02/28/2004 12:00AM

Louisiana Derby field taking shape

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NEW ORLEANS - The composition of Sunday's Louisiana Derby is starting to come into focus, with as many as 13 horses considered possible starters. The particulars of participation, however, won't be entirely sorted out until the middle of this week.

The $600,000 Derby, at 1 1/16 miles, does not feature the $1 million Post Time Bonus that Fair Grounds offered in previous years to a horse that could win the race here and the Kentucky Derby. The feat never was accomplished, though the 2003 Derby winner, Funny Cide, finished third here last season.

Horsemen around the country don't seem deterred by the absence of the bonus. Three-year-olds from both coasts, and at least one horse from Oaklawn Park, Shadowland, are expected to ship in for the local derby. Borrego, second in the Sham Stakes, is considered a likely West Coast starter, while trainer Bob Baffert has two possibles, Preachinatthebar and Wimbledon.

In Florida, Todd Pletcher continues to weigh his Louisiana Derby options. Pletcher said Saturday a firm decision hasn't yet been reached about which of three possible candidates - Shaniko, Pollard's Vision, and Limehouse - would fly here Wednesday. All three are scheduled to work Monday at Palm Meadows.

Two other Florida-based horses, Stolen Time and Swingforthefences, also are possible starters.

Four or five locals are scheduled to run, headed by Gradepoint and Fire Slam. Gradepoint won the Risen Star in his last start, Fire Slam the Lecomte Stakes.

Neil Howard, Gradepoint's trainer, said Saturday that another of his 3-year-olds, Breakaway, remained under consideration for the Louisiana Derby. The trainer Bobby Barnett confirmed that Nightlifeatbigblue, third in the Risen Star, would run back in the Derby. Also pointing for the race is an Aqueduct first-level allowance winner, Indian War Dance, who has shipped to Fair Grounds for trainer Richard Dutrow.

One horse who will not run is Polish Rifle, who came out of his fourth-place finish in the Risen Star with an injury.

Steady Course earns Oaks start

Steady Course earned a start in the Fair Grounds Oaks with a smooth workout Saturday at Fair Grounds. Steady Course, an eye-catching allowance winner when making her two-turn debut last time out, worked five furlongs in 1:01, fourth fastest of 46 works at the distance. Steady Course worked alone, and never was asked for much run, yet still made a very impressive appearance through the stretch.

"She's very professional," said trainer Dallas Stewart. "She doesn't need any company or anything like that. She came home good and she wasn't blowing."

The shape of the Oaks has yet to be determined. Baffert could send Victory U. S. A. from California, but hasn't committed to the race, while a solid workout Sunday at Palm Meadows could send Ashado in for the Oaks.

"If she works well, she'll probably be coming," said Pletcher, who trains her.

Trainer Niall O'Callaghan said Quick Temper, second here in the Silverbulletday Stakes, would run next in the Fair Grounds Oaks, the Florida Oaks, or a stakes at Turfway Park. Quick Temper shipped in for the Silverbulletday and has remained stabled at Fair Grounds.

Shadow Cast, who beat Quick Temper, will run back in the Oaks. Four or five other fillies are considered possible starters.

Herculated wins third in a row

Mystery Giver and Skate Away, one-two in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, will meet again in the $500,000 Mervin Muniz on March 21. But another local turf horse, Herculated, may be their equal. In Saturday's seventh race, Herculated won his third straight allowance race at this meet, running down the Grade 2 winner Royal Spy in the final furlong. Royal Spy had controlled the pace, and Herculated raced very impressively.

Skate Away emerged healthy from a narrow loss Tuesday in an off-the-turf edition of the Mardi Gras Handicap. His trainer, Jeff Trosclair, expects another big race in the Muniz. Mystery Giver skipped the Mardi Gras and is training up to the Muniz.

* Corey Lanerie was off his mounts Friday and Saturday after injuring his ribs Friday morning. A horse Lanerie was riding pushed him up against the wall of a barn during training hours Friday, though X-rays of his ribs showed no fractures.