03/10/2007 12:00AM

Smooth sailing for Circular Quay

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Alexander Barkoff
Circular Quay, with John Velazquez up, rebounds from a bad-trip loss in the Risen Star to win the Louisiana Derby by 2 1/4 lengths over Ketchikan.

NEW ORLEANS - What a difference a trip makes. Circular Quay, who ran into a roadblock four weeks ago at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes, returned to the scene of the crime Saturday, avoided any traffic jams, and rolled to a 2 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2, $600,000 Louisiana Derby.

Ketchikan, the early pacesetter, finished a clear second, three lengths in front of third-place Zanjero. Imawildandcrazyguy was fourth, and was followed, in order, by Birdbirdistheword, Liquidity, Slew's Tizzy, and Soaring By, who broke through the gate before the start and had to be reloaded.

Circular Quay ($5.20) covered 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:43.01.

Circular Quay completed another sensational Saturday for trainer Todd Pletcher, who won two stakes races here, including the New Orleans Handicap with Master Command, as well as the Gotham at Aqueduct with Cowtown Cat and the Azeri at Oaklawn Park with India.

"He finally got a good trip, and he got it done," said John Velazquez, who rode Circular Quay. "He had a good trip. That's all he needed."

In the Risen Star, Circular Quay was advancing strongly on the rail at the quarter pole when Slew's Tizzy clipped heels and deposited his rider right in front of Circular Quay. Velazquez had to check sharply, losing all chance. This time, Circular Quay rallied outside horses on the turn, and when he turned into the long Fair Grounds stretch, he quickly reeled in Ketchikan and drew away.

"Watching his last race, you knew he was best. He was just very unlucky," Pletcher said. "The last race was a complete throw-out."

Ketchikan was third entering the first turn, but grabbed the bit and quickly accelerated under jockey Larry Melancon. He led through swift fractions of 23.61 seconds, 46.53 seconds, and 1:10.88 for the first six furlongs, then held on determinedly through the lane in only the fourth start of his career.

"His inexperience kicked in," said Al Stall Jr., the trainer of Ketchikan.

Other than the Risen Star, in which Circular Quay finished fifth, he has finished first or second in all of his starts. He has now won 4 times in 7 races. Circular Quay, a son of Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch, spent the winter training at Hollywood Park, but Pletcher said he was unsure where Circular Quay would head next to train, let alone race, though he mentioned Aqueduct's Wood Memorial on April 7 as the likeliest spot for his final prep before the May 5 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.