08/05/2005 12:00AM

Majestic Thief a shrewd claim


BOSSIER CITY, La. - The owner-trainer team of Charles Fletcher and Cody Autrey has moved to Louisiana Downs following a high percentage meet at Lone Star Park and will jump into the stakes program on Sunday with Majestic Thief in the $40,000 Blue Skies Handicap.

Fletcher and Autrey also plan to start Premier Dance in the $50,000 Minstrel next Saturday.

Majestic Thief is one of six horses in the Blue Skies, a mile-and-70-yard race that also drew Akanti, the defending champ, and Crowned King, a two-time stakes winner this meet at Louisiana Downs.

Majestic Thief, who at 117 pounds is the co-starting highweight with Crowned King and Rare Cure, last raced on July 17 and was second in the $75,000 Bob Johnson Memorial at Lone Star. Before that race, Majestic Thief was third in the $50,000 Ark-La-Tex at Louisiana Downs, and also won a pair of allowances at Lone Star.

"We claimed him for $40,000 and he has made close to $70,000 since we've claimed him," said Autrey.

As for Fletcher and Autrey, they put up some nice numbers in Texas.

"Mr. Fletcher won 46 percent of his races there. He was 7 for 15. He had a great meet," said Autrey.

So did Autrey. He finished fifth among all trainers at Lone Star, winning 30 races, or 33 percent, and with stable earnings of $528,243. The numbers have pushed Autrey, 25, to a career-best year training. His 37 wins and $643,113 in stable earnings so far in 2005 already top his 2004 numbers of 30 wins and earnings of $475,804. Autrey saddled his first winner in 2000.

His latest could come in the Blue Skies. Majestic Thief broke from the rail last out in the Bob Johnson and was closer to the pace than usual, but with post 6 on Sunday he might sit farther back. He will be ridden by Lonnie Meche.

Akanti, weighted at 115, returned from a more than six-month layoff in the Ark-La-Tex on June 18 and ran a huge second. Trainer Al Stall Jr. has given Akanti a nice amount of time to regroup from that comeback race, and has given the mount to John Jacinto.

Rare Cure encountered trouble on the final turn and in the stretch of the $125,000 Assault in his last start July 9 at Lone Star. He finished a close fifth and has since worked four furlongs in 47.60 seconds for trainer Joe Petalino.

The field also includes Agrivating General and Intelligent Male.

Meet running even at halfway point

Louisiana Downs recently passed the halfway point of its 93-date meet, and handle numbers are about even compared with the same period a year ago. During the first 54 days of the meet, handle on Louisiana Downs's races has averaged $2,088,876 a card, which is off just 1 percent from the same period in 2004.

Of that amount, ontrack handle has averaged $213,048 a card, which lags 4 percent behind the same period a year ago, while handle offtrack is running even, with a daily average of $1,810,794.

"It has been a good meet so far," said Ray Tromba, vice president of racing operations at Louisiana Downs. "I'm pleased with the quality of racing. The horsemen are filling the entry box. Things are smooth operationally."

Tromba said Louisiana Downs has averaged 9.1 starters a race so far at the meet. Purses are averaging $184,850, a number that does not account for the meet's richest stakes, such as the Super Derby and Breeders' Festival, which have yet to be run, noted Tromba.

"We've still got some big races coming up and some of our better time of the year to go," said Tromba.

Attendance figures are not available for Louisiana Downs because admission is free since the track opened a slots casino in May 2003. Louisiana Downs is owned by Harrah's Entertainment, a national firm that on Thursday reported record second-quarter revenues of $1.47 billion, up 41 percent from $1.04 billion during the same quarter in 2004.

Louisiana Downs runs through Oct. 9, with the Super Derby set for Oct. 1.