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Much Obliged Heads Opening Day Blushing K.D. Handicap

Pin Oak Stable’s Much Obliged, third by a head to Princess Haya and champion Forever Together in the Grade II Canadian Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack in her last race, is the likely morning line favorite and high weight in Friday’s Opening Day feature, the $60,000 Blushing K.D. Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the Stall-Wilson turf course.

First post for Friday’s nine-race program is 1 p.m. CST.

Friday also is Day One of the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships from Santa Anita Race Park in Southern California. Those races will be showcased at Fair Grounds, with post times from New Orleans staggered with those from Santa Anita so patrons won’t miss any of the action from either locale.

The Opening Day nine-race card at Fair Grounds attracted 102 entrants, including 10 in the Blushing K.D., set to go off as Race 8 at 4:45 p.m. CST.

Much Obliged Assigned High Weight
After nearly upsetting the likes of Forever Together and Princess Haya in her last start, Much Obliged was assigned 122 pounds in the Blushing K.D. and will almost certainly leave the gate as the public’s choice. The 4-year-old filly boasts multiple graded stakes placings and comes to Fair Grounds as a fresh horse with only three starts this year. Trainer Malcolm Pierce had entered Much Obliged in Saturday’s $100,000 River Memories Stakes at Woodbine but elected not to run.

“I scratched her because the turf was quite soft and I didn’t think she’d handle it that well,” Pierce said by phone from Woodbine. “I’m looking for a better course for her to run on. She’s going to get on a truck [Monday] morning and we’ll be there Tuesday. As long as she travels well I expect her to run a big race down there.”

Pierce’s other entrant in the River Memories, the 4-year-old filly Points of Grace, won the race.

“I had to decide at the last minute which would run here and which would run at the Fair Grounds,” Pierce said. “Hopefully we made the right decision because Points of Grace won the race here and hopefully we made the right decision for Much Obliged, too.”

Much Obliged breezed four furlongs in :49 on Sunday. “It was just a little maintenance,” Pierce said. “I would’ve worked her on Friday but I was watching the weather here and playing it by ear.”

September’s Canadian Stakes was supposed to belong to 2008 Eclipse Award winner Forever Together, but when the champion ranged up to take the lead in mid-stretch, Much Obliged wouldn’t let her have it. The two dueled throughout most of the final furlong before Princess Haya snuck up the rail to eke out a dramatic finish.

“The last race was probably her best race and she deserved to win but she got beat a nose and a head,” Pierce said. “She’s only had three starts and she’s run well in all of them. She’s doing well and hopefully we can get the meet started with a bang with her.”

Francisco Torres has the mount on Much Obliged.

Contentious Field Also Includes Never Retreat, Martin’s Bay, Final Refrain
Much Obliged won’t be the only fresh filly in the Blushing K.D. Team Block’s Never Retreat, a 4-year-old filly who placed in Belmont Park’s prestigious Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks last year, has only two starts this season. Trainer Richie Scherer took over training Never Retreat for the winter from Chris Block and has only had her since Thursday.

“As s far as I can tell she’s training well,” Scherer said. “She’s a very nice filly and carries herself that way. Every horse in there’s a nice horse. It looks like there’s a good bit of pace in there and she’ll press that pace.”

Much of the pace Scherer and other trainers are anticipating could come courtesy of Larry L. Johnson’s Martin’s Bay, winner of four of her last six starts, including an easy 2 ¾-length score in the $75,000 River Cities at Louisiana Downs last time out. Trainer Andy Leggio Jr., however, insists that the 5-year-old mare will not necessarily set the early fractions.

“She doesn’t have to be on the lead,” Leggio said. “We came from off the pace one time at Evangeline Downs [winning a first-level allowance in April]. Some of her races were cases where you’re the only speed in the race and you have to take advantage of it. This is not a ‘speed’ turf course here; this is a come-from-behind turf course. How many do you see win on the front end over this course? Not many.”

Of more concern to Leggio is whether Martin’s Bay is as good on the turf as she’s proven to be on the main track lately. “That’s one of the things in the back of my mind,” he said. “Her last two races came off the turf and she won them both easy. But I don’t know. She’s steadily improved since I got her.”

John Jacinto has the mount on Martin’s Bay in place of regular rider Torres, who is aboard high-weighted Much Obliged.

