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KETCHIKAN - Saturday is a big day for Ketchikan in New Orleans.
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Ketchikan, as in the $500,000 thoroughbred colt owned by billionaire B. Wayne Hughes, will be running in the 94th Louisiana Derby - a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby.
"It looks like we have a pretty good chance with this particular horse," said Al Stall Jr., the New Orleans-based trainer of the "big, beautiful, chestnut" 3-year-old.
So, why did Hughes name this horse Ketchikan?
Stall and Whiteley say it's because Hughes likes Ketchikan - a place where he loves to go salmon fishing.
"(Hughes) likes it well enough to name a horse he bought for $500,000 after Ketchikan," Stall said.
And Stall likes this horse, which is one in a 50-horse stable under Stall's tutelage.
"Needless to say, he's the star of the bunch," Stall said. "I'd love to have three or four like him."
A relatively inexperienced horse, Ketchikan placed fourth in his debut race in December at the Fair Grounds before managing solid wins in his next two races.
"He's only run three times," Stall said. "And he won his last two very impressively, and therefore won the right to run the Louisiana Derby."
Another expert watching Ketchikan with enthusiasm is Rob Whiteley, who co-bred Ketchikan for his Kentucky-based commercial breeding operation Liberation Farm.
Whiteley calls the colt "athletic, smart, well-balanced and fast."
"Let's hope he keeps progressing without any misadventures, and Ketchikan meets the (Kentucky Derby) Bluegrass on the first Saturday in May!" Whiteley wrote in an e-mail to the Daily News.
Ketchikan already has a bit of Kentucky Derby, not to mention Belmont Stakes and Preakness Stakes, in his background with a pedigree that includes 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
His sire was Mr. Greeley, and his dam was Flowers and Vines, whose sister Blushing K.D. won the 1997 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
Whiteley raised the horse and sold it at auction as an unnamed yearling. B. Wayne Hughes paid $500,000 for the 2-year-old in April, according to Daily Racing Form writer Marcus Hersh.
Hughes is a successful real estate investor and founder/chairman of the self-storage company Public Storage.
In 2006, Hughes was ranked 61st on Forbes Magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans with a personal fortune of about $4.1 billion.
He's been involved with horse racing since the early 1970s, according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
Ketchikan was one of 450 3-year-olds nominated to potentially run in the Triple Crown this year. Selection to actually run in the Triple Crown series is based upon performance in set of prep races - of which the Louisiana Derby is one of the most important.
Ketchikan will be ridden by jockey Larry Melancon in the derby race, which will begin at 1:43 p.m. Saturday.