09/19/2007 11:00PM

This time, Grasshopper's the one to beat

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Grasshopper (right) battles Street Sense down the stretch in the Travers.
BOSSIER CITY, La. - Grasshopper was the underdog last month when he came within a half-length of upsetting Kentucky Derby champ Street Sense in the Travers. Now, the stage belongs to him. The Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby on Saturday is Grasshopper's race to win or lose. It is his platform to confirm his scintillating Travers stretch run, and his chance to convince his connections to give him another shot at Street Sense next month in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

But first things first. Grasshopper faces nine others in the 1 1/8-mile Super Derby, which anchors the richest card in the history of Louisiana Downs. Four turf stakes worth $200,000 each will be run on the undercard, for total stakes purses of $1.3 million. The Super Derby is also part of a $100,000-guaranteed pick four being offered on races 8-11.

Horses from several locales will take on Grasshopper. Leonnatus Anteas invades from Canada, where last year he was the champion 2-year-old. Past the Point has traveled from Saratoga, while Going Ballistic joins the fray following a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington. The field is rounded out by six horses who last raced at Louisiana Downs, most against Forty Acres, who won a berth into this race with his wire job in the $100,000 Prelude.

Grasshopper figures to be an odds-on favorite. He turned the Travers from a one-horse show into a match race. After setting the pace, Grasshopper held his ground against Street Sense in the stretch, battling at equal weights to the wire while down on the fence. The pair came home some 10 lengths in front of third-place finisher Helsinki.

"The way the race worked out, [Grasshopper] had to go ahead and take the lead," said Will Farish, the horse's co-owner. "And that's not the easiest thing to do, particularly running in your first stakes, and then having to go head-to-head for almost a quarter of a mile with the Derby winner. But he came out of it beautifully and has trained well, and certainly we hope that he'll run well in the Super Derby."

In addition to the Grade 1 competition he faced, Grasshoppper, like all of his rivals, dealt with temperatures approaching the 90s in the Travers. The forecast for Saturday here calls for a high of 91.

"That happened to be a real hot day," said Neil Howard, who trains Grasshopper. "But the weather this year up at Saratoga was excellent, and it actually cooled down just as quick as it got that hot. So, it kind of helped him bounce out of the race maybe a little better than he normally would have. And he's trained very well since. You keep your fingers crossed that they hold their form and hold their edge, and I feel like he has."

Robby Albarado will be aboard. Grasshopper figures to be stalking Forty Acres, whose excellent gate speed and inside draw makes him the one to catch under Carlos Gonzalez. Forty Acres will break from post 2. Grasshopper drew post 9.

"I think all things being equal - he breaks well, has a clean trip - he's usually going to be in the first flight in most races that he runs in," said Howard of Grasshopper. "But he does it in a relaxed fashion."

Grasshoppper will serve as somewhat of a measuring stick for some of his rivals. Leonnatus Anteas was forced to scratch from the Queen's Plate, his country's top race for the 3-year-olds, earlier this year with an infection in his pastern. He jumps into the derby arena Saturday.

"We're going to try the horses south of the border for the first time and see where he matches up with them," said Kevin Attard, who trains Leonnatus Anteas. "The horse deserves a shot. He's a pretty nice 3-year-old."

Past the Point has been building toward this race. Following an allowance win in his two-turn debut in July, he moved into stakes company and was second in the $82,000 Lemon Drop Kid in his last start, Aug. 5.

"This seemed like a good spot," said Eoin Harty, who trains Past the Point. "The horse has moved forward with every race all year. He's had plenty of time between races, he's working very well, and he's ready to go. So, it's time to step up and see what we've got."

Rafael Bejarano has the mount.

Going Ballistic is a significant stretch threat. A stakes winner on dirt and turf, he ran a big race to finish third behind Shamdinan and Red Giant in the Secretariat on the Arlington turf Aug. 11.

"I think it was probably his best race," said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Going Ballistic. "Although we were only third, I think the two horses that were in front of us are certainly top-notch horses."

There is a special first post of noon, with the Super Derby to be televised live on HRTV and TVG.