One trainer who is hoping for Martin’s Bay to go for the lead is Al Stall Jr. His entrant, Charles E. Miller’s Final Refrain, does her best running when the leaders are gunning it early. In Final Refrain’s most recent win, for instance, the $100,000 Ellis Park Turf in July, she closed from nearly 10 lengths back for a 2 ¼-length victory in a race where the opening half-mile went in :47 4/5. Her last two starts haven’t set up nearly as well, with moderate paces that left her with too much to overcome.

“Things have to go her way,” Stall said. “She has to have some pace and she’s been unfortunate to have had some races where they’ve slowed it down quite a bit on the front end. If the field spreads out with a decent pace then she always has a chance.”

Curt Bourque will ride Final Refrain.

Blushing K.D. Field
Here’s the complete field for Friday’s $60,000 Blushing K.D. Handicap (with jockey, trainer, owner and assigned weight), from the rail out: Never Retreat (Rich Scherer, James Graham, Team Block, 115); Ruling Class (Brian Hernandez Jr., Terry Romero, Emerald Pastures Farm, 116); Martin’s Bay (Andy Leggio Jr., John Jacinto, Larry L. Johnson, 116); Scenery Change (Shane Sellers, Steve Asmussen, Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings, 114); Love to Tell (Mike Burgess, Corey Lanerie, Lucas Downs, 120); Category Seven (Richard Eramia, Ken Hargrave, James Perron Racing Stable, 117); Sweet Lemonade (Ramsey Zommerman, Bret Calhoun, Darley Stable, 115); Cat Hop (Pat Mouton, E.J. Perrodin, Stanley B. Seelig, 112); Much Obliged (Francisco Torres, Malcolm Pierce, Pin Oak Stable, 122); and Final Refrain (Curt Bourque, Al Stall Jr., Charles E. Miller, 118).

MORE OPENING WEEKEND NEWS

Hall of Famer Lukas among new trainers this season
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is among the horsemen stabling here for the first time this winter. A four-time Eclipse Award winner (1985-87 and 1994), Lukas passed Charlie Whittingham as the all-time leading money winner in 1988 and was the first trainer whose horses earned more than $100 million in purse money. He later was the first to reach the $200 million plateau. Lukas is tied with Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons for the most Triple Crown race victories with 13. That total is the sum of four Kentucky Derbys, five Preaknesses and four Belmonts. Beginning with Tabasco Cat’s 1994 Preakness score, Lukas won a record six consecutive Triple Crown races. Lukas will have 30 stalls. Other trainers that are either here for the first time or returning for the first time in several years include northeast Louisiana native and Fair Grounds Hall of Fame member Bobby Barnett, a former assistant to Lukas and trainer of 1998 Champion 2-Year-Old Answer Lively; New Iberia, La., native Eric Guillot, who nabbed his first Grade I win earlier this year with Santa Teresita in the Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita; former high school teacher and principal Tom McCarthy, whose prize horse General Quarters, winner of the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, will point to the March 27 Grade II New Orleans Handicap; Michael Miceli, a veteran of New York racetracks who won the 1974 Grade I Travers Stakes with Holding Pattern; Helen Pitts, winner of the 2007 Grade II New Orleans Handicap with Einstein, who will test the best in the world in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic; D. Michael Smithwick Jr., a former steeplechase jockey who has trained throughout the country and son of Hall of Fame trainer D. Michael Smithwick; and Michael Tammaro, the winner of multiple Turfway Park training titles who learned from his trainer father, John Tammaro.

New Jockeys
The already formidable jockey colony at Fair Grounds will have even more depth this year as the winter base for Victor Lebron and Orlando Mojica, two riders typically seen among the leaders at Turfway Park and Ellis Park. Lebron is a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Mojica, born in Puerto Rico, won the Ellis Park title in 2007, the Hoosier Park titles in 2007 and 2008 and the Indiana Downs title in 2008. Returning to Fair Grounds after several years in Chicago will be Chris Emigh, winner of multiple stakes at Fair Grounds when he rode here regularly in the mid-1990s.

Super Hi-5 Offered in Last Race
Fair Grounds will offer a Super Hi-5 wager on the last race of every card. The super Hi-5 requires bettors to select the top five finishers in order. The Racing Office has committed to offering the largest fields possible in the finale each day, an effort that will also appeal to players of the Pick Four and Pick Six wagers that end with the last race. Because of the Super Hi-5, the Superfecta will not be offered on the last race. There is a $1 minimum on the Super Hi-5 and there will be a carryover on days when there are no winning tickets.

