Home of the Louisiana Derby

Desert Wheat Challenges Sands of Time in LCD Turf

Let’s show a little respect for the elderly, please, when it comes to star attractions for Saturday’s 20th anniversary edition of Fair Grounds’ Louisiana Champions Day!

Senior citizen Desert Wheat, the 7-year-old owned by Wachtel Stable, Brous Stable and J D. Lee and the 2-1 morning line favorite in Saturday’s $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf, ran in his first race four months after the $150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic choice Brittlyn Stable’s Star Guitar  was born.

And Desert Wheat won for the first time five months after the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies favorite – Jac Mac Stable’s Superior Storm – was foaled for her owner-breeder Jack Dickerson.

To their credit, Star Guitar and Superior Storm will break new ground should either of them become the first four-time winners in Champions Day history on Saturday, but Desert Wheat won the Champions Day Turf for the first time in 2006 as a 3-year-old facing older horses – one year before Star Guitar and Superior Storm won the Champions Day Juvenile and Champions Day Lassie respectively in 2007.  

Last year, Desert Wheat, who hails from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, came back to win the Champions Day Turf again in his last month as a 6-year-old, and that was after finishing a close third in the Turf in 2007 and second by a neck in 2008.

Has the son of Wheaton, out of an Irish-bred Royal Academy mare, lost a step? Who better to ask than Mott assistant Rudolphe Brisset, the young horseman who galloped Desert Wheat here at Fair Grounds during the 2007-2008 years, returned to his native France for 15 months, and then came back to rejoin Mott last summer at Saratoga?

“I don’t think so,” said Brisset during training hours Friday at Fair Grounds. “To me, he seems like the same horse he always was. I’ve been galloping him here since I’ve been down here in New Orleans, and to me he’s the same horse he was three years ago. He’s a very smart horse for sure, and he knows who’s on his back and what they want him to do.

“Obviously, we don’t want rain before he runs (Saturday),” said Brisset. “We want him to have firm going over the grass. He much prefers firm going but he gives you his best every time no matter what the track is.”

In his most recent start in Fair Grounds’ third running of the $60,000 Mr. Sulu Stakes Nov. 26, Desert Wheat lost his bid for a “three-peat” in that stakes when he finished third, beaten two lengths for the win after the race was taken off the grass and run over a sloppy main track.

“He just doesn’t seem to have quite the same kick when he runs over a track like that,” said Brisset, “but he still ran his heart out. That’s all you can ask.

“He also drew the number one post position for Saturday’s race,” said Brisset, “but with his style of running (coming from off the pace), I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think he’ll run very well.”

Brisset, although he was at Fair Grounds running the local Mott barn full time when he was here in past winters, will be leaving shortly to join Mott in South Florida at Payson Park. After his departure, Mott’s assistant Mike Kaetzel, who has been in charge of Mott’s Fair Grounds string for the past two years, is expected to be returning in that capacity for the remainder of Fair Grounds 2010-2011 meeting.

TRAINER TOM MCCARTHY RETURNS SUNDAY WITH HUMOR’S PUNCH – Owner-trainer Tom McCarthy, who saddled General Quarters to win the 2008 Grade I Blue Grass and 2010 Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on last spring’s Kentucky Derby Day, finished second in last season’s $75,000 Louisiana, Grade III Mineshaft and Grade II New Orleans handicaps here at Fair Grounds in the interim.

General Quarters is on the sidelines this winter in Kentucky recuperating from some minor problems, but McCarthy is back at Fair Grounds with a 2-year-old Sharp Humor maiden named Humor’s Punch, who he claimed at Churchill Downs out of the colt’s career debut Nov. 3.

Out of a Two Punch mare, Humor’s Punch finished fifth in that Louisville outing, and will make his second start (and first for McCarthy) in Sunday’s eighth race at Fair Grounds.

“I’ve been trying to get a race for him, but I wish I could’ve found a little easier spot than this one,” said McCarthy Friday morning as he tended to his current one-horse stable. “That race came up tough. Steve Asmussen’s got two in there and so does Bret Calhoun, and the other horses are trained by David Carroll, Neil Howard and Mike Maker. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

2010 RISEN STAR WINNER DISCREETLY MINE TO STUD – Paul Robsham Stable’s Discreetly Mine, a Todd Pletcher trainee who was the front-running winner of last season’s Grade II Risen Star Stakes as the designed prep for the Grade II Louisiana Derby, has been retired from racing, it has been announced.

After finishing fourth beaten less than two lengths in the Louisiana Derby, Discreetly Mine ran 13th in the Kentucky Derby but returned during the second half of the 2010 season to win three straight graded sprint stakes culminating with his victory in Saratoga’s Grade I King’s Bishop. He was prepping for a run in the Grade I Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint Nov. 6 when he suffered a left stifle injury in October.