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Barn Notes: Friday, January 17

IN TODAY'S NOTES: Stringing Along With String King in Col. Bradley; Fair Grounds Jockey, Trainer Standings Through Thursday

As always, the focus will be on the 3-year-olds during Saturday’s Road to the Derby Day at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, but guests of the local oval and Fair Grounds fans around the nation should remember that there is another graded stakes besides the $200,000 Lecomte on Saturday’s menu and that is the Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap.

That race will be contested at about 1 1/16 miles over the Stall-Wilson turf course and Charlie Smith, owner-trainer-breeder of the popular Louisiana-bred gelding String King, was happy to hear Friday morning that the rail will be 15 feet out for this renewal of the Col. Bradley.

“That’s good,” said Smith, speaking over the phone from his home in Haughton, Louisiana.  “That will benefit the speed horses and that’s good for us. We drew the #3 hole, so that’s going to help us.

“Last year, unfortunately, we got trapped down on the rail most of the way in this race, and (jockey) James (Graham) couldn’t get (String King) out for a clear run until somewhere between the eighth pole and the sixteenth pole.  I think that might have cost us the win.”

Last year, it should be noted, String King ran second in the Col. Bradley to Calumet Farm’s Optimizer and that horse came back to win the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap, second leg of the Crescent City oval’s three-race grassseries for older horses.  String King did not participate in that leg, but when the two horses met again in the Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial as the final leg of the series, String King finished in front of Optimizer, third and fifth respectively.

Also, in last year’s Col. Bradley, String King, who had won his second straight $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf seven weeks earlier, was facing graded stakes company for the first time in his career, and the race was run over yielding ground.  String King likes a firmer course than that.

“I did notice on the weather this morning (Friday) that there was a patch of rain just off the coast, but it looked like it was going to stay off shore,” said Smith.  “I don’t know how good the turf will be tomorrow, but I would prefer it to be better than yielding, in fact, the firmer the better.  But you can’t take the weather you want with you, so we’ll just have to hope for the best.   He does his best running on a firm turf course.”

String King’s most recent start was on a sloppy main track when he lost a heartbreaking nose decision to Brittlyn Stable’s Sunbean in the $150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic on Dec. 14.

“We were in front a jump before the wire and a jump after the wire,” Smith said.  “Unfortunately, they pay off on the wire.”

Since Champions Day, String King breezed a bullet five furlongs at Louisiana Downs on Jan. 5.

“That was just a maintenance move,” Smith said.  “I didn’t want him to go too fast or too slow, so I think we got just what we wanted.  That was just a leg stretcher for him, to give him a chance to expand the lungs a little bit. 

“I just hope James can give him a little separation from the field at the top of the stretch tomorrow,” Smith concluded.  “Sometimes, String King likes to wait on horses.  He likes to get down there and rub elbows with his rivals.  He has a propensity for wanting to get down in there and duke it out a little bit.  I really wish he wouldn’t do that.  It causes me to have a little heart attack.  Not a big one, just a little one, but I am looking forward to a big race from him tomorrow.  He’s fresh, and he runs his best race when he’s fresh.  I did notice that one professional handicapper picked us to win.  Usually, when a handicapper picks you, it’s the kiss of death.  This time, I really hope that handicapper is right.”

FAIR GROUNDS JOCKEY, TRAINER STANDINGS THROUGH THURSDAY —In the hottest race for local leading rider honors since the 2009-2010 season at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, three-time defending jockey champion Rosie Napravnik and jockey James Graham, who has finished second to her for the last two years, remained tied this season with 48 wins apiece at the conclusion of Thursday’s program – 34th racing day of the 84-day meeting.

Richard Eramia clearly held down the third position with 37 wins, while Leandro Goncalves was fourth with 21 trips to the winner’s circle.

In the trainers’ race, 13-time Fair Grounds leading trainer Steve Asmussen was beginning to separate himself from his rivals with 21 wins, four more than 10-time Fair Grounds trainer champion and native New Orleanian Tom Amoss and New Orleans resident Bret Calhoun, who were tied for the runner-up spot.