12/06/2008 1:00AM

Love to Tell in front


The win photograph in Saturday's Pago Hop Stakes at Fair Grounds spread almost from inner rail to outer fence. Six horses finished within a half-length of one another in the $60,000 turf stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Love to Tell was barely best.

That's the way things have gone this Fair Grounds season for leading rider Francisco Torres, who never has wintered before in New Orleans, who has been in and out of racing because of substance-abuse-related bans, and who continues knocking out victories.

"It was all Francisco," said winning trainer Mike Burgess. "He got her back off [the pace], and she just kept coming."

Love to Tell, by $1,000 stallion Stage Colony, and owned by Lucas Downs Ltd., won two turf stakes over the Louisiana Downs course this past summer, but had done so racing on the lead. Front-running stakes victories on the Fair Grounds grass come far less often, however, and as Joyful and Mizzcan'tbewrong disputed the early pace, going the quarter-mile in 25.44 seconds, and the half in 50.93, Torres had a slightly reluctant Love to Tell ($22.60) tucked in behind, racing in fourth. The pair switched out after turning for home, and came out on the right side of a frenzied blanket finish, a head in front and getting about one mile on a firm course in 1:40.44.

Favored My Baby Baby took a brief midstretch lead, but wound up in a dead heat for third with late-running Apple Martini. Second choice Scolara came through a tight hole at the sixteenth pole and just missed, finishing second.