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Friday Notes: Louisiana Derby Early Bird Noms, Dixie Pker Ace and more


By Graham Ross, Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS (Friday, January 4, 2013) – The 100th anniversary edition of the tradition-rich $1 million Louisiana Derby is less than three months away on March 30 and, appropriately, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots began accepting reservations for its Grade II showcase event on Friday morning just days after “Early Bird” nominations to the Crescent City centerpiece were released.

As the New Orleans preview of the Kentucky Derby five weeks later on May 4, the Louisiana Derby has already assembled a banner list of last year’s top 2-year-olds, with more to be added before final nominations close March 16.

“I’m very pleased with the quality that has already been demonstrated by some of our early nominations,” said Fair Grounds’ racing secretary Jason Boulet Friday morning. “The fact that our race is such an important part of the new point system used to qualify horses for the Kentucky Derby should shine an even brighter light on Fair Grounds and its prevalence on the national stage of Thoroughbred racing.”

To download the full list of the 71 Early Bird nominees, visit fgno.com/horsemen/stakes-nominations.

Also, for the first time since the 1930s, the Fair Grounds will open its infield on Louisiana Derby Day and the inaugural Infield Festival will feature one of the largest food truck gatherings ever held in the state of Louisiana and be headlined by the band Cowboy Mouth.

Sure to add to the infield revelry this Louisiana Derby Day will be many of the spectators who cheered on the 20,000 runners in the 10k Crescent City Classic earlier in the day when the South’s favorite long-distance running race wound its way through the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Fair Grounds.

THE REAL DIXIE POKER ACE STILL ENJOYING HIS RETIREMENT – Back in the early 1990s, Dixie Poker Ace won the first three editions of the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf.

Today, at the ripe old age of 26, Dixie Poker Ace is still enjoying his retirement at Peach Lane Farms in Opelousas, Louisiana, and Saturday Fair Grounds will honor his career with its featured $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace Stakes for older accredited Louisiana-breds at about one mile over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course.

How is Dixie Poker Ace standing up these days, owner/manager Lora Pitre of Opelousas-based Peach Lane Farms was asked on Friday?

“He’s still going strong,” she said. “He still runs, bucks and plays, and most important, he’s still a happy horse.”

Pitre has taken care of Dixie Poker Ace the last 17 years of his life, but on Saturday she will present the trophy to the winner of the race named in honor of her most prominent boarder.

“I’m coming down to Fair Grounds with a whole bunch of people,” said Pitre, speaking of the group of about 15 jumping horse people from Alabama. “We’ve been partnering together for a little while now in getting their former hunter-jumpers placed in second careers as pleasure horses. My group has already done their handicapping for tomorrow’s races.”

Although Pitre has about 100 horses on her farm, including a handful of stallions, a number of boarders and a host of broodmares, that equine total is also inclusive of nine retirees who she supports without making a profit – in addition to the noble Dixie Poker Ace.

FAIR GROUNDS JOCKEY, TRAINER, OWNER STANDINGS ENTERING 2013 – Defending Fair Grounds jockey champion Rosie Napravnik enjoyed a four-win lead over runner-up John Jacinto entering the 2013 portion of the current Fair Grounds meeting, with jockey James Graham an additional four-wins behind in third place.

Conditioner Bret Calhoun, who has never won a local training title,led the trainer standings at the end of 2012 by saddling three more winners than nine-time Fair Grounds trainer champion Tom Amoss, with the always consistent Wes Hawley one win behind Amoss. Hawley held down the third spot with one more win than Larry Jones.

Defending owner champion Maggi Moss was tied for the lead in the owner standings by number of wins with fellow owners Brereton Jones,Wesley Hawley,and Steve and Patricia Roe,but was clearly in front in total earnings with $193,800 over Maurice and Evelyn Benoit’s Brittlyn Stables, who had total earnings of $141,059.