09/02/2006 12:00AM

Lafayette looks like three-way battle


Monday night's $100,000 Lafayette Stakes at Evangeline Downs drew six juveniles, including three of the better 2-year-olds in the Midwest. The traditional closing night headliner, the Lafayette will be contested at six furlongs.

Three will likely vie for the role of favorite, including Sentry, who drew the outside.

Idle since finishing third in the Grade 3 Kentucky Breeders' Cup on May 4 at Churchill Downs, Sentry is being trained by Scott Blasi while Steve Asmussen serves a six-month suspension.

A Silver Deputy colt, Sentry won his debut April 23 in impressive fashion before coming back for his first stakes try in the Kentucky BC. He has been training forwardly at Arlington Park for his return. Donnie Meche, who is riding regularly at Louisiana Downs, will come in to ride.

L'Grande d'Oro will try to make amends in the Lafayette after finishing second as the odds-on favorite in the Minstrel Stakes at Louisiana Downs on Aug. 25. Also a maiden winner at Churchill Downs earlier in the year, L'Grande d'Oro should

benefit from that recent start, and his late-running style should make him a major player down the stretch. Trainer John Barger has given the call to Lonnie Meche, who will also make the journey south from Louisiana Downs.

The third heavy hitter in the Lafayette is Tortuga Straits, who will enjoy a bit of a home-track advantage over the two imports. Trained by Ralph Irwin, Tortuga Straits has won both of his starts by 4 1/4 lengths, including the John Franks Memorial Sales Stakes here Aug. 5, when he rallied strongly from off the pace. Irwin entered Tortuga Straits in the Stardust Stakes for Louisiana-breds two weeks later, but he passed to go in the Lafayette instead. Luis Quinonez, who has been aboard for both of Tortuga Straits's victories, once again will be in the saddle.

Others in the field are Ruston Robber, the winner of his debut and the fourth-place finisher in the Minstrel; Big Al's Choice, a distant third behind Tortuga Straits in the John Franks Memorial; and the maiden Valid Invader, who comes in off a pair of runner-up performances against maiden special weight company.