Left is not exactly a horse in the headlines, but that could change on Saturday. Trainer Al Stall, Jr. has never finished out of the money with any horse he has started in a Louisiana Derby.
The son of Arch is undefeated in his only two lifetime starts, both at Fair Grounds this season--one on dirt and one on turf, and Left has worked competitively five times this winter with the highly regarded Bind (who runs in Saturday’s fourth race). However, he was pegged at 10-1 in the Louisiana Derby morning line.
“Left is just a fun horse to be around,” said New Orleans native Stall earlier this week. “He’s something of a stable pet because nothing seems to bother him. He’s a gelding, and he got kicked by another horse out in a field while he was still a baby, so the left side of his face is all pushed in, and he has tears running constantly out of that left eye. But he just keeps taking everything in stride. All we have to do is throw some oats at him a couple of times a day and he’s happy.”
From three past Louisiana Derby starters, Stall saddled Claiborne’s Terrain to finish third in 2009, B. Wayne Hughes’ My Pal Charlie to finish second in 2008 and that same ownership’s Ketchikan was second in 2007.
“Afleet Alex was very good to me from the time I bought him,” said trainer Tim Ritchey Tuesday, “and he’s still being very good to me.”
Elite Alex, a son of Afleet Alex owned by Elite Alex LLC and trained by Ritchey, has been a late-developing runner.
“He only ran once as a 2-year-old,” Ritchey said. “Because he was such a big, long-striding colt, we had to give him more time to develop, and now he’ll probably need between $250,000 to $300,000 graded stakes earnings to make the field for the Kentucky Derby. With Afleet Alex, we already had all the graded stakes earnings we needed."
Ritchey said his team will try to take advantage of the track configuration at at Fair Grounds on Saturday.
“That’s one of the reasons we decided at the last minute to come to the Louisiana Derby, because of the new million-dollar purse, but another reason was because of that long stretch run at Fair Grounds. That suits his running style. Elite Alex is different from Afleet Alex because he’s a lot bigger and he doesn’t have that quick sprint that Afleet Alex had, but he does have a high cruising speed and he’ll keep coming at you.
"With that longer run to the turn in the Louisiana Derby, and that longer stretch run there, it gives you more time to make up for any mistakes. Some of those other horses in the Louisiana Derby are speed horses whose trainers are probably hoping that they can get out there in front with an easy lead and use their early cruising speed to keep going,” said Ritchey, “but the new longer distance of the Louisiana Derby should help my horse. A mile and an eighth should help separate the pretenders from the contenders.”
Elite Alex was entered in last Saturday’s Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, but drew an outside post which would have compromised his chances. He was scratched after entry time, and plans were made for the colt and Calvin Borel to go to Louisiana instead.
“The Louisiana Derby was always an option,” said Ritchey, “and I had talked to Calvin about this other idea for some time. My horse was ready to run last week, and he’s still ready to run.”
Borel, who was born in Catahoula, Louisiana in the heart of Cajun Country, has won three of the last four runnings of the Kentucky Derby but has never won a Louisiana Derby.
--Edited track release