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Red Strike Likely for Turf Series

The Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap on Jan. 22, the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap Feb. 19 and the Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap March 26 – all scheduled for the Stall-Wilson turf course – make up the dates of Fair Grounds’ three graded stakes grass series in 2011.

The Col. Bradley ’Cap comes up as part of Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone, the Fair Grounds ’Cap falls on Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford, and the Mervin Muniz Memorial ‘Cap is part of the Louisiana Derby Day program on the penultimate day of Fair Grounds’ 2010-2011 racing season.

Interestingly, only one horse – B. Wayne Hughes’ Joyeux Danseur in 1998, trained by Al Stall Jr. and ridden by Robby Albarado – has swept the series since its inception that same season, but one newly-turned 4-year-old who should be considered a prime candidate to try to repeat that feat in this season’s turf series is Sam-Son Farms’ Red Strike, third in Fair Grounds’ $60,000 Woodchopper Stakes, scheduled for the grass but moved to the main track on a rainy New Year’s Eve.

Prior to the Woodchopper, Red Strike was undefeated in two starts, both over the Canadian lawn at Woodbine, but even after the switch to the main track, the public had enough faith in the son of Smart Strike to back him down to odds-on favoritism. However, all that confidence was compromised when the homebred stumbled badly coming out of the gate.

Was it the bad break that beat him? “Oh, yeah,” said a mud-spattered jockey James Graham immediately after the race.

The next morning, Red Strike’s trainer Mark Frostad seemed to agree.

“It (the stumble) didn’t help,” said Frostad, “but he didn’t get hurt either. He came back fine, and this morning he looks like he hadn’t even run. When he left the gate it looked like he put his nose right in the ground, and the more I look at the start I’m surprised that James didn’t come off.”

Was the upcoming Stall-Wilson turf series in Red Strike’s future?  “I would think so,” said Frostad.

FAIR GROUNDS TURF OR DIRT STAKES AVAILABLE TO AVIE’S TALE – Jockey Rosie Napravnik gets along well with her, and trainer Josie Carroll and owner Ivan Dalos believed in the grass-favoring mare Avie’s Tale enough to let her run in the $60,000 Blushing K. D. Handicap on New Year’s Day even after the race was taken off the grass. Avie’s Tale rewarded them all with a convincing 3 1/4-length victory

“She’s doing just great this morning,” said Carroll during training hours Sunday. “She’s just got a mind of her own and you just have to let her do her thing.”

So what might be next for this daughter of Tale of the Cat out of a Lord Avie mare?

“There’s another grass stakes for her ($60,000 Marie Krantz Memorial Handicap Jan. 29) coming up at the end of the month,” said Carroll, “and a filly and mare dirt stakes (the $60,000 Pelleteri Stakes Feb. 12) a couple of weeks after that. We’ll probably nominate her to both and see how she’s doing as those races get closer.”

Incidentally, owner Dalos, of Tall Oaks Stable, is a Canadian businessman who was the breeder of 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop.

JUSTIN PHILLIP ONE TO WATCH ON ROAD TO THE DERBY – Zayat Stables’ Justin Phillip stamped himself as a sophomore to watch on his birthday as a 3-year-old when he won an allowance optional claiming race at Fair Grounds on New Year’s Day by 3 1/4-lengths – despite showing some antics of immaturity.

“He came back good,” said assistant trainer Darren Fleming Sunday morning of the Steve Asmussen trainee. “We have high hopes for him.”

Justin Phillip is expected to make his next start in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes Jan. 22 on Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone.