Kentucky Derby

Friesan Fire 'getting good at the right time'

The problem plaguing Friesan Fire last season was, in a sense, one of the more common struggles youngsters have to battle.

Initially, the bay colt was content to let himself be influenced by the wrong crowd.

Now that he's learned to stand on his own, the son of A.P. Indy is becoming one of the more accomplished members of his class.

While his physical ability has always been evident, the professionalism Friesan Fire has shown on the racetrack in 2009 is a big change from the unfocused colt who gave his connections fits last season.

After losing three of his four starts as a juvenile, Friesan Fire has opened his 3-year-old campaign with victories in the Grade III Lecomte and Grade III Risen Star Stakes and heads into Saturday's Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds as the morning-line favorite.

According to his trainer, Larry Jones, the transformation of Friesan Fire has been more a mental turnaround than physical development.

Jones' biggest challenge was getting the immensely talented and classically bred colt to shed his lackadaisical attitude when it came to putting his opponents away.

"I would say, early in his career, he was basically satisfied to be a herd animal," said Jones, who also added blinkers to the colt after his fourth-place finish in the Grade III Nashua Stakes last November. "He had the talent, but trying to get him to ... feel like he was number one was just something he did not think he had to prove to all the other horses.

"He was satisfied to just go out and play with the other guys. But that is all turning around for him now. He has decided he wants to be the top dog."

That became evident in Friesan Fire's two-length triumph in the 11⁄16-mile Risen Star on Feb. 7.

In a congested field of 13 challengers, the colt settled calmly under jockey Gabriel Saez just off the leaders and exploded to the front once a seam appeared in the stretch.

Friesan Fire's heightened competitive nature has even shown up in the mornings. He fired a bullet workout Monday, covering five furlongs in :58.20 over the Fair Grounds oval.

"I think he is coming to hand really quick now," Jones said. "Now the works start to get to be the teeter-totter with us just to make sure he does not peak too quick. Hopefully, he is getting good at the right time."

While the results might finally be coming around for Friesan Fire, he remains slightly under the radar compared to some of his fellow Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

His undefeated stablemate, Old Fashioned, will also run on Saturday in the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, which is where Jones himself will be this weekend.

"My wife (Cindy) said she could handle everything in New Orleans so she has sent me to Hot Springs," Jones said.

And although Friesan Fire defeated fellow Louisiana Derby contender Patena by 11/2 lengths in the Lecomte Stakes, the latter has become one of the most talked about horses on the Derby trail since being purchased by IEAH Stables and transferred to the barn of Rick Dutrow — the same connections that won the 2008 Kentucky Derby with Big Brown.

"I think (Friesan Fire) has been a little underrated but, to be honest, I'd rather take that because it's so much easier to come up this way than to have everyone thinking you're the best," Tom Ludt, manager of Vinery Stables, which co-owns Friesan Fire, said last month. "I like our spot; I certainly wouldn't trade with anyone. I like that he keeps getting better and better."