NEW ORLEANS — A rainy day and sloppy track did nothing to snuff out Friesan Fire's recent run of dominance.
Surging ahead down the stretch, Friesan Fire left the field in his muddy wake to win the $600,000 Louisiana Derby by more than 7 lengths on Saturday and solidify his credentials as a top contender for the Kentucky Derby.
Favored at 2-1, Friesan Fire pulled into the lead coming out of the final turn at the Fair Grounds Race Course to complete a sweep of his first three starts as a 3-year-old.
"We're improving every race," Friesan Fire's trainer, Larry Jones, said by phone from Oaklawn Park. "He's getting good at the right time."
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With a laugh, Jones joked that Friesan Fire "could have run much better if I was there."
Maybe not. Jones was at Oaklawn to watch another of his Kentucky Derby hopefuls, Old Fashioned, run the Rebel Stakes. But Old Fashioned faded in the Rebel and finished second to 50-1 long shot Win Willy.
Friesan Fire, meanwhile, came into the Louisiana Derby off wins in the Lecomte and Risen Star at Fair Grounds earlier this year, making him the first horse ever to win three graded stakes races in one Fair Grounds meet. All three victories came under jockey Gabriel Saez, who kept the colt near the front and out of trouble until he began to challenge for the lead at the end of the back stretch.
"I got him right behind the leaders," Saez said. "He was very relaxed. When I made my move, he just exploded."
Friesan Fire covered the 11⁄16-mile distance in 1:43.46 in what was the first Louisiana Derby triumph for either Jones or Saez.
Papa Clem, the early pacesetter, was second and Terrain finished third, with other Derby hopefuls Giant Oak winding up fourth and Patena eighth in the nine-horse field.
It was the first race on dirt for Papa Clem, who flew in from California, where he'd raced only on synthetic tracks.
"He was really comfortable through the race," Papa Clem jockey Rafael Bejarano said. "I am very pleased with his progression and I think he liked the surface."
Initially, 10 horses entered the race, but Nowhere to Hide was scratched. More was expected of Patena, who finished second in the Lecomte and was bought by IEAH Stables and handed over to trainer Rick Dutrow, the same connections of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown.
Patena came in with no race experience on a sloppy track, however, and jockey Robby Albarado was helpless to stop him from fading.
"He just didn't fire," Albarado said.
Flying Pegasus, which had finished second in the Risen Star, also struggled and wound up sixth.
Rachel Alexandra romps
Rachel Alexandra justified her role as the odds-on favorite in the $400,000 Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks by drawing off for a 13/4-length victory Saturday at Fair Grounds.
Based on the impressive nature of the victory, the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro stamped herself as a worthy candidate to follow in the footsteps of last year's Fair Grounds Oaks winner Proud Spell, who went on to capture the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes and eventually won the Eclipse Award as the year's top 3-year-old filly.
Rachel Alexandra's name has even been bandied about for a run against the boys in the Kentucky Derby. Her performance Saturday shouldn't do anything to silence that talk.
Rachel Alexandra led by as much as 6 or 7 lengths in the stretch, but jockey Calvin Borel let up on the filly well before the finish and they loped across the line as the field did its best to make up ground.
Trained by Hal Wiggins, Rachel Alexandra finished the 11⁄16-mile race in 1:43.55 over the sloppy track for her fifth career victory in eight lifetime starts.
"Calvin said she was just pricking her ears and doing it so easy," said Wiggins, "just like she did it when she took the lead when she won the Golden Rod last fall at Churchill. She kind of surprised us when she took the lead that day but today we kind of wanted her out there so she didn't get mud in her face on her first time over that kind of surface. But I really think she can be anywhere we want her to be."