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It's Exam Time for Gradepoint in Louisiana Derby

Sunday's race will be the horse's first major step toward the Kentucky Derby.

March 01, 2004|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

The same guys who took home the horse-of-the-year title with Mineshaft in 2003 are chasing the Kentucky Derby this year. Their Derby hopeful is Gradepoint, who will take his first major step along the trail to Churchill Downs in Sunday's $750,000 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

The Louisiana Derby is one of the first major steps that should help shake out the performers from the pretenders as horse racing starts heading for the Kentucky Derby on May 1.

This, the first week of the Tribune Co. Triple Crown ratings, shows that the most highly regarded horses won't be racing for a couple weeks. Birdstone, the poll's top choice, is scheduled to go on March 20 in the Lane's End at Turfway Park. The second pick, Read the Footnotes, along with Master David (6th) and Tapit (9th) are scheduled to run in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 13.

But this week, the focus will be on Gradepoint, the seventh-rated horse. Like the retired Mineshaft, Gradepoint is a son of A.P. Indy, who missed the 1992 Derby because of a foot injury, but won the Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic and was voted horse of the year.

One of Gradepoint's owners is Will Farish, a prominent Kentucky breeder, longtime friend of the George Bush family and the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. Farish was the co-breeder of Gradepoint and races him in partnership with Greg Goodman. Their trainer is Neil Howard, who developed Mineshaft, and Gradepoint's jockey for the last three starts -- all wins -- has been Robby Albarado.

A.P. Indy, whose 2004 stud fee is $300,000, is at Farish's Lane's End Farm near Versailles, Ky.

"I don't think his best race has shown up yet," Albarado said after Gradepoint's half-length win in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fairgrounds on Feb. 15. Gradepoint's only loss was in his first of four races, a third-place finish against maidens at Belmont Park in September. Since then he's broken his maiden at Keeneland and won twice at the Fairgrounds.

Among the possibles for the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana Derby -- the race Grindstone won en route to his Kentucky Derby win in 1996 -- are Breakaway, Fire Slam, Shadowland, Nightlifeatbigblue, Borrego, Indian War Dance, Swingforthefences, Wimbledon, Preachinatthebar and one or more from Florida-based Todd Pletcher's barn -- Pollard's Vision, Shaniko and Limehouse.

There are still more than two-dozen preps available for horsemen who want to wind up in in the Kentucky Derby. Another of these this weekend is Saturday's $200,000 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita. The San Rafael will be the 3-year-old debut for Lion Heart, who's won all three of his starts but hasn't run since he beat St Averil in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 20. Trainer Patrick Biancone plans to run Lion Heart only twice before the Kentucky Derby -- on Saturday and in the April 3 Santa Anita Derby.

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Triple Crown Ratings

The first Tribune Co. Triple Crown ratings, which should help clarify the 3-year-old racing picture leading up to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. The panel is composed of horse racing writers for Tribune Co. newspapers:

*--* No. Horse Trainer Jockey St W P S Last Race Next (Finish) Race 1. BIRDSTONE Nick Jerry 4 3 0 0 Gulfstream Lane's Zito Bailey allowance (1st) End 2. READ THE Richard Jerry 6 5 0 0 Fountain of Florida FOOTNOTES Violett Bailey Youth (1st) Derby e 3. Nick Javier 4 3 1 0 Gulfstream Swale EUROSILVER Zito Castell allowance (1st) Stakes ano 4. ACTION Richard David 4 2 1 0 Sham Stakes (4th) San THIS DAY Mandell Flores Felipe a Stakes 5. LION Patrick Mike 3 3 0 0 Holfut Stakes San HEART Biancon Smith (1st) Rafael e Stakes 6. MASTER Bobby Alex 6 2 3 1 Sham Stakes (1st) Florida DAVID Frankel Solis Derby 7. Neil Robby 4 3 0 1 Risen Star (1st) Louisia GRADEPOINT Howard Albarad na o Derby 8. Richard Jerry 4 2 1 1 Gulfstream Louisan SWINGFORTHE Violett Bailey allowance (1st) a Derby FENCES e 9. TAPIT Michael Ramon 2 2 0 0 Laurel Futurity Florida Dickins Domingu (1st) Derby on ez 10. Mark Jerry 4 2 2 0 Gulfstream Unknown EDDINGTON Hennig Bailey allowance (1st)

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Triple Crown panel: Bill Christine, Los Angeles Times, Dave Joseph, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Tom Keyser, Baltimore Sun, Neil Milbert, Chicago Tribune and Paul Moran, Newsday.

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