08/10/2005 11:00PM

'Premier' should get nice setup


BOSSIER CITY, La. - Recent stakes winners Paltu and Premier Dance top a field of eight 2-year-olds in Saturday's $50,000 Minstrel Stakes at Louisiana Downs.

Paltu, from the always powerful Steve Asmussen stable, and Premier Dance, trained by Cody Autrey, both won stakes last month at Lone Star Park. Unlike the other six juveniles in the six-furlong Minstrel, however, Paltu and Premier Dance have never raced at Louisiana Downs.

is the only two-time winner in the field. She won a May 26 trial for the Texas Thoroughbred Associ-ation Sales Futurity and was pounded down to 4-5 in the finals, only to battle five wide for the early lead and tire in the late going to finish sixth. Premier Dance made amends in his next start, however, rallying from a stalking position to capture the Middleground Breeders' Cup. That newfound running style should serve him well in Saturday's race, which is laden with early speed. Luis Quinonez will ride.

finished fourth in the TTA Sales Futurity, but went on to win his first stakes in his next start, battling throughout in the Texas Stallion Stakes on July 9 and edging clear in the waning strides. Saturday, Paltu will break from the inside post position. Tracy Hebert has the call.

Of those with local experience, Smart 'n Salty appears to be at the head of the class if he can repeat his powerful maiden effort July 21. After fading to finish last of 12 on June 22, Smart 'n Salty returned a month later and looked like a different colt, drawing off to win by 11 lengths. He earned an 87 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort, the best figure in the Minstrel field. Leading trainer Cole Norman has given Jeff Burningham the return call.

comes into Saturday's race off a 10 1/2-length win against maidens. Never higher than 2-1 in his three-race career, Noble Texas should be a much better price in the Minstrel. Trainer Denise Schmidt will once again give the mount to Kirk LeBlanc.