Updated on 09/15/2011 2:41PM

Sugar Bowl attracts raw speed


NEW ORLEANS - Sorting out the complexities of Monday's Sugar Bowl Stakes is a confusing process. Embrace the confusion. Don Juan, still a maiden after one start, hardly presents the classic profile of a stakes winner, but may have enough raw ability to pull off an upset in a race in which anything can happen.

Nine 2-year-olds were entered in the $75,000 Sugar Bowl, the final stakes race of the year at Fair Grounds. This is the time of year when all eyes are on promising juveniles who could develop into contenders for the spring classics. But not in this race. At six furlongs, the Sugar Bowl rewards speed and precocity, something all these horses have already evidenced.

Balkan, one of two colts starting for trainer Steve Asmussen, is a deserving favorite based on his romping win over Texas-breds earlier this month in the Groovy Stakes at Sam Houston. In his brief career Balkan has bookended blowout wins around a seven-length loss to Front Nine, who also is running in the Sugar Bowl. Front Nine, who won his maiden in a $25,000 claiming race, has three career victories that came by a combined margin of 40 lengths. Asmussen's other horse, Far Away Bell, won his debut at Churchill Downs and finished third in the Old Hickory Stakes here in his last start.

Trainer Josie Carroll has an uncoupled two-horse entry, Lead by Example, who upset the Old Hickory, and Mapp Hill, with two wins at Woodbine.

Cojet, with a pair of 90-plus Beyer Speed Figures, will have numbers players salivating. The other two entrants, Twining Dream and Magic Bid, cannot be comfortably eliminated, leaving handicappers with a mess.

They are advised not to take Don Juan lightly. A Storm Bird colt owned by Martin Racing Stable and others and trained by Todd Pletcher, Don Juan delivered an eye-catching performance in his schooling race, breaking well behind the other runners and looping most of them with a burst of acceleration on the turn.

His career debut was an entirely different kind of race. As predicted by assistant trainer George Weaver, Don Juan showed high speed, setting fractions that were extremely fast for a maiden 2-year-old on this surface. He tired visibly in the final half-furlong but was beaten only a head by Garb.

Don Juan has worked once since that race, an easy half-mile, and Pletcher, one of the leading trainers in the nation, surely would opt for another maiden race were Don Juan not moving forward. Leading rider Eddie Martin picks up the mount.

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