March 16, 2009

Friesan Fire scorches wet Louisiana Derby track

It's time to add another star to Larry Jones' impressive training resume... Friesan Fire. This racehorse was absolutely professional in drawing away from a deeply talented Louisiana Derby field of nine entrants including Papa Clem (who previously bested I Want Revenge in California before that one took the Gotham Stakes), Terrain (my longshot choice who finished 4th in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and put in a decent bid to be nipped for 2nd) and a host of local foes. Yes, the racing Gods seem to be approving of Larry Jones, who took some criticism following Eight Belles' break-down after finishing second in last year's Kentucky Derby. He was the consumate professional in all media requests and panel interviews on safety initiatives following that tragic event but ultimately admitted that the year had taken a toll on his personal life and may be ending his status as trainer at the end of this year. In addition to Friesan Fire, he trains the more heralded son of Unbridled's Song, Old Fashioned, who was a beaten favorite by the 56-1 longshot Win Willy in The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Saturday. Still a pretty nice one-two punch as we near The Derby!

Friesan Fire's sweep of the Fair Grounds stakes circuit for three year-olds reminds me of Smarty Jones in a number of ways. First, Smarty Jones won the Arkansas Derby from the outside post by laying just off another front runner for 6 furlongs before drawing away on the turn when he left Purge and others behind in the 2004 Arkansas Derby. That race led to the Oaklawn Challenge $5 million bonus for sweeping all three Oaklawn preps and winning the Kentucky Derby. Too bad for Friesan Fire's connections he' running in the year of massive economic woes (Frank Stronach's MEC tracks, including Pimlico Race Course in Maryland - site of The Preakness - just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection). But I'm sure they were more than pleased with the 60% winners share of the $600,000 purse from the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.

And while Smarty Jones was undefeated through the Preakness Stakes, he wasn't considered a top-tier horse (won only a couple minor races at Philadelphia Park and Aqueduct) until his Oaklawn run, while Friesan Fire's start began at obscure Delaware Park but then followed through New York in his late fall campaign. He has truly blossomed over the Fair Grounds oval after racing with blinkers the past several starts. New Orleanians hope he will be the first LA Derby participant to claim the Run for the Roses since Funny Cide in 2003. Based on his seven career starts without a major break in racing action, Jones is expected to train him up to The Derby. By then, many "experts" will have forgotten about this consistent colt who has a classic sire in A.P. Indy, yet plenty of speed through his damsire - Dehere - that is displayed in his stalking running style. Speed that will come in handy getting to the first turn in good position on the first Saturday in May!

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