02/11/2009 12:00AM

War Echo capable of defending family honor


After much early-season fanfare, Pyro failed to distinguish himself in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, finishing a distant eighth. But maybe his sister, War Echo, can do better in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks.

War Echo certainly stamped herself as an Oaks possible on Saturday at Fair Grounds, winning her 3-year-old debut with aplomb in the Silverbulletday Stakes. War Echo, by Tapit (a son of Pyro's sire, Pulpit) and out of the mare Wild Vision, had not raced since last November, and ran by far the best race of her career - which probably was no surprise to trainer Steve Asmussen. Asmussen mentioned War Echo as a filly to watch at the beginning of this meet last fall, and when she finished a soundly beaten fourth and third last year in her two stakes runs, it was as a large, growing filly whose best races lay in front of her.

"We hope that she carries the flag for her family," Asmussen said of the Winchell Thorougbreds homebred. "I think she's a top-class filly."

Asmussen was equally enthused by the performance of his other Silverbulletday starter, Four Gifts, who took the lead into midstretch, but was unable to hold clear her stablemate. Nonetheless, the performance was a nice step forward after an even run last month in the Tiffany Lass Stakes, and Asmussen said that both Four Gifts and War Echo would be pointed toward the Fair Grounds Oaks next month.

Asmussen also is likely to have two horses for the Louisiana Derby, he said. Uno Mas rallied for third on Saturday in the Risen Star Stakes, bouncing back from a lesser effort in the Lecomte Stakes, and will be pointed to Fair Grounds' signature 3-year-old race. Also likely to start there, Asmussen said, is Soul Warrior, who finished a troubled sixth in the Risen Star, just his third career start.

Diamond Tycoon keeps rolling

Probably the most impressive winner among Saturday's six stakes was Diamond Tycoon, who for the third time this meet flew through the stretch to win a Fair Grounds grass race. And after beating up on allowance horses his first two starts, Diamond Tycoon ran over stakes horses in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap just as easily. In posting a 1 1/4-length victory, Diamond Tycoon ran his final three furlongs in something like 34.20 seconds, earning a slot in the Mervin Muniz Handicap next month if all goes well.

A Kentucky-bred 5-year-old, Diamond Tycoon began his career in England and showed talent all along, said trainer Andrew McKeever, an Irishman whose brother, Johnny, is a bloodstock agent who helped steer the horse to Andrew. But Diamond Tycoon was injured after a good try in his career debut at 2, and then developed high anxiety when he was shipped from trainer Brian Meehan's stables to racecourses on race day. Only after coming last summer to the United States, where he can train and race at the same location, did Diamond Tycoon start to develop.

"When he first got here, he was a little nervous, but it was August, so it was very hot," McKeever said. "As time's gone on, all the guys that have worked for me, like John Byrne, my assistant [at Fair Grounds], have done a great job. He likes his routine there. Of course we school the horse before he runs, and he's walked over there and never once got excited."

And McKeever said Diamond Tycoon goes as sharply in the morning as in the afternoon.

"He's an exceptional work horse, the best I've ever seen," he said.

Honest Man solid after victory

Trainer Larry Jones said it appeared that Honest Man, the 4 1/4-length winner of the Mineshaft Handicap on Saturday, had come out of his race in good physical condition. Jones said that Honest Man, unsurprisingly, would be pointed to the New Orleans Handicap here next month.

Jones also said that Just Jenda, a distant third as the favorite in the Silverbulletday, was likely to run back in the Fair Grounds Oaks "if all goes well."

Just Jenda comfortably won the Tiffany Lass Stakes last month, but was beaten more than eight lengths by War Echo in the Silverbulletday.

"We're hoping it was just an off day," said Jones.

Secret Gypsy gets down time

Secret Gypsy was scratched from Saturday's Pan Zareta, in which she would have been an odds-on favorite, because of a slight infection in her pastern, said Rowdy Werner, assistant trainer for his father, Ronny Werner, who was out of the country this week.

"Being the filly she is, we just wanted to make sure we were doing right by her," Werner said. "She should be training later this week. We just want to give this time to quiet down."

Tizaqueena looks ready for stakes

Tizaqueena probably earned a return to stakes competition with a sharp allowance win Sunday in her turf debut. Out of action for much of 2008, Tizaqueena won a comeback race on dirt late last year, and scored by 1 3/4 lengths while finishing strongly in a second-level grass allowance, Sunday's feature.

Trainer Mike Stidham mentioned the March 21 Fortin, another grass race, as a possible target.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the national origin of Diamond Tycoon's trainer, Andrew McKeever. He is Irish, not English.