Updated on 09/16/2011 6:57AM

Flying's no sweat for McPeek's big guns


NEW ORLEANS - Repent and Take Charge Lady, the Ken McPeek-trained runners who will be heavily favored in Fair Grounds's weekend stakes, arrived safely here on Thursday afternoon after a flight from Florida.

Repent will head the field in Sunday's $750,000 Louisiana Derby for 3-year-olds. Take Charge Lady, an odds-on favorite on the track's morning line, was among eight 3-year-old fillies entered Thursday in Saturday's $350,000 Fair Grounds Oaks. Also on the flight from Florida were Charioteer and White Flame, both of whom will face Repent on Sunday.

"I'm so stupid, I'm even sharing a plane with Repent," Niall O'Calla-ghan, the trainer of White Flame, said Thursday morning.

While stabled here, Repent and Take Charge Lady are in Barn 29, where trainer Bobby Barnett has his string. McPeek, who is based this winter at Gulfstream Park, does not have a division at Fair Grounds.

Helen Pitts, an assistant to McPeek, traveled with both Repent and Take Charge Lady and said both took the trip well.

Repent "can be difficult" at the barn, Pitts said, but he is "better on a plane than on a van."

"He gets on the plane and he doesn't move," Pitts said Thursday afternoon. "He think's he's the President flying around."

Take Charge Lady never presents a problem, Pitts said. "She's a sweetheart," Pitts said. "He's a bear."

Desormeaux hopes for an Assault

Keith Desormeaux, the trainer of French Assault, is hoping his colt can improve upon his fourth-place finish in the Risen Star Stakes when he runs in the Louisiana Derby. The first three finishers in the Risen Star - Repent, Bob's Image, and Easyfromthegitgo - are returning in the Louisiana Derby.

"I'm hoping with maturity he can develop," Desormeaux said Thursday morning at his barn. "Mother Nature's going to improve him, not Keith Desormeaux. He needs to step up a notch. I can't tell you he's sitting on a huge race, but he's doing great, and he's sound and happy.

"This race is in our backyard. We've been here all winter. It's a huge purse," Desormeaux added. "If he can't compete with these, we'll start ducking them next time. There's the Arkansas Derby, and then a whole load of 3-year-old races in Dallas.

Desormeaux will head to Lone Star Park in Texas when this meet ends.

Desormeaux said French Assault came out of his workout on Wednesday in good shape, despite getting unexpected company midway through the five-furlong drill.

"I didn't really mind. He's a bit of a laid-back horse if he doesn't hook up in company," Desormeaux said. "They had a spirited stretch run."

Rationing Bob's speed

Dallas Stewart, the trainer of Bob's Image, believes the best chance his horse has to upset Repent in the Louisiana Derby is to go slower early. When the two met last month in the Risen Star Stakes, Bob's Image set a brisk pace for Fair Grounds, with an opening quarter-mile in 23 seconds and a half in 46. Because of that, Pat Day is taking over as the jockey for Bob's Image on Sunday.

"I'm just hoping Pat can get our horse to relax," Stewart said. "He can be with the pace. I don't want to change his style. I just want him to be going easy and relaxed. They went 23 seconds for the first quarter, then kept on rambling. I want him to relax the first half and then kick on."

Jeremiah Jack back on track

Three-year-old gelding Jeremiah Jack had his first breeze on Wednesday since undergoing throat surgery, working a half-mile in 51 seconds. Jeremiah Jack won the Houston Texan Juvenile in early December and was a close fourth in the Jan. 26 Lecomte Stakes, but in mid-February was diagnosed with an entrapped epiglottis, a condition that necessitated minor surgery.

"I'm as happy as you could be with a slow half-mile," said trainer Tom Amoss. "We scoped him afterward and the surgery seems to have been a success. We'll press him a little more when he works next week."

Jeremiah Jack's setback pushed him out of contention for the Louisiana Derby, but if he continues to progress, Amoss said he would consider the Grade 3 Rebel at Oaklawn as a short-term goal.

Race finally fills for Strut the Stage

Strut the Stage, who just missed winning the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes last summer, makes his first start of the season Saturday in the eighth race, a fourth-level turf allowance with a $125,000 claiming option.

This is the second time trainer Mark Frostad tried to get Strut the Stage into an allowance race at Fair Grounds, but the colt was one of only a handful of horses entered in the previous race, which never made it onto a racing card. Discouraged, Frostad sent Strut the Stage back to owner Sam-Son Farm's Florida training center, but brought the colt back with another potential race coming up.

There was no shortage of entries this time, and three horses were left on the also-eligible list with eight in the body of the field. But the race might have come up too late to function as an Explosive Bid Handicap prep for Strut the Stage. Said Frostad, "It's highly unlikely he'll run" in the March 24 Explosive Bid. "That's so close now. We'll have to see how he runs this time."

Frostad has high hopes for Strut the Stage, a compact chestnut colt by Theatrical who figures to be even better as a 4-year-old than he was at age 3. Strut the Stage won four of his first five starts last year before being caught on the wire by Startac in the Secretariat, then wound up his year with a troubled fourth-place finish against older horses in the Grade 1 Canadian International Handicap.

Frostad has another top turf prospect in the rapidly developing 4-year-old Full of Wonder. Full of Wonder is likely to be nominated to the Explosive Bid, but might pass that race in favor of a start at Keeneland. Full of Wonder, whose dam is the champion mare Dance Smartly, came back from a 10-month layoff to win his maiden and posted an impressive allowance win Sunday.

* Keats, who rebounded from a disastrous race in the Donn Handicap to finish third in the New Orleans Handicap, is being pointed for the Grade 3, $300,000 Texas Mile at Lone Star on April 27.

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh