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Horses to Watch: The Road to the Louisiana Derby & Fair Grounds Oaks


By Jim Mulvihill, Communications & Pari-Mutuel Marketing Manager

NEW ORLEANS (Monday, December 31, 2012) – As all Thoroughbred racehorses officially turn a year older on Jan. 1, fans will begin to focus on the newly turned 3-year-olds and the series of stakes races that lead to the $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII) and the $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) on March 30. More so than ever thanks to a new points-based system for Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks qualifying, the Road to the Louisiana Derby and Fair Grounds Oaks will establish which local colts and fillies might be prominent at Churchill Downs on the first weekend in May.

The Road to the Louisiana Derby begins in earnest on Jan. 19 with the $200,000 Lecomte Stakes (GIII) at one mile and 70 yards. The fillies kick off the Road to the Fair Grounds Oaks that same afternoon at the same distance in the $125,000 Silverbulletday Stakes. Each race is worth 17 points (10 for first, four for second, two for third, one for fourth) toward Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks qualification.

Below are leading horses to watch in each division, listed alphabetically, based on past performances, published works and interviews with horsemen. Inclusion on this list does not necessarily mean that the horse is known to be under consideration for upcoming Fair Grounds stakes.

Colts & Geldings

Horse (Trainer) – Summary and comments

CIRCLE UNBROKEN (Garry Simms) – Broken Vow colt won his first two starts at Churchill Downs, including the Bashford Manor Stakes (GIII), before a second last time out in the Aug. 4 Mountaineer Juvenile. Has four published works at Fair Grounds in December and is up to five-eighths in preparation for a return to the races. Simms: “A couple more works and we’ll have him pretty close to running. I don’t really have an exact plan for him. We’ll just let him tell us. The ultimate plan would be the Louisiana Derby, if he’s good enough. He just had a little P1 in his right-front ankle, no big deal. It wasn’t a big chip but we decided to clean it up; we do the right thing by the horse.”

DEPARTING (Al Stall Jr.) – War Front colt won a deep Dec. 22 six-furlong maiden special weight at first asking by 2 ¼ lengths. Stall: “He’s a ‘non-two’ so that’s his game plan. Everybody liked their horses in there (the Dec. 22 race). He showed seasoning and I’d think he got a lot out of that race the way it unfolded, with him being in the pocket and then coming through the inside; that was nice. He’ll be fine going long; I was even thinking of running him long first-time out. The family, I know, stretches, so that’s a no-brainer.”

GOLDEN SOUL (Dallas Stewart) – Perfect Soul colt finished strongly to win a Dec. 30 two-turn maiden special weight by 7 ¼ lengths. Stewart: “I think he’s a really good one, I really do. He’s trained so well, has a lot of talent and ran real well first-time out. We’ve got some very high hopes for him. We’re going to take our time with him. He’s a late foal, May 14. I think he’s unlimited on distance. We’re going to do the smart thing and take our time. The Lecomte might be pushing it but we’ll have to wait and see.”

HAWAAKOM (Danny Peitz) – Jazil colt upset a Dec. 15 maiden special weight in his first try stretching out, winning by 1 ½ lengths. Petiz said after that race that he would consider the Jan. 19 Lecomte. Peitz: “I guess you could say he's my Derby horse now. I'll say that because he's the only two-year-old I have that has won going over a distance of ground.”

IVE STRUCK A NERVE (Keith Desormeaux) – Yankee Gentleman colt won a six-furlong maiden special weight opening weekend and was second to Tour Guide sprinting in the Dec. 22 overnight $60,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes. Desormeaux: “I think it was a great prep for the Lecomte. That’s my goal is January 19. He’s out of a Cryptoclearance mare so he should be able to run all day. We’re excited about him.”

