Albarado to Return in Time for Final Weekend of Meet

Louisiana native jockey Robby Albarado, the only rider in Fair Grounds history to have captured seven riding titles at the nation’s third-oldest race course, will return to the saddle Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the final three programs of the 2010-2011 New Orleans Thoroughbred racing season.

The 37-year-old native of Lafayette, La., has been out of action since sustaining a broken heel in a freak pre-race accident aboard a horse here Jan. 2, but is coming back in time to accept mounts in Saturday’s showcased $1 million Louisiana Derby, $400,000 New Orleans Handicap and $400,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap, and is listed in four of the five stakes races restricted to Louisiana-breds slated for Friday’s Battle On the Bayou program. He started galloping horses again last Saturday.

“It only took me a couple of days to start feeling right at home on the back of a horse,” Albarado said Wednesday morning after finishing up his morning routine astride a  horse for Al Stall Jr. “Mostly, I’ve been working on my balance and my timing. I never really got out of shape because all the time off I kept going to the gym. I did have to have surgery on my heel where they put in a plate and 11 screws, so I spent most of February at home with my family in Louisville. But I came back to New Orleans in March and have been going to therapy at Tulane where they have an excellent sports medicine department. A lot of athletes go there, because they’re specialists at getting you well in hurry. What I have to do is keep all the tendons there flexible.

“I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to obtain some live mounts for Louisiana Derby Day,” said Albarado. “That wasn’t easy, because nobody knew for sure when I’d be able to return. I have the mount on the favorite (Mike House’s Battle of Hastings) in the Mervin Muniz. I’ve never ridden him before but I know he’s a good horse and I’ve ridden a lot of good horses for (trainer) Greg Fox over the years.

“I ride (James Spence’s) El Caballo in the New Orleans Handicap,” said Albarado. “He hasn’t run in a year but I rode the horse last year and I’ve been getting on him in the mornings this week and he’s been feeling really strong. I think he’s going to run a big race.

“I also ride a horse named Le Mans (owned by Padua Stables) for Steve Asmussen in the Louisiana Derby,” said Albarado. “He’s a maiden but I guess he’s been running in some tough maiden races out in California and I know that Steve thinks a lot of him.”

Albarado’s stakes mounts – all in $75,000 races – in his first day back Friday are aboard Merrill Scherer et al.’s 5-2 favorite Tensas Punch in the Crescent City Oaks, Tony Richey et al.’s Ollie Baby at 5-1 in the Crescent City Derby and Red Oak Stable’s Kissimmee Kyle, 5-1 in the Crescent City Derby but also cross-entered in the Costa Rising Stakes at 5-1.

EL CABALLO DANGEROUS X-FACTOR IN NEW ORLEANS HANDICAP – Trainer Ralph Nicks, a man of limited words but unlimited ability as a horseman, will saddle James Spence’s El Caballo in Saturday’s 2011 New Orleans Handicap following a one-year layoff since the horse’s sixth-place finish in Fair Grounds’ 2010 Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap on last year’s Louisiana Derby Day.

The New Orleans Handicap is Fair Grounds’ main event for older horses on the main track, while the Muniz Memorial, slated for the Stall-Wilson turf course, is the Crescent City oval’s top grass test for older horses.

Why the switch in surfaces? El Caballo finished second – beaten only a nose in the last jump by the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel-conditioned Proudinsky, owned by Johanna Glen-Taven, in the 2009 Mervin Muniz.

“He’s also won a race over the main track here,” said Nicks Wednesday morning, “and he’s been working really well over the main track here this winter. His feet and everything are in good shape now so we’ll go in here and see where it takes us. He’s such a talented individual, I hope to get a good race out of him on Saturday and have a very nice horse to keep going for the rest of the year.

“I admit I’m throwing him to the wolves right off the bat here,” said Nicks, “but the best races he has ever run have come off a long layoff. I guess that’s because his races take so much out of him. But now he’s had a long vacation and I hope that turns out to be real beneficial.”

POPULIST POLITICS SCRATCHED FROM LOUISIANA DERBY, RUNS FRIDAY – Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence’s Populist Politics, cross-entered in Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby as well as Friday’s $75,000 Crescent City Derby, will be scratched out of the Louisiana Derby in favor of a start in the Crescent City Derby restricted to accredited Louisiana-breds, according to trainer Tom Amoss.

However, the rumored but unconfirmed scratch of George and Lori Hall’s Pants On Fire out of the Louisiana Derby has turned out to be unfounded.

“All my four horses for Saturday are already on their way there (to New Orleans),” said trainer Kelly Breen Wednesday. Pants On Fire is on his way, and I’m on my way. I get in tonight (Wednesday).”