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Everything is 'Peachy' for Dixie Poker Ace These Days

Headlines for Friday, January 2, 2009

  • Everything is ‘Peachy' for Dixie Poker Ace These Days
  • Local Photographer Gets Eclipse Honorable Mention
  • Sovereign Award Winner Patrick Husbands to Arrive in New Orleans Saturday
  • Next Saturday's Grade III Lecomte Shaping Up Strong


Everything is ‘Peachy' for Dixie Poker Ace These Days

NEW ORLEANS, La. - Horse lovers rest assured. Dixie Poker Ace, a winner of the first three editions of the Louisiana Champions Day Turf at Fair Grounds, has been dealt a winning hand during his retirement!

"He's doing very well, considering that he's a horse who just turned 22 years old (New Year's Day)," said Lora Pitre, owner/manager of Peach Lane Farms in Opelousas.  "He's sharing a paddock with another retired gelding, and they get fed twice a day.  In fact, he's living the life of Riley."

Dixie Poker Ace, for whom Saturday's featured grass stakes restricted to Louisiana-breds is named, was the top money earner among Louisiana-breds at the time of his retirement. Also, in his third win in the Champions Day Turf, as a 7-year-old, the gelding established a track record of 1:42 for the about 1 1/16-mile distance over the Stall-Wilson turf course that still stands.

"He's still a very noble horse," said Pitre, a "hands-on" farm owner who does her own foaling with the help of handful of farm employees.  "He's been everything a race horse is supposed to be since he came to me 13 years ago, and I've had him here with me at my farm since about six months after he stopped racing."

Although Pitre has about 100 horses on her farm, including six stallions, a number of boarders and a host of broodmares, that equine total also includes 13 retirees in addition to Dixie Poker Ace.

"Those guys deserve a place to live, too," she said.  "I only charge their owners for feed.  I don't make any money on them." 


Local Photographer Gets Eclipse Honorable Mention

It was an innocent half sentence near the end of the news release announcing the first media Eclipse Award winner for 2008, photographer Matt Goins of Lexington, Ky.

"Honorable mention in the photographer category went to Alexander Barkoff, whose photo of a morning sunrise on the Fair Grounds backstretch was published in the ... Times-Picayune on Nov. 9..."

Innocent to some, rewarding to others.

"That made my day," said Barkoff, a freelance photographer and former staffer at the T-P.

Appropriately enough, the image Barkoff entered is of a morning workout just after sunrise, with the sun battling through a fog-shrouded Fair Grounds infield, creating a ghostly effect.  It's appropriate in that if Barkoff sees a weather forecast with any inclination of early-morning fog, he's usually headed to Fair Grounds, camera in tow.

For those who know Barkoff's work, it doesn't take an honorable mention to validate his portfolio.  His photos have graced the cover of Blood-Horse three times this year: a backstretch photo of Horse of the Year Curlin, an inside rail shot of Pyro following his last-to-first rally in February's Risen Star Stakes, and a head-on of Big Brown winning the Kentucky Derby. He also had the cover photo of Invasor winning the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2006 at Churchill Downs.


Sovereign Award Winner Patrick Husbands to Arrive in New Orleans Saturday

            Canadian-based jockey Patrick Husbands, who hung his tack at Fair Grounds for most of the last local season before winning his second consecutive Sovereign Award as Canada's top rider, will be flying in to New Orleans this weekend to ride locally for the balance of the current session.

            "I'm picking him up at the airport Saturday morning," said Husbands' agent Gary Kemplen earlier this week.  "He's been vacationing in Barbados, but he's ready to get back in action.  I tried to get him a mount Saturday, but the race didn't go.

            "We caught Jim McAleney for leading rider honors at Woodbine on the last day of their meeting," said Kemplen, "even though at one point we were 27 wins behind him.  I told Patrick, ‘If you want to be leading rider, I'm going to wear you out,' but he did everything I asked him to and it paid off for us."

            Husbands also earned Sovereign Awards as Canada's outstanding rider for four consecutive seasons from 1999 to 2002.

            The Barbados native made his defining move to catch McAleney on Nov. 29 at Woodbine, when he won with his first five mounts.  He had two seconds and a third with his other three mounts on the 10-race program.

            "We were trying to tie or break the record for wins in a day (seven, accomplished three times), but we didn't quite make it," said Kemplen.

            Incidentally, conditioner Mark Casse, who is wintering at Fair Grounds for the second consecutive season, also was deemed Canada's Sovereign Award-winning trainer for the third consecutive year.


Next Saturday's Grade III Lecomte Shaping Up Strong

            "Road to the Derby" Kickoff Day at Fair Grounds Jan. 10 will once again be highlighted by the $100,000 Grade III Lecomte Stakes, a one-mile test for 3-year-olds which will be run for the 65th time.

            At this juncture, the early test for sophomores hoping to advance to the Grade III Risen Star Feb. 7 and the Grade II Louisiana Derby Mar. 14 is likely to attract several Triple Crown hopefuls.

            Among them are Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farm's Friesan Fire and Clarence Scharbauer Jr.'s Indygo Mountain, two well regarded colts who were originally scheduled to face off in a first-level allowance race Dec. 11 before that program was cancelled following a rare snow-out in New Orleans. Both entered a similar race the following week, but Indygo Mountain was a late scratch and Friesan Fire finished second to the Steve Asmussen-trained Uno Mas.

            Although he has only won once in his brief career, Friesan Fire finished third in Belmont's Grade II Futurity and fourth in Aqueduct's Grade III Nashua.  The son of A. P. Indy is trained by Larry Jones.

            Indygo Mountain, who broke his maiden by 6 1/4-lengths in his last trip to the post Nov. 19 at Churchill, was credited with a half-mile breeze in :48.80 Wednesday morning although he went the mile distance.  Owner Scharbauer's family won the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Alysheba.

            Likely for the Lecomte is Tim Brown and Phil Gahm's Au Moon, who broke his maiden by 5 3/4 lengths in his last start at Churchill Downs Nov. 29.  The son of Malibu Moon is trained by David Carroll, who saddled Denis of Cork to finish third in last year's Kentucky Derby.

            Also being pointed for the Lecomte is John and Glen Sikura and Dominic Dilalla's Patena, winner of Woodbine's $150,000 Display Stakes in his last start Dec. 6.  Trainer Josie Carroll not only trains Patena, but she also conditioned her dam, Handpainted, who won the 2004 Pan Zareta Stakes at Fair Grounds.

            Asmussen, Jones, David Carroll and Josie Carroll have combined to win five of the last seven runnings of the Lecomte. The Asmussen-trained Z Fortune won last January's edition, while Hard Spun, conditioned by Jones, won in 2007 on his way to a stellar 3-year-old campaign that included runner-up finishes in the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic.

            Five other stakes are on the RTTD Kickoff Day card, including the $100,000 Grade III Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap for older turf horses, the $75,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap for older horses, the $75,000 Dr. A.B. Leggio Memorial Stakes for filly and mare sprinters on turf and the $75,000 F.W. Gaudin Memorial Stakes for older sprinters.