12/14/2014 - Sunbean (left) with jockey Richard Eramia makes a late charge and noses out String King at the wire to capture the 23rd running of the$150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic at Fair Grounds. Hodges Photography / Lynn Roberts

Last year’s Kentucky Derby came too soon for Albano, owned by Brereton C. Jones and trained by Larry Jones.

Albano did not appear to be ready for the highest level of competition in the United States, Jones recalled. So they opted to bypass the first leg of the 2014 Triple Crown.

Fast forward to this weekend where Albano, nearly a year older, has a chance to make a second impression at the Fair Grounds. He’s part of a field of six slated to run Saturday in the $75,000 Louisiana Stakes over 11?16 miles.

“This is his comeback race,” Jones said.

The race marks a big day at the Gentilly race track, featuring five grades stakes, including the first leg of the road to the Louisiana Derby.

Albano is coming off last season’s fourth-place finish (after a disqualification) in the Louisiana Derby. He also ran second in the 2014 Risen Star Stakes and the Lecomte. All three races were at the Fair Grounds.

Albano spent last summer at Delaware Park.

“He had qualified for the (Kentucky) Debry points-wise, but we felt like he needed more time and we felt like he wasn’t ready,” Jones said. “But he wound up being a very good horse.”

Wound up running a distant second to Bayern during July’s $1 million William Hill Haskell Invitational.

Not that defending champion Fordubai plans to make it easy during Saturday’s two-turn dirt race. Same goes for Nates Mineshaft, an 8-year-old who owns the 11?8-mile Fair Grounds track record, or Grand Contender, last year’s runner-up in the Louisiana Stakes. Hard Aces and Paddy’s Notes round out the field.

Strike King

Louisiana-bred warrior String King will break from post five during Saturday’s Grade III $100,000 Colonel E. R. Bradley Handicap at 11?16 miles on turf. The 7-year-old placed fourth in the race last season and in 2013 finished second.

String King has 14 victories in 33 lifetime starts. Villandry, though, is a favorite, coming off a victory at the Grade III $100,000 River City Handicap in November at Churchill Downs.

Kranz will be missed

Former Fair Grounds president and owner Bryan Kranz recalled Ramon Muniz, a longtime fixture at the race track, as “a great communicator and finger on the pulse.”

Muniz, 65, died suddenly on Saturday.

“He never met a stranger,” Krantz said of Ramon, who was known by most as “Ray.”

He and his brother, Mervin (he died in 2003) were iconic members of the area’s horse racing community that helped restore the Fair Grounds in recent years. Both served in multiple roles, including Mervin’s post as racing secretary. Ramon was a paddock judge for four decades.

“I don’t there was a racetrack person coast-to-coast who didn’t know Ray and he didn’t know them,” said trainer Neil Howard Muniz said. “It probably took Ray more time to say “Hello” to everybody than anybody here.”

Night racing back

Starlight Racing returns to the Fair Grounds on Friday, starting at 5 p.m. The event includes nine races under the lights, as well as a Happy-hour-type atmosphere with music food offerings.

The Starlight-Starbright charitable program is also available. Non and for-profit organizations that sell a minimum of 25 pre-sold tickets receive 50 percent of admission cost. For more information, e-mail lindsay.boihem@fgno.com or mark.conner@fgno.com.