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FAIR GROUNDS FOCUS: Road to Louisiana Derby Day 2015 - Vol. 2

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3-YEAR-OLDS: 
TEXAS RED & FOX HILL DUO LOOM LARGE


Trainer Keith Desormeaux, who keeps a local string at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, made it public this week that his stable star, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner TEXAS RED (above), has the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on his radar.  The son of Afleet Alex drew post four of eight in his first race of the season, the Grade II $200,000 San Vicente Stakes over seven furlongs this Sunday at Santa Anita Park – a race after which he is supposed to wheel back on 20 days’ rest.  Owned by a partnership that includes Desormeaux, Erich Brehm, et al, the massive bay plans to either point to the Grade I $1,000,000 Santa Anita Derby or Grade II $750,000 Louisiana Derby one week prior on Mar. 28 after the Risen Star.  Of course, as with all things in racing, these plans are tentative.

Fox Hill Farm and trainer Larry Jones won the $50,000 Allen’s Landing Stakes at Sam Houston Park with EXODUS (above) and romped in a tough two-turn maiden with BLUFF  (below) this week, thus creating a one-two sophomore punch for the potent owner/trainer team.  While Exodus did not finish with the luster you often may associate with Kentucky Derby aspirations, it is worth noting that he was on 20 days’ rest and racing a furlong beyond what he had ever attempted.  He earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure – 2 points below his excellent maiden win on Jan. 4 at Fair Grounds.

Bluff could not have been more different than his speedy stablemate.  A son of Tapit out of a full-sister to the longwinded Jockey Club Gold Cup and Pacific Classic winner Borrego, he rated kindly in his third attempt at graduating and then gave his best impression of The Hulk when smashing his rivals between the quarter- and eighth-poles to open up a 5½-length margin.  He then returned to Bruce Banner, showing mercy while being eased in the final sixteenth to win by 5¾ facile lengths under Kerwin Clark.  While Bluff may run in the Risen Star, the next start for Exodus has yet to be determined. 

The one-two finishers from the six-furlong $50,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes both returned victoriously last weekend.  Runner-up Bourbon Cowboy determinedly won an off-the-turf sprint for trainer Richie Scherer and owner Holmark Stables IV on Jan. 23.  Expected to stretch out next out, the twice stakes-placed son of Cowboy Cal is not completely out of the picture for the Risen Star – though it is assumed that he is more likely for the $60,000 Black Gold Stakes over 7½ grassy furlongs one week later on Feb. 28.

Bourbon Cowboy’s Sugar Bowl conqueror CINCO CHARLIE (above) made his two-turn debut a winning one a day later in the $100,000 Riley Allison Derby at Sunland Park for owners William and Corinne Heiligbrodt and trainer Steve Asmussen.  The victory, which was his fifth stakes win – made it so the first three finishers from the Sugar Bowl all won their next start after Control Stake (mentioned last week) won the $75,000 Big Drama Stakes at Delta Downs in mid-January. 

One horse who is likely for the Risen Star and possible for the Black Gold as a back-up is Rigney Racing’s Phil Bauer-trained ANOTHER LEMON DROP, who was a game fourth in the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 17.  An effort that showed the son of Lemon Drop Kid flattening out slightly for the first time, he still made a bold bid on the turn and encouraged his connections to possibly give him one more try on the dirt – as he is already a proven commodity on the grass.  Similarly, the connections of William S. Farish’s Neil Howard-trained EAGLE (below) are eager to forget the Lecomte and focus on the Risen Star for the beaten favorite.



3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES:
LOVELY MARIA SERVES NOTICE


Trainer Larry Jones really did not need another talented sophomore filly to win impressively, but that did not stop the veteran conditioner from having Brereton C. Jones’ LOVELY MARIA upset heavily favored SHOOK UP (above) in Monday’s featured allowance.  Going wire to wire, the daughter of red-hot sire Majesticperfection looked nothing short of professional in what was her second win from five starts.  Out of a half-sister to multiple graded stakes-winning route mare Rare Blend, she has every right to keep improving while relishing more ground.  The victory earned the attractive filly a notable 100 Equibase Speed Figure.

Regis Racing’s Shook Up ran greenly, while consistently lugging in and refusing to shift off the rail once she had room to rally.  The plan, according to the Asmussen camp, is to stay the course with the regally bred daughter of Tapit and head to the Grade III $175,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes on Feb. 21.  Said event could be the lone time in a promising career that one may get a price on the offspring of Grade I winner Sugar Shake who owns the highest two-turn Beyer Speed Figure (94) of any 3-year-old filly in the nation.

Back on the worktab Thursday morning was Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up TOP DECILE (above), who negotiated a half-mile in :49.20 for trainer Al Stall, Jr. and owners Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence.  Also possible for the Rachel Alexandra, it is assumed that her goal after such may actually be the Grade I $500,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland – a course she has shown she relishes when a game second in last year’s Grade I $400,000 Alcibiades Stakes – in lieu of the Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks on week prior on Mar. 28.

Speaking of disappointments from the Listed $125,000 Silvebulletday Stakes, WEST COAST BELLE (above) exited her fourth-place finish in fine order, with trainer Wayne Catalano saying she was simply outrun by victress I’m a Chatterbox, but should have been second.  The previously undefeated Gary and Mary West homebred is to stay local for now while her connections decide her next step toward a possible Kentucky Oaks start.


