03/22/2010 11:00PM

Louisiana Derby pace looks faster

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Lynn Roberts
Ron the Greek, winner of the Lecomte, needs a decent pace in the Louisiana Derby.

The Oracle of Delphi did not need to be called. Nor was tea-leaf reading or an analysis of the signs of the zodiac necessary. No, divining the likely outcome of the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 20 after less than 25 percent of the race had been run required only a glance at the opening quarter-mile fraction: 24.60 seconds.

"After the opening quarter, I knew I was going to lose the race, and that's the worst feeling in the world when you're excited about a race," trainer Tom Amoss said.

Amoss is the trainer of Ron the Greek, and a quarter-mile into the Risen Star, Ron the Greek had settled back last of 12. Two spots and a couple lengths in front of him sat Stay Put. The two most promising 3-year-old route horses stabled in New Orleans this winter, and both wound up stuck far behind a paltry excuse for an early pace. Up front, Discreetly Mine - whistling merrily as he went - hardly increased the tempo. His second quarter-mile, down the backstretch in the Risen Star, went in 24.15, for a half-mile in 48.75. The three-quarters split went in 1:13.44 - and the Risen Star went to the front-runner. Stay Put wound up fifth by 2 3/4 lengths; Ron the Greek was sixth by a little more than four.

But fresh hope has sprung up in the camps of the two Fair Grounds closers. The past performances for Saturday's $750,000 Louisiana Derby are out, and, on paper at least, the pace this time around should turn appreciably quicker.

"I think there's some speed outside us and speed inside us," said Stay Put's trainer, Steve Margolis. "I really think it does look better. We certainly look like we'll have a legit pace this time."

Stay Put overcame a slow pace to win a two-turn maiden race and a two-turn allowance race earlier in the Fair Grounds meet. But the higher-quality horses he met in the Risen Star did not prove as pliable after their early plodding. Stay Put's connections passed on the Jan. 23 Lecomte Stakes, where Ron the Greek got a setup starkly different than the one in the Risen Star. The half-mile split that day went in 46 seconds and change: Ron the Greek, last halfway through the race, rolled home on the outside to win going away.

Amoss said he feels more confident going into the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby that a decent pace will develop than he did before the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star.

"Look, going into this race I feel like it will be a fairly run race for everybody," he said.

"I think in the Risen Star, I was depending on fewer horses to make a legit pace than we are this time," Amoss said. "That, plus an extra sixteenth of a mile, is exciting."

Margolis also has been looking forward to trying Stay Put over nine furlongs. The presence of Mission Impazible, The Program, A Little Warm, Discreetly Mine, Wow Wow Wow, and Backtrack - all potential pace players to some degree - doesn't hurt, either.

"The horse still has to step up, but it looks like we're going to have our opportunity," Margolis said.

* Four-thirteenths of the Louisiana Derby field arrived Tuesday morning at Fair Grounds from Florida, with Discreetly Mine, Mission Impazible, Fly Down, and Drosselmeyer all making the trip over. For Discreetly Mine and Drosselmeyer, respectively first and fourth in the Risen Star, this was the second trip from south Florida to New Orleans this winter.

* Fair Grounds post times this meet have presented an ever-shifting target, so just to make sure: First post for Friday's Fair Grounds Oaks card is 1:10 p.m. Central. First post for Saturday's Louisiana Derby program, also featuring the Duncan Kenner, the Mervin Muniz, and the New Orleans Handicap, is set for 12:10.