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Friday Notes: Court Going for Stakes Quartet On Preview Day


By Graham Ross, Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS(February 22, 2013) – Gentleman Jon Court.That could eventually become the, ah, more courtly nickname for this talented veteran jockey with more than 3,700 victories in more than 30 years of riding, even though a high national profile still eludes him.

However, a victory by Court aboard Calumet Farm’s Oxbow in Saturday’s Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots would lead to likely favoritism in the 100th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby March 30, and that might allow Court another chance on the national and international stage if the same horse-jockey tandem goes to the post in the upcoming Kentucky Derby to be run at Churchill Downs on May 4.

Last year, aboard Bluegrass Hall’s Optimizer in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, that horse was apparently overmatched on the main track.  In the 2011 Kentucky Derby in what could have been a fairy tale ending for Court riding Robert Yagos’ Archarcharch for his father-in-law, trainer Jinks Fires, that horse was hopelessly compromised by the rail post, pulled up lame after the race and never ran again.

As the rider of Oxbow, however, things are looking are looking better than ever for Court.  Oxbow, a son of 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again, dominated Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes,drawing off for an 11 1/2-length victory in the race that serves as a preamble to the Risen Star.  Let one’s imagination pick up the bit from there.

Better yet,Court not only has the mount aboard Oxbow on Saturday but also won in each of the other three graded stakes being run that day at Fair Grounds.  On Thursday evening, after completing his riding assignments at Oaklawn, the always-considerate, mannerly reins master offered his assessment of all four of his graded stakes mounts Saturday, all of whom are conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

“I’m flying in to New Orleans Saturday morning,” Court said of his travel plans.  “I could have left Friday night but I didn’t want the owners to incur the additional expense of putting me up at a hotel.”

“I’m on some very live horses all day and I’m extremely optimistic about all of their chances,” Court said.  “I’m going to win what I can and I’m very excited about Oxbow and his chances in the Risen Star.  It’s a tougher spot than the last one, especially with the full field, but this horse ran very well for me in the Lecomte and I think he’s entirely capable of doing the same thing again.”

Court’s mount in Saturday’s Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap is Calumet’s Optimizer, Court’s Kentucky Derby mount last year, but a son of English Channel who has rediscovered his career since switching his talents to the turf.  In his most recent trip to the post Optimizer and Court invaded New Orleans for the Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course on Jan. 26, made the pace and then drew off for a 3 1/2-length score.

“Optimizer has always been a favorite of mine,” said Court.  “I’ve always loved the horse and after the way he handled the grass course there the last time we came, I’m extremely optimistic about this race for him.  I also love his name.  It suits him.”

In Saturday’s Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes, the designed prep for the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks March 30, Court will be aboard Calumet’s Neith, a daughter of Dynaformer who finished troubled fourth in Oaklawn’s $60,000 Dixie Belle at last asking after being bothered at the 3 1/16th pole.  Court was not the rider on Neith that day.

“I think the important thing for me aboard Neith is to get her a sufficiently clean trip,” Court said, “and a trip that will hopefully end in the winner’s circle.”

In Saturday’s Grade III Mineshaft Handicap, Court has the mount on Calumet’s Raison d’Etat, a horse that hesitated at the break and lost all chance when he ran in Fair Grounds’ $100,000 Louisiana Handicap in his last start Jan. 19.

“Hopefully, on Saturday he’ll break with the pack,” Court said.  “Also, we’ve got an inside post this time and I expect that will help our chances.”

HYPER SCRATCHED OUT OF SATURDAY’S GRADE III FAIR GROUNDS HANDICAP —Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Hyper, entered in Saturday’s Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap, was not aboard the equine charter flight from South Florida bringing Sunshine State invaders to New Orleans for Saturday’s Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford.

“I’m going to scratch,” Hyper’s trainer Chad Brown informed Fair Grounds officials in a text message.  “(Hyper) does not like soft turf.”

However, Brown will be saddling Grade II Risen Star Stakes 5-2 morning line favorite Normandy Invasion, owned by Fox Hill Farms, in the local oval’s final prep for the 100th anniversary edition of the $1 million Louisiana Derby March 30.