Fair Grounds gearing up for Louisiana Derby

NEW ORLEANS — The atmosphere at the Fair Grounds was conspicuously hushed on Saturday, with only one minor stakes race — the $60,000 Red Camelia — being run on a dank, gray day in which the threat of severe thunderstorms loomed all afternoon.

Call it the calm before the storm.

The true thunder and lightning, at least figuratively, comes next Saturday, when the $1 million Louisiana Derby is run for the 100th time.

“It’s quiet (today),” veteran Fair Grounds trainer Al Stall Jr. said Saturday, “definitely quiet. The parking lot is empty, the crowd is quiet. But that’ll all change dramatically a week from today.”

In all, the March 30 card features seven stakes races — including four Grade II ones — culminating in the Louisiana Derby, the winner of which will score $600,000 and a likely slot in the Kentucky Derby May 4.

As of late last week, the LA Derby had 14 probables listed, the number at which Fair Grounds officials have capped entries. Barring any last-minute changes, all that remains is Wednesday’s ceremonial post-position drawing.

Here’s the field of the 14 tentative entries in the next Saturday’s derby, in alphabetical order (including trainer and probable jockey):

Brazilian Court (Mike Maker, no jockey named); Code West (Bob Baffert, Martin Garcia); Departing (Al Stall Jr., Brian Hernandez Jr.); Golden Soul (Dallas Stewart, Calvin Borel); Ground Transport (Michael Stidham, Mark Guidry); Hip Four Sixtynine (Bobby Barnett, Jamie Theriot); Mylute (Tom Amoss, Shaun Bridgmohan); Nina’s Dragon (Lloyd Mason, Julien Couton); Palace Malice (Todd Pletcher, Edgar Prado); Proud Strike (Steve Asmussen, no jockey named); Revolutionary (Pletcher, Javier Castellano); Sunbean (Stall, Colby Hernandez Jr.); Titletown Five (Wayne Lukas, Jon Court); Whiskey Bravo (Keith Desormeaux, James Graham).

In Saturday’s only stakes, the Red Camelia, a one and 1⁄16th mile turf contest, Graham drove the James Hodges-trained Divine Lorretta to a come-from behind win.

For most of the oval, it was a two-horse duel between pre-race favorites Little Polka Dot and Ladyzarbridge, with Dot setting the pace on the inside and Ladyzarbridge riding her outside flank until the final turn and home stretch, when Divine Lorretta streaked down the outside to take the stakes crown.

“That’s the way she wants to run,” Graham said. “When I won on her before, that’s the way I rode her, and I rode again like that today, and she finished off good and ran all the way to the wire.”