09/17/2008 11:00PM

Turf stakes make tempting offers


While the Super Derby certainly deserves the top billing it is going to receive on Saturday at Louisiana Downs, historically, it has been the highly competitive, extremely bettable turf stakes on the undercard that have offered bettors more options and thus more potential for their betting dollar.

It is no different this year, as the quartet of grass stakes that surround the meeting's highest-profile race provide quite the handicapping challenge. The $150,000 Happy Ticket and Sunday Silence are both for 2-year-olds, while the $100,000 River Cities and $200,000 Unbridled will feature older turf performers.

River Cities: Brownie Points looms

Brownie Points, victorious in the Marie DeBartolo Oaks at Louisiana Downs in 2006 and most recently in the DeBartolo Memorial at Remington Park against male opponents, rates a strong favorite in the River Cities.

Brownie Points, a 5-year-old Forest Wildcat mare who races for the Pin Oak Stable and is trained by Donnie Von Hemel, will be odds-on in quest of her 10th career win. Regular rider Luis Quinonez will once again handle the riding chores.

Despite the presence of the region's best turf mare, 11 other fillies and mares have been entered in the River Cities.

Love to Tell, a front-running winner in the Honeymoon Stakes in mid-August and Candy Ball, who like Brownie Points, defeated male rivals in the Independence Stakes in early July, both sport solid local records. Justin Shepherd will ride Love to Tell, while former Louisiana Downs regular Robby Albarado has the call on Candy Ball.

Unbridled: Runners from all over

The most diverse field of the afternoon other than the Super Derby will come together in the race immediately following the day's main event. Slated for a mile on the turf, the Unbridled has nine entrants, with several tracks represented in their last starts.

Steve's Double, stakes-placed in the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs in July and most recently the beaten favorite in a six-figure optional claimer at Saratoga, will once again garner the bulk of the public's attention. Albarado has the call on the Ronny Werner trainee.

Knockout Artist, second in the H.F. Brubaker Handicap at Del Mar in his last start, is shipping east in quest of his first stakes win. A 4-year-old Exploit gelding, he will be ridden by Joe Talamo, who got his start right here en route to his Eclipse Award for the nation's top apprentice rider of 2007.

The local contingent for the Unbridled is headed by the 5-year-old Autobeacat, winner of the World Series of Poker Stakes over a yielding course in late August. A winner of 3 of his last 4 races, he has also been entered by trainer Eric Heitzmann in the Tiznow Stakes on the main track.

Happy Ticket: Surface an X-factor

The Happy Ticket is carded as the day's first turf stakes, with 10 aspiring juvenile fillies entered to go 1 1/16 miles. Most lack experience on Saturday's surface, which only heightens the intrigue in the afternoon's first stakes event.

The role of favorite in the Happy Ticket appears to be a toss-up between Ellis Park invader Abbott Hall and local representative Run Don't Stroll, with the maiden My Spanx also certain to draw attention.

Abbott Hall is coming off a convincing maiden turf score at Ellis on Aug. 23 following a runner-up performance in her career debut on the main track. A daughter of El Corredor trained by Hal Wiggins, she will be ridden by Albarado.

Run Don't Stroll looks to be the most qualified of the speed types to last up front, although she has yet to try two turns. Trained by James Hodges, she has won twice on dirt, including the Laurel Lane Stakes against fellow Louisiana-breds in her most recent start, but sandwiched between is a runner-up finish in the five-furlong Princess Stakes on the grass after setting the early pace. Kirk LeBlanc will be in the saddle.

My Spanx, although still winless, has yet to run a bad race for trainer Allen Milligan. An A.P. Delta filly, she most recently finished third in the two-turn Donnie Wilhite Memorial Stakes at Louisiana Downs on Aug. 16. She was unable to hold the lead following an impressive middle move, but better timing may aid her cause Saturday. Justin Shepherd has the return call.

Sunday Silence: Speed abounds

There is no shortage of early speed in the Sunday Silence, which suits the late-running style of Valid Message. A two-time turf winner, he comes off a late rally to win the one-mile Sunny's Halo last month for his second straight victory on grass.

A Valid Expectations colt, he graduated over the Lone Star turf on the Fourth of July in his first start after being claimed by trainer Ellen Williams for the H and H Ranch for $25,000 in late May. Curt Bourque will once again be in the saddle.