03/15/2005 12:00AM

Handle record set on Louisiana Derby Day


NEW ORLEANS - Churchill Downs Inc. rolled the dice at the beginning of the Fair Grounds meet by shuffling the stakes schedule to set up big race days, adding what used to be two of the meet's biggest stand-alone stakes, the Fair Grounds Oaks and the New Orleans Handicap, to Louisiana Derby Day. Linked with the Marie Krantz Memorial Handicap, the four stakes' purses totaled $1.5 million, making Saturday the richest day in Louisiana horse racing history.

The gamble paid off, too, when the card drew the largest single-day handle in track history. Fair Grounds president and general manager Randy Soth went out on a limb earlier that week by predicting the track's first $10 million handle in a day. But when the finals numbers were tallied, bettors had sent $11,310,990 through the windows, machines, and phone betting accounts on the 11-race card. The Louisiana Derby itself set a Fair Grounds single-race handle record of $2,972,213.

Soth called the day "everything we could possibly have hoped for." The previous all-sources handle record was $9,080,419, set in 2000.

The 2004-05 meet produced two of the three highest all-sources handle figures in Fair Grounds history. On Louisiana Derby Preview Day, Feb. 12, the handle was $8,454,437.

Badge of Silver loves this track

Badge of Silver took a giant step toward a spot in the Fair Grounds Hall of Fame on Saturday by winning the Grade 2, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap with a gutsy come-again performance. Coupled with his victory in the 2003 Risen Star Stakes, the New Orleans Handicap score puts Badge of Silver up there with Peace Rules among the ranks of horses who have won more than one graded stakes race at Fair Grounds in different years.

"Now, the goal is to get him a Grade 1 victory," said Badge of Silver's owner, Ken Ramsey.

Badge of Silver ran second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in New York last year. Ramsey probably wishes that Fair Grounds, a track Badge of Silver clearly relishes, had a Grade 1 race.

"He's only lost once here," Ramsey said.

Badge of Silver's lone loss at Fair Grounds came in the 2003 Louisiana Derby, when he flipped his palate. Peace Rules won that race. Next up for Badge of Silver is the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 9, with the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park down the road.

Crimson Stag named state champion

Crimson Stag, the promising Dallas Stewart-trained colt who will be favored in Saturday's Gentilly Handicap for Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds at a mile over the Fair Grounds turf course, was named the top 2-year-old male of 2004 by members of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

Crimson Stag won only one Louisiana-bred race as a 2-year-old, the Louisiana Champions Juvenile, but competed well against open company the rest of the season. Other 2004 champions include Champions Day winners Equestrian Girls (Juvenile Fillies), Happy Ticket (Lassie), and Witt Ante (Classic). Nitro Chip was named best 3-year-old male and Destiny Calls best older female.

Gold Storm works

Trainer Bubba Cascio sent Gold Storm out for a 46.60-second breeze Monday in his final tune-up for Saturday's Duncan F. Kenner Breeders' Cup Handicap for older sprinters. Regular jockey Elvis Perrodin was in the irons.

"I let him roll a little," said Perrodin, "but the last eighth of a mile I kind of got on him. He hasn't run for a while and I wanted to keep him fit. He went good, and everything's on schedule for Saturday. I'm not saying he'll win, but you're going to have to run to beat him."

* Storm Surge came out of his third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby in good order and may run next in the Lexington Stakes or the Derby Trial, according to trainer Dallas Stewart.

"He was bouncing around, happy as can be afterward," said Stewart. "We're going to evaluate his options and be realistic with him right now."

Stewart said he will not send Storm Surge to the Kentucky Derby, but he also said, "The colt is not off the Triple Crown trail."