Updated on 09/17/2011 10:09AM

Rouvres from out of the pack

Rouvres wins his U.S. debut at Gulfstream Feb. 17. With Jerry Bailey aboard, he should be favored in the Explosive Bid.

NEW ORLEANS - The best turf horses in the country these days arrive here from other parts of the world. It's a sign of quality when international imports come to your race, and Sunday's $650,000 at Fair Grounds has six of them, with five former Europeans and one Chilean-bred joining five U.S. horses in the race, a Grade 2 at about 1 1/8 miles.

The race has plenty of depth and quality, and it ought to. Even with a $50,000 purse reduction this season, the Explosive Bid has the biggest grass purse in the country until the Arlington Million in August, and it has become a staple on the early season calendar, especially among Californians.

But this year's top horse, Rouvres, ships from Florida. The only horse in the race with a Grade or Group 1 win, Rouvres was bred in France and campaigned there until this winter, winning the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat last summer. Rouvres was a stylish winner of his U.S. debut in an allowance race Feb. 17 at Gulfstream Park, and with popular connections - trainer Christophe Clement and jockey Jerry Bailey - Rouvres will make his U.S. stakes debut as the favorite.

Four horses flew here Wednesday from California, but the best of them, Redattore, is out of the race. Redattore developed a low-grade fever late in the week and was withdrawn from the Explosive Bid on Friday.

Redattore's illness deprives the race of a top contender and much of its early pace. Redattore led all the way winning the Kilroe Mile Handicap in his last start, and now there is not a true front-runner in the race. The Explosive Bid should feature a tightly bunched pack and a mad stretch dash to the finish, a scenario that plays to Rouvres's strengths. He had tactical speed in his French career and showed it again at Gulfstream, settling just a few lengths behind a solid early pace.

"If you only have to pass a couple horses, it makes it easier than having to pass eight or nine of them," said jockey Jerry Bailey, who rode Rouvres in his last start and has the mount Sunday.

Without Redattore, Even the Score becomes the potential pacesetter, and Even the Score is a live longshot who figures to coast along on an easy lead. Even the Score went off at 74-1 in this race last season, and after pressing a quick pace, he opened a clear lead at the top of the stretch before giving way late to Sarafan and Beat Hollow to finish third.

"I hadn't planned on the lead, but we'll see how it plays out of the gate," said trainer Dallas Stewart. "I think he's a better horse this year than last year."

Even the Score and Mystery Giver lead the local contingent, and though Mystery Giver was 13th in this race last year, he finished only three lengths behind Even the Score.

"He was shut off on the rail, or I think he might have been third," said trainer Richie Scherer.

An Illinois-bred, Mystery Giver romped in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup in his last, but he failed to hit the board in four graded stakes last season. Scherer thinks Mystery Giver is a better horse than that, and at age 5, Mystery Giver is just now coming into his prime.

"He's bigger, he's stronger, and mentally he knows what's required of him now," Scherer said. "I think he's got the game figured out."

The other Florida-based horses are Della Francesca - one of those Europeans - and Orchard Park, who hasn't raced since August and has never faced older horses. The Californians who will run are Seinne, a Chilean-bred; Century City, who beat Della Francesca when they met in Ireland last year; and Requete. The lightly raced Requete is less proven than many of his rivals, but he is trained by Bobby Frankel, who wins graded stakes races at a 26 percent clip.

"I'm getting a lot of weight, and he seems fine," Frankel said. "He was favored every time he ran in Europe."

The other local horses are Run to Victory, Candid Glen, and Freefourinternet.

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