03/09/2008 11:00PM

Louisiana Derby colts won't trip on pedigrees


LAS VEGAS - What makes this renewal of the Louisiana Derby so appealing is not just the presence of Pyro, who showed dramatic acceleration to win the Risen Star Stakes despite a non-existent pace, but also the return of last year's Hopeful Stakes winner, Majestic Warrior, and Tale of Ekati, who won the Futurity Stakes.

Pyro is the deserving favorite off his stunning Risen Star victory, which seemed all but impossible at the top of the stretch. A son of Pulpit, one of A.P. Indy's best sons at stud, Pyro was second to juvenile champion War Pass in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Champagne Stakes, and his 3-year-old debut was a pip.

Pyro is a product of the late Verne Winchell's prolific female family of Carol's Christmas, a foal of 1977 who produced three stakes winners - Olympio (by Naskra), Call Now ,and Your Call (both by Wild Again). Even Carol's Christmas's other foals became an integral part of this stellar family: Bistra (by Winchell's homebred Classic Go Go), Christmas Star (Star de Naskra), Dana Nicole (Flying Paster), and Carol's Wonder (Pass the Tab).

Bistra produced stakes winners Fun House and Early Flyer. Christmas Star is the dam of stakes winner and 2008 freshman sire Cuvee and stakes winner Will He Shine. The unraced Dana Nicole produced stakes winner Bien Nicole, and stakes-placed Carol's Wonder is the dam of stakes winner Wild Wonder and Wild Vision (the dam of Pyro).

Meanwhile, Majestic Warrior and Tale of Ekati, two of last year's highly regarded juveniles, find themselves in a tough race in the Louisiana Derby in their 3-year-old debuts. But both are training well and it's time for serious 3-year-olds to get busy with the Kentucky Derby just eight weeks from Saturday.

Majestic Warrior won his career debut, a 6o1/2-furlong maiden race at Saratoga on Aug.o4, drawing away to a 3 1/2-length victory. He returned four weeks later and flew past the weary duo of Ready's Image and Maimonides, who set sizzling fractions, to win the Hopeful Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths. He was sixth in the Champagne Stakes as the even-money favorite, but was found to have a hoof injury, which did not heal in time for the BC Juvenile. The BC Juvenile was run over a sloppy surface that favored front-runners, and missing it might have been a blessing in disguise for Majestic Warrior.

By A.P. Indy, Majestic Warrior is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Dream Supreme, who won the Test, Ballerina, Gallant Bloom, Distaff BC, Humana Distaff, and Princess Rooney. Majestic Warrior's second dam, Spinning Round (Dixieland Band), also won the Ballerina, as well as the Alcibiades, Valley View, and Forward Gal BC stakes, and Vagrancy Handicap.

In addition to his sire, who is known for stamina, Majestic Warrior's first three damsires - Seeking the Gold, Dixieland Band and Secretariat - are also solid sources of stamina.

Tale of Ekati was a most impressive 2-year-old maiden winner early last season, when he romped by 8 1/4 lengths in a 5 1/2-furlong sprint. He then finished second in the Sanford Stakes behind Ready's Image after being bumped at the start. It was his facile victory in the Futurity, however, that put him on the short list of many. After hitting the gate at the start, he found room on the rail and easily defeated Kodiak Kowboy. Like many horses on Breeders' Cup Day, he never got a hold of Monmouth's slick and soupy surface.

Tale of Ekati is by speed influence Tale of the Cat, and he comes from a high-class female family. His dam, Silence Beauty, is by Sunday Silence and is a half-sister to champion Sky Beauty (Blushing Groom) and the unraced Our Country Place (Pleasant Colony). Our Country Place produced three important fillies - BC Distaff winner Pleasant Home, multiple stakes winner Country Hideaway, and the winner Matlacha Pass, who is the dam of Alabama and Gazelle stakes winner Pine Island. Tale of Ekati's second dam, Maplejinsky, won the Alabama Stakes and Monmouth Oaks. Tale of Ekati's third dam is Gold Beauty, the 1982 champion sprinter.

In addition to Pyro, trainer trainer Steve Asmussen also entered the talented J Be K the Louisiana Derby. J Be K was a dominant winner of his only start at 2, a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race at Saratoga for trainer Bob Baffert. Away since that Aug. 29 race, J Be K was part of the large Zayat-owned group of runners that were dispersed throughout the country to get away from the synthetic surfaces of California.

In his first start for Asmussen and his 3-year-old debut, J Be K easily won a six-furlong allowance at Fair Grounds. By speed influence Silver Deputy, J Be K is out of Major Wager, who is by Valid Wager, another source of speed. While J Be K should be capable of getting the Louisiana Derby's 1 1/16 miles, the Kentucky Derby is another story. His dam, Major Wager, is a half-sister to Atoned, a rough-trip runner-up to Court Vision in the Remsen Stakes who is getting ready for his 3-year-old debut.

Blackberry Road, who probably has had more troubled trips than any other current 3-year-old, will try to rebound from an unlucky fifth-place finish in the Risen Star. He had traffic trouble in the stretch. By Gone West, Blackberry Road is a half-brother to Vindication, the undefeated 2002 juvenile champion whose first crop are 3-year-olds. Trained by David Carroll, Blackberry Road is a stablemate of the unbeaten Southwest Stakes winner Denis of Cork.

Pyro holds a big edge in recency and a race over the track, but while he defeated some nice colts in the Risen Star (Lecomte Stakes winner Z Fortune and the lightly raced Visionaire, among them), he meets some formidable opponents in the Louisiana Derby, especially Majestic Warrior and Tale of Ekati.