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Upset, Milestones Highlight Louisiana Champions Day
NEW ORLEANS, La. (December 13, 2008) - One major upset and the matching of two long-standing career records headlined the 18th edition of Louisiana Champions Day Saturday at Fair Grounds.
Ten of the 11 winners in the $1.1 million, all-stakes program dedicated to Louisiana-bred Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses were priced at less than 6-1, but the one exception was a big one: Break Up, who lit up the tote board by paying $138.40 to win in the $100,000 Champions Day Juvenile.
Jockey Robby Albarado and trainer Tom Amoss, who have combined for 15 career Fair Grounds titles, each added another line to their list of local achievements.
Albarado won two races Saturday, the Lassie on Master Link and the Sprint on Star Guitar, for his 11th and 12th career Champions Day wins, tying Calvin Borel for the most in the event's history.
Amoss' win in the turf with Wildrally gave him seven career triumphs on Champions Day, matching Bobby Barnett and Donald Cormier for the top spot among trainers.
Break Up, who entered Saturday with only a maiden win in five lifetime starts, rallied in the late stages for a one-length win. Corey Lanerie rode the winner for trainer Brett Brinkman. Break Up covered the six furlongs in 1:12.02.
"I wanted to stay patient. I thought the pace would be fast," said Lanerie. "At the 5/16ths pole, I was picking off a few horses. At the eighth pole, I thought I could win it."
Cocktail Clarence got up for the second in the Juvenile, finishing a half-length to the good of odds-on favorite Foreign Production, who weakened in the final furlong.
In the Lassie, Albarado went gate-to-wire with Master Link ($12.40) to win by 2 1/2 lengths over favored Warrior Maid with a winning six-furlong winning time of 1:11.70. Lightlightlight finished third, a neck farther back.
"She's an exceptionally fast filly," said Albarado of Master Link. "She put herself where I anticipated her to be. When I squeezed on her a little bit, she just took off."
Star Guitar - the Al Stall Jr. trainee who won last year's Champions Day Juvenile - wore down Mr. Barracuda for a three-quarter length score in the Sprint. Meteor Impact finished another half-length back for third in the field of 14.
Star Guitar, who won for the fourth time in five lifetime starts, paid $5.40 while covering the six furlongs in 1:11.07. Afterward, both Stall and Albarado suggested that Star Guitar's future might involve two-turn races.
"Star Guitar is a great horse," said Albarado. "Like Al said, he might settle as he gets older."
Amoss' win with Wildrally overshadowed a matchup of the last two winners in the Turf, Desert Wheat and Willist.
Wildrally ($15.20) covered the about 1 1/16-mile distance over a Stall-Wilson turf course rated "soft" in 1:48.76. Desert Wheat was a neck back for the place, while Diggy Fresh was third.
Wildrally, second to Willist in last year's Turf, was ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr. Saturday. The 23-year-old Louisiana native rode his fourth stakes winner of the meet.
"When you're riding for guys like Tom Amoss, you're going to have a great meet," said Hernandez.
In the day's richest race, the $150,000 Champions Day Classic, Valene Farms' Autobeacat held off favored Star Production in a stretch duel to win by three-quarters of a lengths. With Donnie Meche up, Autobeacat covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:53.72.
Trainer Eric Heitzmann had cross-entered Autobeacat in two other Champions Day races on the program, but picked the Classic over the Turf and Starter. Autobeacat ($13.80) was the longest shot in the field of five.
Southern Invasion finished third in the Classic, three lengths behind the favorite.
"This horse likes to be covered up a little bit," said Heitzmann. "Donnie did a very good job with him."
Jockey John Jacinto joined Albarado in winning a pair of races - the Ladies with Superior Storm and the Ladies Sprint with Coach Mike.
In the Ladies, Superior Storm ($4.60) was best by two lengths. She won for the sixth time in nine starts this year and completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.87.
"I felt like she was the best filly in the race," said Jacinto. "She's something else. I'm just a passenger."
Richard Jackson trains Superior Storm, who won the Lassie on this day a year ago, for Jack Dickerson's Jac Mac Stable.
Sammie Sam was second, 9 1/2 lengths in front of Collectzcat.
Coach Mike ($5), owned by Ryder River Ridge Farm, trained by Tony Richey and ridden by John Jacinto, wore down Sax Appeal in the late stages of the Ladies Sprint, getting the six furlongs in 1:10.66. Tortuga Flats was third.
In the $50,000 Starter, which opened the Thoroughbred portion of Saturday's program, Harris Hughey's Mr. Porter ($4.60) was the day's easiest winner, cruising home by 12 1/2 lengths. Mr. Porter is trained by Sturges Ducoing and was ridden by Pat Valenzuela. He covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.49.
The day began with three stakes for Louisiana-bred Quarter Horses, with Martini Mountain ($7.40) winning the Quarter Horse Juvenile, Mon Ti Rose ($10.60) taking the Quarter Horse Derby, and McM Dozen Dasher ($7.60) capturing the Quarter Horse Classic.
Racing resumes Sunday at Fair Grounds with a 10-race program beginning at 12:30 p.m. The card will feature a $15,378 Pick 6 carryover beginning with the fifth race of the day.
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the nation's third-oldest Thoroughbred racing facility, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN); it also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and nine off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. Fair Grounds' 137th Thoroughbred season will run from Nov. 14, 2008, through March 29, 2009, and its inaugural Quarter Horse meet was conducted from Aug. 20-24, 2008. Information about Fair Grounds can be found on the Internet at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.