MALIBU HIGH (Cecil Borel) – Malibu Moon colt is undefeated in two starts sprinting, including a Dec. 28 entry-level allowance at Fair Grounds. Will be nominated to the Lecomte and Oaklawn Park’s ungraded $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes (Jan. 21) as possible next starts. Jockey Calvin Borel: “He has all the talent in the world. He’s a very smart horse; he’ll win on his smartness. I think he’ll beat some good horses.”

MYLUTE (Tom Amoss) – Midnight Lute colt drew off to a 10 ¾-length win in a Dec. 26 two-turn entry-level allowance. He’s earned $213,695 thanks to three on-the-board finishes in stakes: a third in the $1 million Delta Jackpot (GIII), second in the $200,000 Jean Laffite Stakes at Delta and a second in the $75,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile at Prairie Meadows. Amoss: “It’ll either be the Lecomte or wait until the Risen Star and that’s a decision that’s going to be made by GoldMark Farm general manager Todd Quast. A lot of it will have to do with how he trains over the next three weeks.”

TOUR GUIDE (Bret Calhoun) – Broken Vow colt cruised to a 3 ½-length score sprinting in the Dec. 22 overnight $60,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes as the odds-on favorite, a win that was foreshadowed by an easy 4 ½-length victory against winners at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24.Calhoun:“He’s healthy and doing well right now. He’s still growing and developing and he’s doing it very slowly. He’s a very fast horse, for sure, and we’ll just have to see if we can harness some of that speed and stretch it out. I do think there’s more left in the tank. This horse gets a little bit lost when he’s out on the lead. … Pedigree-wise this horse should stretch out. The last two-turn race was definitely a throw-out race. We may have to try it again.”

VIOLENCE (Todd Pletcher) – Undefeated Medaglia d’Oro colt is among the leading Kentucky Derby contenders after wins in the CashCall Futurity (GI) and the Nashua Stakes (GII). Based in Florida but is among the Louisiana Derby Early Bird nominees and has been mentioned by Pletcher as a possibility for the Feb. 23 Risen Star Stakes (GII), which would help keep him apart from other top Pletcher prospects. Pletcher: “He’s the kind of horse that has such a great disposition and good mind that shipping wouldn’t bother him at all. He’ll probably start again at the end of February or the beginning of March.”


Horse (Trainer) – Summary and comments

BLUEEYESINTHEREIN (Garry Simms) – Magna Graduate filly is two-for-two, including a win in the Debutante Stakes (GIII) at Churchill Downs in June. Had first work since July at Fair Grounds on Saturday. Simms: “She worked her first three-eighths and did it beautifully. We just took it nice and easy, thirty-seven and change, wouldn’t blow out a match. She had a little tibia fracture in her left-hind. No surgery, just time off. We turned her out, gave her time, and she’s doing great. I’m not going to rush her, but she’ll get ready quick. I’ve got a lot of bottom in her. I worked her three-eighths but she went out a half in fifty-and-something and she looked like I just jogged her.”

BROTHERHOOD SINGER (Garry Simms) – Dehere filly was third as the even-money favorite in the Dec. 22 overnight $60,000 Letellier Memorial going six furlongs. She was an easy entry-level allowance winner at Churchill Downs in November after fading to seventh in her stakes debut going two turns in the Pocahontas (GII). Simms: “I think she’ll go long. I backed off of her because she’d run quite a bit. She just needed the (last) race. It won’t be so easy for them next time, I promise you. She’ll stretch it out. She’s a good filly. She’s possible [for the Silverbulletday]. I would prefer to keep mine separate but if they’re all ready, what do you do?”

CLOUDY IN SANDIEGO (Steve Margolis) – Filly from the deceased War Pass’s second and final season came back to convincingly win a Dec. 28 two-turn entry-level allowance gate to wire after a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Nov. 24 Delta Downs Princess Stakes (GIII). Was fourth in the Oct. 27 Pocahontas (GII) at Churchill following an Oct. 2 win at Hoosier. Margolis: “I think she still had a little more in the tank; it’s not like she was all-out. She’s always acted like she had some quality and we just have to see if she can go on to the next level now. The Silverbulletday is back in three weeks so we’ll have to see. I don’t think that last race was real hard on her and if she missed this one then we’d have to wait seven weeks.”

