07/23/2009 11:00PM

Exciting Empress in featured role

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Sunday's feature race at Louisiana Downs has only one condition attached: You have to be either a filly or a mare. With such an open invitation, the $27,000 headliner looks more like a stakes event than an allowance race. A field of seven females loaded with stakes experience will go about 7 1/2 furlongs over the turf course.

Exciting Empress will be making her first local appearance this season. A 5-year-old trained by Eric Heitzmann, she won her seasonal bow here in 2008 and earlier this year was stakes-placed in both the Red Camelia Stakes at Fair Grounds on the turf and the Archie Sebastien Memorial over the Evangeline Downs main track. Lonnie Meche will ride on Sunday.

Nine M. M. should be a major factor on Sunday - if she runs. Trainer George Northrop Jr. also entered her in the $50,000 Matron Stakes on Saturday night at Evangeline. In her most recent start here, the Top Corsage Stakes last month, Nine M. M. broke in the air and found herself trailing in the early going instead of in her customary position at front of the field. She managed to rally down the stretch and salvage a fifth-place finish. Ramsey Zimmerman will be in the saddle if Northrop opts for a start here.

Should Nine M. M. not start, the pacesetting duties could fall to Zarb's Ballerina with leading rider Don Simington on board. She will be making her third start for trainer Robby Robinson after leaving the barn of Danny Whited late in the spring. In her most recent start, Zarb's Ballerina helped set the pace in the Sebastien at Evangeline before weakening a bit down the stretch to report home third. She is a three-time winner over the grass, including two victories at Louisiana Downs.

Martin's Bay, who like Exciting Empress is cross-entered in the Matron, also has a turn of early foot and is another who should be a pace factor if she goes. She gave ground grudgingly in a third-level optional claiming affair in her last start, and the resulting Beyer Speed Figure of 88 is the highest last-race figure for anyone in the field. Trainer Andrew Leggio has named Francisco Torres to ride.

Others in the field include Cigar Starter, who finished fourth in the Honeymoon Stakes here on opening weekend in mid-May; Sweet Lemonade, a winner over both the Fair Grounds and Lone Star Park turf this year; and Marked Time, a former conditioned claimer who has ascended to the allowance ranks for trainer Charles Hukill.