HANDICAP DIVISION:
ALBANO & IRISH YOU WELL ON COURSE FOR REMATCH


Last summer, two improving sophomores gave excellent showings of themselves at the highest level in the Grade I $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational – Brereton C. Jones’ ALBANO (above) and Donegal Racing’s IRISH YOU WELL (below) – finishing second and fourth, respectively, and separated by a diminishing two lengths.  The tactically savvy Albano and late-running Irish You Well – both based at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots – could meet again next out in the Grade III $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap on Feb. 21.

Albano exits a disappointing third behind Larry Jones-trained stablemate and fellow Mineshaft possible Hard Aces – beaten nearly seven lengths – as the 3-5 chalk in the Listed $75,000 Louisiana Handicap.  Students of history and pedigree need not despair, as Albano’s half-brother Mark Valeski lost the Louisiana two years ago en route to an impressive tally in the Mineshaft.  Irish You Well, on the other hand, has been off since the Haskell for trainer Wayne Catalano, but has been working extremely well in the mornings.  Consistent against some of the best of his generation in 2014, the son of Broken Vow has every right to improve as a 4-year-old. 

The proverbial ‘now’ horse in the Jones barn among handicap horses is Dreamchaser Thorobreds’ aforementioned HARD ACES.  A son of Jones’ most accomplished male pupil Hard Spun, the 5-year-old bay horse has come into his own in a big way in his last two starts – both at Fair Grounds – including a game second to Frank Fletcher Racing Operations’ Rocket Time in the Tenacious Stakes on Dec. 21 and a resounding victory in the Louisiana by four lengths.

An allowance prep to keep an eye on this week is Sunday’s seventh race, a non-winners of two allowance that could produce a contender for the Mineshaft and features Jim Tafel LLC’s STREET SPICE, Louis Roussel III’s improving TREASURY BILL and yet another Jones trainee in Fox Hill Farm’s slow-developing GENERAL IKE

Perhaps the highest profile member of the locally based handicap division is Winchell Thoroughbreds’ TAPITURE, who recently returned to the worktab for the first time since finishing a game second in the Grade I $1,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park.  A multiple graded stakes winner, it is unlikely we will see him run at this meet, but a return in the Mar. 28 Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap has not been ruled out.

Another high-profile handicap horse to return to training is Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s multiple graded stakes-winning DEPARTING (above).  The 5-year-old gelding is still galloping and has yet to work, which all but precludes him from racing at the meet.  It will be interesting if his connections try the son of War Front on grass in 2015 – a surface over which he may be well-suited.   

Returning to the worktab in the last 10 days was Brittlyn Stable’s SUNBEAN, who worked an easy five furlongs on Thursday morning in 1:03 for trainer Ron Faucheux.  The son of Brahms is under consideration for the $200,000 Louisiana Premier Night Championship at Delta Downs, which could function as a prep for the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap on Mar. 28.

Next week we will check in again with Jones and his powerhouse stable, as two Grade I-level runners – Normandy Invasion and Coup de Grace – are expected to start working toward their 2015 seasons.


TURF HORSES:
STRING KING RETAINS HIS CROWN


Charles C. Smith’s STRING KING (above) has been the sovereign of Louisiana-bred turf racing for a few years now, but the aging process during that period seems to have skipped the gelded son of Crowned King.  Such youthfulness was on display when the 7-year-old bested seven other rivals in the Grade III $125,000 Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap on Jan. 17 at Fair Grounds Race Course.      

Fresh off a track record-setting victory in a swift 1:41.84 over a firm course in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf at the same 1 1/16-miles distance, the 15-time winner proved himself in a race in which he had finished fourth and second in the previous two editions.  Next up for the Pelican State homebred will be a short break, according to triple-threat owner/trainer/breeder Smith, and a focus on winning the Grade II $400,000 Mervin H. Muniz, Jr. Memorial on Louisiana Derby Day – a race in which the earner of $818,552 finished a game third in 2013.

Finishing a closing third in the Bradley – just missing by a nose for second – and worth watching is Gary and Mary West’s locally based HIGHBALL (above).  In the shedrow of Wayne Catalano, the son of Lemon Drop Kid always seems to be late on the scene in his races, but also has been ridden by seven different jockeys in his eight career starts.  That being said, it would not be a surprise to see the 4-year-old Kentucky-bred improve vastly if Shaun Bridgmohan retains the ride and begins the bay charge’s rally earlier in the $125,000 Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap on Feb. 21.  Highball returned to the tab on Wednesday with a workmanlike four-furlong move in :49.40.

Though not likely to stretch out, one cannot mention impressive turf horses at the New Orleans oval without at least a word about Hugh Roberston-owned and –trained VOODOO SPELL.  Three-for-three this meet in 5½–furlong races (two of those on grass), the son of Roar of the Tiger has earned impressive speed figures and won with surety over allowance ranks.  Said triad of wins also has occurred since meet-leading rider James Graham took over the mount.  A true rags-to-riches story, Robertson purchased the gray gelding for $3,500 at Ocala two years ago and the Florida-bred has now earned $115,925 with an impressive record of 7-3-3 from 18 starts. 



Fair Grounds Focus: Road to Louisiana Derby Day 2015 is a weekly roundup of the equine athletes based at the New Orleans oval – as well as those from out of town – competing in the four major divisions that culminate with the corresponding marquee stakes races of the meet: the Grade II $750,000 Louisiana Derby (3-year-olds), Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (3-year-old fillies), Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (handicap division) and Grade II $300,000 Mervin H. Muniz, Jr. Memorial Handicap (turf horses).