08/19/2005 12:00AM

J.D.'s Blue Bayou faces two X factors


J.D.'s Blue Bayou has mastered sprinting, and on Sunday at Louisiana Downs he will attempt to conquer a different frontier: Two turns and turf.

The task comes in the $75,000 A. L. "Red" Erwin, for 3-year-old Louisiana-breds at about a mile on turf. J.D.'s Blue Bayou has finished fourth in his one career start on the grass, but he could go favored Sunday on the strength of his record of three stakes wins, all of which have come at six furlongs.

J.D.'s Blue Bayou won in open company in two of those races, while his lone grass start also came in open company, when he finished fourth in the $50,000 Excalibur at about a mile on turf May 15. Since then, J.D.'s Blue Bayou won two of his sprint stakes and finished second in the $50,000 B. B. Rayburn at one mile at Evangeline Downs on July 30.

C.J. Woodley has the mount on J.D.'s Blue Bayou for trainer Troy Young. Chief threats in the 12-horse field are Mr. Barracuda, winner of the B.B. Rayburn; Chip Hunter, who is 2 for 3 on turf; and the Steve Asmussen-trained entry of Encinal and Betnow.

Another stakes winner for Gonzalez?

Chip Hunter is the most experienced turf horse in the Erwin, and he can give his rider, Carlos Gonzalez, his latest stakes win at the meet. Gonzalez won three stakes at the track in July, and was scheduled to ride favorite Miriam L. in the $75,000 Elge Raspberry here Saturday.

Gonzalez is back riding strong after an injury hampered his momentum in early May.

"I was doing real good at the beginning of the meet," said Gonzalez. "I was laying somewhere around third in the standings, then I had some bad luck and got hurt."

Gonzalez was stepped on by one of his mounts after being thrown and broke his toe. Although It set him back for only about a week, he said two of the horses he was supposed to ride won stakes during that time. But since Gonzalez has returned to action he has rebounded with three stakes wins, including the $50,000 Hallowed Dreams and $50,000 Delicada on back-to-back weekends in July.

His latest stakes winner could come Sunday with Chip Hunter, whom he has guided to two turf wins in his last two starts, the latest in an entry-level allowance score July 10. Since the race, Chip Hunter has worked five furlongs in a bullet 1:01.80. He is trained by James Hodges, and so far this meet Gonzalez is 5 for 18 with the barn. The return on a $2 investment on Gonzalez-Hodges starters is the highest in the Erwin field at $4.17.

"Everything's going real good now," said Gonzalez, who is riding for a broad base of trainers, including leader Cole Norman, Steve Asmussen, and Andrew Leggio.

Gonzalez, a 40-year-old native of Puerto Rico, had won 1,881 races in North America through Thursday. He was the leading apprentice at Louisiana Downs in 1987 and won the riding title at the track in 1999. Among his biggest wins are the Grade 1 Oaklawn Handicap aboard Precocity and the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes with Silent Eskimo.

Gonzalez first came to Bossier City at the behest of Gene Norman, the late father of Cole Norman. Now Gonzalez ranks among the all-time leaders at Louisiana Downs. Following the current meet, Gonzalez said he plans to ride at Fair Grounds.

Breeders' Festival now worth $1M

The purses for the eight Thoroughbred stakes that will make up the Louisiana Breeders' Festival on Sept. 17 have been boosted by $15,000 a race, according to Pat Pope, director of racing operations and racing secretary at Louisiana Downs.

Those purses, combined with the five Quarter Horse stakes to be run on the card, make the total program for Louisiana-breds worth $1,075,000. Before the increases, total purses for the Breeders' Festival were budgeted at $880,000.

Now, the four divisional Thoroughbred races previously worth $85,000 each are worth $100,000 each, and the four that were worth $60,000 are worth $75,000. Each of the Quarter Horse stakes, including one new one, has a purse of $75,000.

The boost was made possible by revenues from slot machines. Louisiana Downs operates a casino at the track, and gross slots revenues in July were $8,862,350, according to data kept by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. From the months of April to July, gross slots revenues at Louisiana Downs have averaged $8,807,092 per month.