ESTONIA (Neil Howard) – Flashy Bull filly won a Dec. 1 two-turn entry-level allowance by three lengths, her second victory in three starts. Howard: “This time of year, with a two-year-old that’s won two races, if you don’t run in the Silverbulletday there’s nowhere else to run. We are, obviously, thinking about it. She’s training fine. She’s an improving filly but she still has a long way to go. We know it’s going to be a tall order but if everything’s fine with her and it looks like a chance for her to pick up some black type…”

FINDING MORE (Kellyn Gorder) – Washington-bred Trickey Trevor filly has won three in a row, including an October entry-level allowance at Churchill Downs and the Dec. 22 overnight $60,000 Letellier Memorial going six furlongs at Fair Grounds. Assistant trainer Evan Downing: “I think we will see if she can go two turns. It does sound like she has more sprint breeding but she won going seven-eighths last time (Oct. 28 at CD) so we’ll probably try.”

FLASHY CAMPAIGN (Tom Amoss) – Political Force filly easily won at first asking going six furlongs opening weekend then finished second as the odds-on choice in her first try stretching out in a Dec. 28 entry-level allowance in the slop. Amoss: “The idea was to break and I thought she’d be on the front end but that’s not how it went. We were disappointed and we’ll regroup and try again. Chances are she’ll run in the [Silverbulletday].”

GAL ABOUT TOWN (Bret Calhoun) – City Zip filly was second in both of Churchill’s fall Grade II juvenile filly stakes – the Golden Rod at 1 1/16 miles and the Pocahontas at one mile. She broke her maiden in September at Monmouth Park and beat winners handily at Keeneland in October. Calhoun: “We’re shooting for the Silverbulletday for her next start. I thought she ran great in the Golden Rod. We were a little disappointed she didn’t win, but she ran great so we’re happy with that.”

GIVMETHREESTEPSMR (Garry Simms) – Magna Graduate filly won impressively first time out sprinting at Ellis Park in July. Has four published works at Fair Grounds in December and is up to five-eighths in preparation for her return to the races. Simms: “She’s a pretty special filly. She was a June 15 foal but we ran her the one time and she came up a little funny. She’s on the same timetable as Circle Unbroken; they’ve been workmates from the first three-eighths on. They’re both push-button, really easy horses to train. We’ve got high hopes for her; I think she’s a good filly but we’ll have to see as the competition gets tougher. She’s pretty close, too. [The Silverbulletday] is the one I’m kind of looking at, if I can make it. I think she’s that good and she’ll run all day.”

MADAME CACTUS (Steve Asmussen) – Cactus Ridge filly broke her maiden by more than six lengths sprinting at Santa Anita and came back to win the My Trusty Cat at Delta by two. Finished fourth in the Nov. 24 Delta Downs Princess Stakes (GIII) as the favorite and returned to the track with an easy half-mile work at Fair Grounds on Dec. 17. Owner Marc Ferrell of VinMar Farm: “We sent her to the Fair Grounds and backed off on her for a little bit, tack-walked her and let her transition from a two-year-old to a three-year-old. We have our eyes set on the Silverbulletday as her return race and that’ll be the first step. She showed such a turn of foot in her first three races, to come up to that fourth one in that fashion was a little bit disappointing. But it all made sense in the final analysis; she got shuffled back to last and whatever could have gone wrong did. She’s probably going to work in company on Wednesday.”