Turf Stakes Galore This Season
The 2009-20010 stakes schedule at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots offers up at least one stakes event over the Stall-Wilson turf course on 17 of 21 weeks this season. There are 24 turf stakes out of 63 stakes overall.

Pro-Cush Crops in First Two Races Every Day
For the first time, jockeys at Fair Grounds will be required to use Pro-Cush riding crops in the first two races every day. Pro-Cush crops are “more forgiving and have less concussion,” said Fair Grounds Vice President and General Manager of Racing Eric Halstrom. The move to Pro-Cush is reflective of a larger effort by Fair Grounds’ parent company, Churchill Downs Incorporated, to ensure safety and integrity at all CDI racetracks. Fair Grounds officials will solicit feedback from riders throughout the season to help determine whether to eventually require the Pro-Cush crops in every race.

No mile races
Fair Grounds will no longer conduct main-track races at one mile, eliminating the need for the alternate finish line that was previously used only for that distance.

First post times for opening weekend
First post for Opening Day at Fair Grounds is 1 p.m. CDT and the first Breeders’ Cup race of the day, the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, is set for 2:35 p.m. On Saturday, first post at Fair Grounds is 12:30 p.m. with the afternoon’s first Breeders’ Cup event, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, at 12:45 p.m. On both days Fair Grounds post times will be staggered with those of the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park in Southern California so fans won’t miss any racing from either location.

Friday and Saturday Fair Grounds and Breeders’ Cup post times
Here’s the complete schedule of Fair Grounds and Santa Anita Park post times for Friday, November 6: Fair Grounds (FG) Race 1, 1 p.m.; Santa Anita (SA) Race 1 (allowance), 1:15 p.m.; FG Race 2, 1:28 p.m.; SA Race 2 (allowance), 1:49 p.m.; FG Race 3, 1:56 p.m.; FG Race 4, 2:24 p.m.; SA Race 3 ($500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon), 2:35 p.m.; FG Race 5, 2:56 p.m.; SA Race 4 ($1 million BC Juvenile Fillies Turf), 3:10 p.m.; FG Race 6, 3:27 p.m.; SA Race 5 ($1 million, Grade I BC Filly & Mare Sprint), 3:45 p.m.; FG Race 7, 4:03 p.m.; SA Race 6 ($2 million, Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies), 4:25 p.m.; FG Race 8 ($60,000 Blushing K.D. Handicap), 4:45 p.m.; SA Race 7 ($2 million, Grade I BC Filly & Mare Turf), 05:05 p.m.; FG Race 9, 5:27 p.m.; SA Race 8 ($2 million, Grade I BC Ladies’ Classic), 5:45 p.m.; and SA Race 9 ($200,000, Grade II Las Palmas Handicap), 6:25 p.m.

Here’s the complete schedule of Fair Grounds and Santa Anita Park post times for Saturday, November 7: SA Race 1 ($125,000 Damascus Stakes), 12:05 p.m.; FG Race 1, 12:30 p.m.; SA Race 2 ($1 million, Grade II BC Juvenile Turf), 12:45 p.m.; FG Race 2, 01:05 p.m.; SA Race 3 ($1 million BC Turf Sprint), 1:25 p.m.; FG Race 3, 1:43 p.m.; SA Race 4 ($1 million, Grade I BC Dirt Mile), 2:10 p.m.; FG Race 4, 2:29 p.m.; SA Race 5 ($2 million, Grade I BC Juvenile), 2:50 p.m.; FG Race 5, 3:09 p.m.; SA Race 6 ($2 million, Grade I BC Mile), 3:30 p.m.; FG Race 6, 3:52 p.m.; SA Race 7 ($2 million, Grade I BC Sprint), 4:15 p.m.; FG Race 7, 4:38 p.m.; SA Race 8 ($3 million, Grade I BC Turf), 5p.m.; FG Race 8, 5:20 p.m.; SA Race 9 ($5 million, Grade I BC Classic), 5:45 p.m.; FG Race 9 ($60,000 Pontalba Stakes), 6:10 p.m.; SA Race 10 ($125,000, Grade II Oak Tree Derby), 6:25 p.m.; FG Race 10 ($60,000 Old Hickory Stakes), 6:39 p.m.; and FG Race 11, 7:07 p.m.

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