Thursday Notes: Country Flavor Appetizing in Louisiana Handicap

Jim Tafel’s Country Flavor won Fair Grounds’ $60,000 Tenacious Handicap last month at 11-1 odds, last spring’s Grade III Hanshin Cup at Arlington Park at 21-1, and is the only horse in Saturday’s $60,000 Louisiana Handicap that has won a race over this track this season at Saturday’s distance.

Nevertheless, the son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker is slated as the 9-2 third choice in the morning line for this weekend’s first of Fair Grounds’ three-race series for older horses on the main track that concludes with the Grade II New Orleans Handicap on Louisiana Derby Day March 26.

A total of six stakes races are included on Saturday’s expanded 13-race Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone and the headline attraction is the Grade III Lecomte Stakes for 3-year-olds whose connections have designs on the $1 million Louisiana Derby, but the upcoming New Orleans Handicap on that same day is also a local jewel. Country Flavor’s tasty projected odds Saturday could lose their savor on that March 26 program if the horse performs the way trainer Greg Geier thinks he can in this weekend’s preamble.

“He’s been doing great this week and he’s ready for Saturday,” Geier said of Country Flavor. “He’s ready to go do what he’s got to do and the more it rains between now and Saturday the better. He won a race here a year ago by almost five lengths in the slop.”

While there is a chance of some showers tonight, according to Weather.com, Friday’s forecast calls for only a 10% chance of precipitation and Saturday the chance is projected at zero.

SPANKY’S HORSE A DANGEROUS LOUISIANA HANDICAP LONGSHOT – Ignore New Orleans-born trainer Spanky Broussard at your own risk when it comes to Fair Grounds’ three-race series for older horses on the main track.

Last season, Broussard saddled Richard Rudolph and Michael Vranich’s Stonehouse for a $35.60 win payoff in the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap, middle leg of the series, and in 2001 he won the Louisiana Handicap as the first foray in the series with Rudolph and Vranich’s San Pedro for a $21.20 straight price.

On Saturday, the still-sextagenarian (for another couple of weeks) Louisianan will send Rudolph and Vranich’s Royal Express, last season’s Black Gold Stakes winner, to the post in this season’s Louisiana Handicap at 15-1 in the morning line.

“He gets in light,” said Broussard of Royal Express’s 116-pound assigned impost, lowest among the field of seven in the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana ’Cap. “I guess they don’t think much of him.

“But he’s coming up to the race perfect, and he likes this racetrack,” said Broussard. “That’s a surprise, because his half-sister (multiple stakes winner) Magnetic Miss wouldn’t run two feet over it.

“A mile is probably his best distance,” concluded Broussard of Royal Express. “Anything farther than that has always been a little much for him, but we’ve changed bridles for this race to see if we can slow him down a little bit during the first part of the race.”

In addition to Saturday’s Louisiana Handicap as the first leg of Fair Grounds three-race series for older horses, and Saturday’s Lecomte as the first leg of the local oval’s three-race series for sophomores, Fair Grounds offers the $100,000 Silverbulletday Stakes as the first leg of its series for 3-year-old fillies as well as the Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap as the first leg of its three-race series for older grass horses.

The Silverbulletday leads to the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks and the Col. Bradley ‘Cap leads to the Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap, also on Louisiana Derby Day March 26.

REMINDER:  SPECIAL SATURDAY POST TIME AT 12:10 P.M. – Guests of Fair Grounds and fans of the New Orleans oval’s simulcast signal are reminded that for Saturday’s expanded 13-race Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone there will be a special early post time of 12:10 p.m. CST.

Also, on Friday, for the second Starlight Racing program of the 2010-2011 season at Fair Grounds, post time for the first race of the evening’s nine-race program will be at 5 p.m.