Home of the Louisiana Derby

Barn Notes: Thursday, March 30

                                                                              

·        Girvin Exuding Confidence Going into Louisiana Derby

·        Cox Closing in on First Fair Grounds Title

·        No Speed Duel for Daria’s Angel

·        Breaking Lucky Brings Back-Class to New Orleans Handicap

·        Bullards Alley Under the Radar, Again

 

GIRVIN EXUDING CONFIDENCE GOING INTO LOUISIANA DERBY

Brad Grady’s Girvin, the 8-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s meet centerpiece Grade II $1,000,000 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby, is pumped up and full of himself leading into his toughest test yet in the 1 1/8-miles event. The son of Tale of Ekati is making only his fourth start, but has shown inspiring talent and impressive composure in his first three attempts, including a swift maiden win in December and a commanding victory last out in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes against more-seasoned opponents. Betwixt those efforts was a runner-up finish in a the $50,000 Keith Gee Stakes over the Stall-Wilson turf course, a surface that was not to his liking.

On Saturday, to ensure an honest pace, trainer Joe Sharp has entered Grady-owned stablemate Hotfoot to live up his name and force the fractions. A victory by Sharp would give him his biggest career victory in his three years as a head trainer. Girvin drew post eight and Hotfoot drew the outside post nine.

“Brad was worried about pace, so we have Hotfoot in there,” Sharp said. “He’s a good horse in his own right, but the draw makes us more inclined to run (Hotfoot). I like where Girvin is drawn and would rather him outside than inside. He can dictate his position a little better and I’m not worried about him too much because he has run differently every time and just seems to be a classy horse. (Jockey) Brian (Hernandez, Jr.) knows what he’s doing.”

“(Girvin) seems to be more confident,” Sharp continued. “He just keeps getting cooler, better and more mature. He is one of those horses who you just wait for him to have a bad day and he doesn’t, which is nice. He’s just very uncomplicated and he knows he’s good at this point. He’s actually getting cocky and confident and realizing he’s as good as he is.” 

As far as the prospect of winning his biggest race, Sharp remained humble. 

“I feel like we’ve put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears here in Louisiana,” he said. “Even though it technically isn’t, it feels like home, so it would be great to win the race.” 

COX CLOSING IN ON FIRST FAIR GROUNDS TITLE

The 2016-17 Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots season has been the Brad Cox show. An expansive operation that continues to impress, it has won at nearly every level, on both surfaces, and proven remarkably consistent. Striking between 25% and 30% all season, the Louisville native easily held off past champions Tom Amoss, Steve Asmussen and Mike Stidham and appears loaded for bear again moving into the spring and returning to his old Kentucky home. 

“What can I say, it’s been a great meet,” Cox said. “Not everything happens how you want it, but I cannot complain too much when we’ve performed as well as we have. I have to say, overall, it’s been a lot of fun and the track has been good to us. We’ve especially done well on the grass and I think that has been key. It’s just been a solid, consistent meet and I’ve had some great help to get me there. I’m very proud of the five or six stakes we won and how some of our top runners have come along.” 

Going into the final four live race days, and through 19 weeks of racing, Cox has 37 winners from 136 starts, for a 27% strike rate. His purses have eclipsed $1.1 million, which is well clear of Asmussen’s $980,355. Second place in wins is up for grabs between Joe Sharp (31), Stidham (30), Amoss (30), Al Stall, Jr. (29) and Asmussen (28). 

NO SPEED DUEL FOR DARIA’S ANGEL

Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s Daria’s Angel proved one to watch last out when romping in a local mile and 70-yard maiden event on Feb. 18 and trainer Bret Calhoun is quietly confident that the daughter of Gemologist just might prove herself worthy in Saturday’s Grade II $400,000 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. 

Going gate-to-wire last out, she may not have things her own way on Saturday when she lines up against favorite and three-time stakes winner Farrell, who has won two of those events, both graded, in the same fashion. Still, such does not worry Calhoun, who appears confident that his filly, win or not, has a solid future ahead of her.

“Our filly can rate and doesn’t mind getting covered up,” he said. “I knew in the last race she could be forwardly placed last time, but we never tried to send her, she just happened to be quickest out there and relaxed on the front. We won’t be getting mixed up in any speed duel.”  

While the Oaks was not Calhoun’s first choice, as he was originally looking for an allowance race, he is content with the timing of it for his dark bay charge.

“She’s a light-bodied filly, so we ideally like to give her plenty of time, ideally three-to-four weeks. This is obviously a tough position. As an inexperienced filly, she doesn’t have the seasoning, but we think she has a lot of talent. Obviously she’s going to tell us which direction to go with her after this. She’s done very well since her maiden win and is a very good work horse, overall. She finishes up well and gallops out strong and everything is pretty routine and straight-forward with her.” 

Daria’s Angel drew post two and has a fourth different rider in as many starts in Robby Albarado. Florent Geroux, who rides Corporate Queen in the race, rode her last out. 

BREAKING LUCKY BRINGS BACK-CLASS TO NEW ORLEANS HANDICAP

Gunpowder Farms and West Point Thoroughbreds Reade Baker-trained Breaking Lucky looks to return to the form that saw him finish a solid second to Gun Runner in the Grade I Clark Handicap two races back and fourth, beaten a neck, in the Grade I Woodward Stakes two races prior to that. The chestnut son of Lookin At Lucky drew the rail in Saturday’s Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap and gets a bit of class relief from an eighth-place finish in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational last out. 

“He’s doing good and as long as he doesn’t mind his first time on a plane, I think he should be okay,” Baker said. “His exercise rider says he is as good as he was before the Pegasus, but he came out of that race with some mucus, so it was a toss. He’s training well and I think he will be tough in there. We’ll save ground into the first turn and hopefully someone will go with (morning-line favorite) Noble Bird.” 

A good-sized horse, the three-time winner of $862,376 was a Canadian classic winner at three, taking the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie. Luis Contreras comes in for the mount and the pair have been assigned 8-1 morning-line odds. 

“He’s a big stout horse, but we’ve learned not to work him too hard and that’s made a big difference,” Baker said. “He’s the kind who is better working 10-12 days out, instead of a week, which is surprising considering his size. He should be ready to go and we hope he runs well.”

BULLARDS ALLEY UNDER THE RADAR, AGAIN

If any horse has a right to run an improved race in Saturday’s Grade II $300,000 Muniz Memorial, it is Bullards Alley. Owned by Wayne Spalding and Faron McCubbins, the Tim Glyshaw-trained graded stakes winner improved noticeably between his first two 2017 efforts, including a fourth, beaten 1¾ lengths, last out in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap.

“I expect a big race out of him,” Glyshaw said. “It’s a mile and an eighth, which is still a little short for him, but it was either this or ship to Gulfstream Park and run in a tough mile and a half race. Obviously this should set him up for the Elkhorn at Keeneland and then we’ll focus back on the longer races throughout the year.

“He is training very well and couldn’t be doing better, but that’s him,” Glyshaw continued. “We’d be happy if he hits the board and wouldn’t mind if it rained. His whole problem is that he is more of a grinder, but he always comes with his run. These shorter races are tough because they will run away from him, but he will keep coming.” 

A five-time winner from 27 starts, he proved to be at his best when taking last May’s Grade III Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs over fellow Muniz entrant Roman Approval. He drew post nine of 11 in the nine-furlong event and has the return services of regular rider Marcelino Pedroza.

Bullards Alley signaled his progress on Mar. 13 with a bullet five-furlong move in 1:01 flat.