Updated on 09/16/2011 8:02AM

Good enough to be a Grade 1


NEW ORLEANS - There have been Grade 1 races around the country this year that looked very much like Grade 2's or Grade 3's. Sunday at Fair Grounds, they're running a Grade 2 that looks like a Grade 1.

The $700,000 Explosive Bid Handicap, the final burst of fireworks at a Fair Grounds meet that ends Monday, has attracted a full gate of 14 horses. They will run nine furlongs over a turf course that has been preserved the last several weeks strictly for use in the Explosive Bid. And they are a strong, strong bunch.

"I have only 11 or 12 years to look at," said Fair Grounds president Bryan Krantz, "but this might be the best race we've ever had at the track."

There are 12 stakes winners and eight graded stakes winners in the field. Two of the horses have won Grade 1's. There are accomplished turf runners from both coasts and a deep group of locals hoping to take a step into top-class company. It will be a feast for the appreciative fan, and a paradise for the interested bettor.

The Explosive Bid goes as race 8, one race earlier than the usual feature here. For the race, Fair Grounds will move the grass course's inside rail to its innermost position, bringing back into action a lush section of the course unused in several weeks.

There are four horses in from California: Beat Hollow, Designed for Luck, Sarafan, and Suances.

Suances and Beat Hollow were Group 1 winners in Europe; Sarafan and Designed for Luck finished two-three earlier this month in the Grade 2 Kilroe Handicap at Santa Anita. From Florida come Hap and North East Bound, multiple graded stakes winners, and Pisces, winner of the Grade 2 Appleton Handicap in his last start.

Almost any one of the locally based horses is capable of a surprise. The most accomplished of them is the Fair Grounds-loving Northcote Road, second in last year's Explosive Bid. Candid Glen, a dead closer, won the Connally Breeders' Cup at Sam Houston in his last start, beating the improving Even the Score by a nose. Even the Score, Northcote Road, and the Grade 2 winner Fan Club's Mister all are likely pace elements in the Explosive Bid.

Beat Hollow and Suances are the most talented horses in the race, yet their form is hard to gauge. Between them, they've made one start since the summer of 2000, but they were top 3-year-olds that year in Europe.

Beat Hollow finished third behind Sinndar and Sakhee in the Epsom Derby - beating 12 other horses - then won the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris by a length. Suances won four races in a row in Spain before moving to the European major leagues and scoring a six-length win in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat.

Both are in good hands. Bobby Frankel trains Beat Hollow, who came back from 19-month layoff to win an allowance race Jan. 31 at Santa Anita. Trainer Darrell Vienna brings back Suances from a layoff approaching two years.

"That's what you don't know about," Vienna said, "the layoff. He has the quality."

David Flores rides Suances, who has been turning in exceptional dirt works at Santa Anita. Suances showed tactical speed in Europe and would be well served using it from post 12 Sunday. As Beat Hollow did in his recent allowance win, Suances races on Lasix for the first time.

Beat Hollow's allowance race earned rave reviews. Trapped behind horses in a short field, Beat Hollow found racing room in the stretch and burst through to win.

"He looks good and he's been training good," Frankel said.

Hap is the East's best hope. Trained by Bill Mott, Hap has won several Grade 2's and has never lost in seven starts at 1 1/8 miles. The Explosive Bid will be his first start since he finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf, which at 1 1/2 miles might have been too long for him.

A compact chestnut colt with a big kick, Hap nearly always fires, yet the horses he has beaten in his best wins do not stir the blood, and the Explosive Bid will be a big test.

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