No. 7 Gradepoint taking an early prep, La. Derby

Mineshaft's crew sends off another son of A.P. Indy

Horse Racing

March 01, 2004|By Bill Christine | Bill Christine,LOS ANGELES TIMES

First in a weekly series of articles by Tribune Publishing horse racing writers looking ahead to Triple Crown races.

The same guys who took home the horse-of-the-year title with Mineshaft in 2003 are chasing the Kentucky Derby this year. The new shooter in their barn is Gradepoint, who'll 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 Triple Crown Ratings, shows that the top names won't be racing for a couple of weeks. Birdstone, the poll's top choice, is scheduled to go March 20 in the Lane's End at Turfway Park. The second pick, Read the Footnotes, along with Master David (sixth) and Tapit (ninth) are scheduled to start in the Florida Derby 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. A.P. Indy missed the 1992 Derby because of a foot injury but won the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic and was still 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 also developed Mineshaft, and Gradepoint's jockey for the past three starts - all wins - has been Robby Albarado.

A.P. Indy, whose 2004 stud fee is $300,000, stands 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 Louisville on May 1. Another of these this weekend is Saturday's $200,000 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita. The San Rafael will be the much-awaited 3-year-old debut for the undefeated 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 Santa Anita Derby on April 3.

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