03/21/2011 2:32PM

Louisiana Derby a realistic spot for Stall's lightly raced Left

Lou Hodges Jr.
Machen, who won the first two races of his career at Fair Grounds, is one of two horses trainer Neil Howard has entered for Saturday's Louisiana Derby.

In 2007, trainer Al Stall Jr. sent out the lightly raced Ketchikan to a second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby. Same time, next year, Stall again finished second in the Louisiana Derby with another lightly raced colt, My Pal Charlie. Stall will be at it again this Saturday, sending out the unbeaten Left in only his third start in the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby, highlight of a sensational card at Fair Grounds.

“My Pal Charlie and Ketchikan are two of the reasons, and there’s 999,998 others,” Stall said from New Orleans on Monday, referring to the record purse for the 98th running of this critical Kentucky Derby prep race. “He deserves a chance. The race is like a nonwinners of two.”

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Indeed, while the Louisiana Derby drew a large field of 13 when entries were taken and post positions drawn on Sunday, there is no one in the race with more than two victories. That includes Mucho Macho Man, who won last month’s Risen Star Stakes, the major prep for the Louisiana Derby, and is the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile race.

Left is owned by the Hancock family’s Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, the same people who campaigned last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Blame, with Stall. Left is 10-1 on the track’s morning line. Both his prior starts have been at Fair Grounds. Left won his debut on the turf against maidens on Jan. 29, then came back and beat a first-level allowance field on the dirt on Feb. 26, both times going two turns.

“He’s been here almost six months. He doesn’t know anything else,” Stall said. “I ran him on the grass first time because I had two other maidens who were also ready to run at the same time, and I wanted to keep them apart. He had some grass in his pedigree. So I ran Bind in a sprint, Sour long on the dirt, and him on the turf.”

Neither Rogue Romance (injured) nor Santiva (awaiting the Blue Grass Stakes), who finished second and third, respectively, in the Risen Star are back for this race. The second choice at 7-2 is Machen, who was fourth in the Risen Star when suffering the first loss of his career.
Neil Howard, the trainer of Machen, also will send out Wilkinson, who won the LeComte on Jan. 22 but then was purposely kept out of the Risen Star to point for the Louisiana Derby. Both worked a half-mile at Fair Grounds on Monday, with Machen clocked in 48 seconds, and Wilkinson in 48.20 seconds.

Populist Politics, who drew the outside post in the field of 13, is also entered by trainer Tom Amoss in the Crescent City Derby for Louisiana-breds on Friday. Populist Politics has yet to face open company. On Monday, he worked five furlongs in 1:00.20, the best time of 21 at the distance.

Majestic Harbor, a recent maiden winner for trainer Paul McGee, worked a half-mile on Monday in 50.80 seconds.

The Louisiana Derby is 10th race on a 14-race card that features five other stakes, three of which are also Grade 2.

The Grade 2, $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks for 3-year-old fillies contained a significant surprise when the presumptive favorite, Kathmanblu, was not entered. Kathmanblu won last month’s Rachel Alexandra Stakes, the major prep for the Fair Grounds Oaks, but her trainer, Ken McPeek, on Monday said she would await next month’s Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.

“We decided to go in the Ashland. She needs to win a Grade 1,” McPeek said. “There’s so many opportunities between Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, and Keeneland. We could only run in one of them.

“Plus the Ashland is home for everybody,” McPeek said, referring to himself and his owners.

McPeek said he made the final decision after working Kathmanblu over the weekend.

“I thought she could use a little more time,” he said.

McPeek still will have a representative in the Oaks, Niji’s Grand Girl, third last time out in the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs.

With Kathmanblu out of the Fair Grounds Oaks, the likely favorite now will be Inglorious, the runner-up to Kathmanblu in the Rachel Alexandra. The 1 1/16-mile race drew a field of 10.

Also on the card:

◗ Donn Handicap winner Giant Oak meets Demarcation, Mission Impazible, and Apart, the first three finishers in last month’s Mineshaft Handicap, in the Grade 2, $400,000 New Orleans Handicap for older horses at 1 1/8 miles on dirt.

◗ Battle of Hastings and Moryba ship in from Florida to take on locals Expansion and Sleepless Knight in the Grade 2, $400,000 Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap, which drew nine older horses who will go about 1 1/8 miles on turf.

◗ Track specialist Cash Refund, who has never lost at Fair Grounds, goes for his sixth local win against seven other sprinters in the $150,000 Duncan Kenner Stakes at six furlongs.

◗ Valli with a Vow and Upperline head a field of five in the $100,000 Bayou Handicap for older females at about 1 1/16 miles on turf.