MAGICAL MOON (Al Stall Jr.) – Malibu Moon filly broke her maiden on the Saratoga turf by more than 10 lengths and came back to run third in the Alcibiades (GI) over Keeneland’s synthetic main track. Has posted two easy three-furlong works, on Dec. 24 and Dec. 30. Stall: “She went to South Carolina just to hang around after the Alcibiades. She’s a ‘non-winners of two’ so we’ll do that first and go from there. We’ll get her back on the dirt, though, just to see if she likes it. She’s trained so well on it we can’t figure out why she ran like she did in her first race (a fifth at Churchill Downs in June).”

MELODY LADY (Steve Asmussen) – Bred to be a champion by Unbridled’s Song out of multiple Grade I winner and 2003 Fair Grounds Oaks heroine Lady Tak, the gray filly won a Dec. 13 six-furlong maiden special weight by 2 ¾ lengths with little urging. Co-Owner John Sikura of Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings: “In her first start she kind of faltered and stopped, which was a surprise to Steve and to us, but she ran big to break her maiden. Baby steps and we’ll see where she takes us. It’s early yet and all options are open. We’ll leave it to Steve to find the next spot and hopefully she’ll pass the next test. Lady Tak was a phenomenal race filly, world-class, and hopefully this filly will continue on and be black-type quality.”

SEANEEN GIRL (Bernie Flint) – Spring At Last filly posted a 31-1 upset in the Nov. 24 Golden Rod (GII) at Churchill Downs. Made her first five starts over Woodbine’s synthetic surface, including a runner-up finish in the Mazarine (GIII) in October. Has four works over the Fair Grounds track in December. Flint: “We’re only going to run her two times here and then she’s going to the [Kentucky] Oaks. We’ll probably wait for the one in February (the Rachel Alexandra). I don’t want to use her too much. We’ve got enough points. I don’t ask much of her now. She’s rested, she’s growing, she looks good and we just need her to keep going that way.”

SIGN (Al Stall Jr.) – Pulpit filly is two-for-two, including a win in the Pocahontas (GII) at Churchill Downs. Hasn’t worked since but is expected to make her highly anticipated 2013 debut in the Feb. 23 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (GIII) at Fair Grounds. Stall: “She’s back in training. We gave her some time off; she had one of those bone bruise deals in her hind ankle. We just gave her a little breather and we’re starting her again. I guess she’s still on schedule for the Rachel Alexandra.”

SITTIN AT THE BAR (Brett Brinkman) – By Into Mischief, the top Louisiana-bred filly at the meet won the Dec. 8 Louisiana Champions Day Lassie by eight lengths and will be heavily favored in today’s fillies division of the restricted Louisiana Futurity. In November she finished third versus open company in the Delta Princess (GIII). Another easy win against state-bred company today could prompt the connections to consider one of the upcoming open stakes. Brinkman: “She came out of that race (the Delta Princess) in good order and we were undecided and then as we progressed along, she made us more confident. She is a classy filly.”

SMITTEN (Larry Jones) – Tapit filly broke her maiden in a Dec. 16 two-turn maiden special weight. Jones: “We’re going to nominate her [to the Silverbulletday] and we’ll see if an allowance race goes or not. It’s so hard to get the allowance races to go. But I’m sure going to run her somewhere in January, the good Lord willing. I don’t know if she’s there yet but I do think this filly could be a really nice horse.”

TOUCH MAGIC (Pat Devereux) – Lion Heart filly just missed in the Nov. 17 Delta Princess (GIII), finishing second by a half-length. Returned to South Florida following that start but is back in Louisiana at the Evangeline Training Center after being purchased privately by Coteau Grove Farm (Keith & Ginger Myers). Devereux: “We nominated to the Silverbulletday and that’s our plan, to go there next. She’s doing great. We hope she’ll stretch out as the spring goes on but she’s a nice filly either way. She just hasn’t done anything wrong. We vetted her out comprehensively and she scored well everywhere. She was just about the best available we could buy; we wanted a good filly turning three and she is one. I’m going to try to bring her to Fair Grounds to work her on Sunday (Jan. 6).”