap as their prime objective following the Donn, but Block said that with the Stephen Foster Handicap in June as Giant Oak’s next major goal, the New Orleans Handicap made more sense in terms of timing than the Oaklawn race. Block intends to start Giant Oak in the Alysheba Stakes on Kentucky Oaks Day as a springboard to the Foster.

Giant Oak spent the two winters before this in New Orleans, and in four starts at Fair Grounds his best finish was a third in the Mineshaft Handicap.

“We’re all aware that he hasn’t run his best races in New Orleans, but I think he’s a different horse now,” Block said.

Also expected for the New Orleans Handicap are Demarcation and Mission Impazible, the one-two finishers in the Mineshaft Handicap.

Elite Alex, who will be ridden by Calvin Borel, figures to be among the top three Louisiana Derby choices with Mucho Macho Man, the winner of the Risen Star, and Machen, the fourth-place Risen Star finisher. Other considered likely to be entered are two horses trained by Kelly Breen, Nacho Business and Pants On Fire, two more from trainer Steve Asmussen, Le Mans and Nehro, plus Wilkinson, Left, Duca, Majestic Harbor, and Truman’s Commander.

The pendulum, of course, swings both directions. Just as the possibility of a short field enticed some horsemen to consider the Louisiana Derby, the prospect of deeper competition may lead others to reconsider.