Updated on 09/15/2011 2:40PM

Rock Slide at last joins stakes crowd

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NEW ORLEANS - It has been 17 months since Rock Slide's memorable career debut at Saratoga. After getting off to a terrible start and dropping nearly 20 lengths behind the early leaders, he made a sustained run on the turn and through the stretch. He passed all but two horses, making up almost 15 lengths and convincing some observers they had just seen a Kentucky Derby prospect.

It was not to be. Rock Slide suffered an injury in that 2-year-old debut, and rather than running for roses the next May, Rock Slide was struggling to win a first-level allowance race. But Rock Slide has risen again, winning his last three starts convincingly, and on Saturday, on the cusp of his 4-year-old season, he makes his stakes debut in the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap.

The 3-year-old Rock Slide gets in light at 112 pounds as he faces a good field of seven in the 1 1/16-mile race. Favoritism may go to Valhol, who came back from an eight-month layoff and a serious bout with pneumonia to win the Tenacious Handicap here Dec. 2. Valhol's connections, owner Jim Jackson and trainer Dallas Keen, considered passing the Louisiana, but Valhol has trained so well since the Tenacious that Keen and Jackson will wheel him back on 27 days of rest.

In the Tenacious, * ran down the pace-setting Dixieland Diamond, who also returns Saturday and should be part of a fast pace. Dixieland Diamond has sprinter's speed, as does the 3-year-old Freon Flier, winner of four straight races, the last two of them stakes. The 7-year-old Neon Shadow, winner of this race two years ago, also is a front-running type who will leave for racing position from an outside post.

Rock Slide, owned by Will Farish and partners, is a long-striding, gangly colt by A.P. Indy who has positional speed and should be stalking the leaders Saturday. The fourth foal from Grade 1 winner Prospectors Delite to race, Rock Slide was bred to have stakes-class ability. All three of his racing siblings were stakes winners. Now that he is thriving physically for the first sustained period in his career, he will have a chance to show his class too.

"This is the next step up," said Rock Slide's trainer, Neil Howard. "He doesn't have to blow them off the map, but I'd look for him to run well. He's been showing some consistency, and also, his demeanor is great. The word class gets thrown around too much, but he's got those attributes."

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