02/21/2013 2:01PM

Fair Grounds: Bayou Handicap seen as stepping-stone for Daisy Devine

Jamie Hernandez/Hodges Photography
Daisy Devine (right) wins the Marie Krantz Memorial Handicap.

NEW ORLEANS – Targeting the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland for Daisy Devine, trainer Andrew McKeever views the Bayou Handicap on Saturday over the Fair Grounds grass course as an ideal prep.

Similar timing worked last year for Daisy Devine, McKeever said. She won the Mardi Gras in late February on the Fair Grounds turf before winning the Jenny Wiley in April.

“She’s ready to go,” McKeever said. “We schooled her in the paddock [Monday]. She was real good.”

[FAIR GROUNDS: Get PPs, watch video previews of Saturday's stakes]

Daisy Devine, whose 10 victories in 17 starts include three other graded wins, would surpass $1 million in earnings with at least a second-place finish in the $75,000 listed Bayou. As an odds-on favorite in a field of the nine older fillies and mares running about 1 1/16 miles, she will carry 126 pounds, spotting at least 12 pounds to each rival. McKeever said he wouldn’t be running Daisy Devine if she were assigned 128.

“In Europe, weight is the great equalizer,” McKeever said. “It’s going to catch up with any horse if you put enough on them.”

As a 5-year-old mare, Daisy Devine has filled out physically and improved mentally, McKeever said.

“She’s such a professional,” he said. “She used to be a dingbat. Now, she’s a queen. She got quite a lot of time off last summer. That’s what really made her a better horse.”

After finishing fifth in the Distaff Turf Mile on the Kentucky Derby Day card, Daisy Devine didn’t race again until October. She had spent about 50 days freshening at Hunter Valley Farm in Kentucky, McKeever said.

In her return, she finished second, a half-length behind Tapitsfly, in the Grade 1 First Lady at Keeneland – a performance that McKeever called “the best race she ever ran in her life.”

Daisy Devine has won her last three races – the Grade 3 Cardinal at Churchill Downs and the Blushing K.D. and Marie Krantz at the Fair Grounds.

With rain likely in the next few days, it’s possible that the Bayou would be run on dirt, but McKeever said that Daisy Devine would run no matter what the surface.

“She’s won on soft ground,” he said. “She’ll run on dirt. She’s won a Grade 2 on the dirt,” meaning the Fair Grounds Oaks in 2011. “She’s just superior. She’s a very good filly.”

Four runners will carry 114 pounds: Krantz runner-up Ausus; Anniversary Girl, who was third in the Krantz; Artemus Kitten, last year’s Bayou winner; and Snuggs and Kisses, coming off a rout of optional claiming rivals at seven furlongs on a sloppy track at Delta Downs.

Danny Peitz trains Ausus, a 4-year-old filly who finished 1 3/4 lengths behind Daisy Devine in the Marie Krantz. Ausus, owned by Shadwell Farm, was making her stakes debut in that race.

“They’re leaning toward this being her last race,” Peitz said. “She ran so good, so now we’d like to win a stakes with her.”

Peitz also will be running Zapper Belle, who won the Pago Hop at this meet. Ausus and Zapper Belle will run on turf or dirt, Peitz said.

“They’re both ready to run,” he said.

Ausus, a daughter of Invasor, has never raced on dirt.

“I’m not sure she’s not better on the Poly or the grass, from my own personal observation working on the dirt,” Peitz said.

Last-minute call in Gentilly

In the first of six stakes races on the card, 3-year-old Louisiana-breds are scheduled to run about a mile on turf in the Gentilly.

Sunbean would be among the favorites in what appears to be a competitive nine-horse field, but he also is an also-eligible entrant in the Risen Star. He’s expected to assume the farthest outside post in a 14-horse Risen Star field with the expected scratch of He’s Had Enough.

Trainer Al Stall Jr. said he would prefer not to run Sunbean from the 14 hole but likely would wait until Saturday to decide the race for him. “They’re calling for bad weather, that could affect horses running in the Risen Star, too,” Stall said Wednesday. “There’s a lot of moving parts right now. I’m riding everything out.”

Sunbean, the Louisiana Futurity winner, is coming off an optional claiming victory on dirt at a mile and 70 yards – the distance of the Gentilly if it is switched to dirt.

Trainer Bret Calhoun is running Hero Force, who won the Champions Day Juvenile at the Fair Grounds and the two-turn, seven-furlong Premier Prince at Delta Downs.

Premier Prince runner-up Heitai, trained by Sam Breaux, is a possible pacesetter in the Gentilly.

Johnny Handsome, who ran out of the money on turf at Arlington, is the only Gentilly entrant who has raced on grass. Leo Gabriel trains Johnny Handsome, who won two route races at this meet and finished second in open company to Departing, a Risen Star entrant.

“He’s going to have to step up,” Gabriel said.

Hopeful Notion, who won a two-turn maiden race in his second start for trainer Wes Hawley, is by Notional out of a Rahy mare – a pedigree that suggests he will handle turf.

Trainer Andy Leggio said he would like the race to stay on turf for Skip the Pinot, who won a two-turn maiden race in his second start. Leggio trained Skip the Pinot’s sire, G.W.’s Skippie, and dam, Pinot Pals – both winners on turf at Fair Grounds.