03/03/2007 12:00AM

Richest day draws from all over

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NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Todd Pletcher is driving a herd of stakes winners into Louisiana this week for Louisiana Derby Day. Pletcher has horses for each of the four Grade 2 stakes races on Saturday's five-stakes card.

The five stakes, worth $2.1 million collectively, make this the richest day of racing in Louisiana history, and trainers are shipping in from both coasts to compete.

"The California shippers are arriving Tuesday," said stakes coordinator Brook Hawkins, "and the Florida-based horses come in Wednesday."

Pletcher's lead horse is Circular Quay, second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year. In his 3-year-old debut in the Risen Star, he collided with Slew's Tizzy at the top of the stretch, losing his action. He then recovered to beat half the field in the last quarter-mile. Circular Quay is after the biggest prize of the day, the $600,000 Louisiana Derby, a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby. Pletcher will also have Soaring By in the Louisiana Derby.

In the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, Pletcher will be represented by Octave, who finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. A 3-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song, Octave has not raced this year but has posted a pair of bullet works at Palm Beach Downs. Her owners, the Starlight Stable, co-owned the 2004 Fair Grounds Oaks, Kentucky Oaks, and Eclipse Award winner, Ashado.

But the two biggest prizes are only part of the Pletcher onslaught. Master Command, front-running winner of the Mineshaft Handicap last month, will return for the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap. South African-bred Heat of the Night, a Group 3 winner, will run in the $500,000 Mervin Muniz, a turf route for older horses.

Doug O'Neill shipped Notional in from California to win the Grade 3 Risen Star, the local prep for the Louisiana Derby, but this time he will bring another of his Kentucky Derby hopefuls, Liquidity. A Tiznow colt, Liquidity led before tiring to second in both the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity and the Grade 3 Sham.

Florida shipper Imawildandcrazyguy finished full of run for second in the Risen Star and will return for the Louisiana Derby, as will third-place finisher Zanjero, who finished second to one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby, Nobiz Like Shobiz, in his final 2-year-old start.

Slew's Tizzy, who scattered the field when he clipped heels turning for home in the Risen Star and threw jockey James Graham, will also be back. Other horses expected for the Louisiana Derby include Ketchikan, who has two impressive victories at Fair Grounds this meet.

Trainer Steve Asmussen, who saddled Summerly to win the Fair Grounds Oaks two years ago on her way to a victory in the Kentucky Oaks, will start Appealing Zophie in the race off an impressive front-running score in the Grade 3 Silverbulletday last month. She had to repulse a bid from Total, and the two will face each other again in the Oaks. Total was attempting a huge task, making her first start around two turns, and when she engaged Appealing Zophie in the stretch she shied from the left-handed whipping of jockey Jesse Campbell. Trainer Al Stall thinks Total benefited from the experience.

"She looks like she's improving. She's going in the right direction," said Stall. "She's trained very forwardly since the race.

The Oaks is anything but a two-horse race, though, which encouraged the connections of Silverbulletday third-place finisher Get Ready Bertie to run in the Oaks in hope of a faster pace to set up her one-run style. The versatile Dawn After Dawn, fourth in the Silverbulletday, will also return in the Oaks.

Mistical Plan, winner of Santa Anita's Sunshine Millions Oaks Jan. 27, is trainer O'Neill's hope for a Derby-Oaks double. Others likely to run in the Oaks include Le Chateau, S P Indy, and Whatdreamsrmadeof.

The Muniz has attracted a deep field of turf runners, including Einstein, who finished third in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap Feb. 24. King's Drama, winner of the Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap at Santa Anita, and Hendrix, who finished second in that race, will ship in.

Cloudy's Knight, winner of the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap last month, will run, as will Fort Prado, who won the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup last year. The Irish-bred mare Naissance Royale, winner of the Grade 3 Suwannee River Handicap at Gulfstream last out, is coming in for Christophe Clement.

Others likely for the race include British-bred runners McDuff and Sweet Return, The Carbon Unit, and Transduction Gold.

In the New Orleans Handicap, Master Command will face Mineshaft runner-up Patriot Act and third-place finisher Well Said. Irish-bred Liquor Cabinet, winner of the Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap Jan. 20, and Good and Lucky, winner of a pair of races over the course this meet, will also be in the race.