03/17/2011 3:03PM

Fair Grounds: Lineup uncertain for Bienville Stakes


On paper, the $60,000 Bienville Stakes, the Saturday feature at Fair Grounds, looks like a whale of a race, but there’s a fair measure of uncertainty concerning who among the 11 entrants actually will make the starting gate.

What is certain is this: Midst, the 7-2 morning-line favorite for jockey John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher, will not be racing. Midst, who hasn’t raced since May, has been posting steady turf drills at the Palm Meadows training center, but Pletcher said via text message Thursday that Midst would not be making the trip to New Orleans for the Bienville.

Carded for 5 1/2 furlongs on turf, the Bienville attracted several other talented horses with little or no grass experience, horses like Starlite Starbrite and Speedacious, whose connections may or may not be hoping for a rain-off onto dirt.

Speedacious merits respect, even considering her lack of turf accomplishment. She’s raced once on grass, finishing last of 12 in a Louisiana-bred stakes race, but that was a one-mile race during the period last year when trainer Bret Calhoun still was trying to fashion Speedacious into a route horse. It didn’t happen, but when Calhoun turned Speedacious back to short sprints this year, just letting her roll from the start, Speedacious immediately responded. She has won two statebred stakes in 2011 by almost 11 lengths combined and easily set a five-furlong track record Feb. 5 at Delta Downs. Moreover, her sire, Yankee Gentleman, is capable of getting a grass horse.

Starlite Starbrite has won half her 10 career starts and finished worse than second only once while being carefully managed by trainer Tom Amoss. A daughter of Mutakddim, she was sharp in a Feb. 3 allowance race victory at Fair Grounds but has never set foot on a grass course, at least in the afternoon.

The Bienville field also includes the one-two finishers from the Jan. 22 Leggio, another filly and mare turf-sprint stakes. Wild About Marie set a slow pace and barely held off Chantilly Nayla’s late run that day, but with far more speed horses entered in the Bienville, the advantage Saturday may swing to Chantilly Nayla.

Depending, of course, on who actually runs in the race.