Wilkinson Possible for Risen Star Stakes
Trainer Neil Howard, in the midst of a banner winter season at Fair Grounds where he is batting over .300 in trips to the winner’s circle from a modest number of starters, updated the status of his leading 3-year-olds during training hours Monday morning in relation to the upcoming Grade II Risen Star Stakes, now less than two weeks away on Feb. 19.
The Risen Star, named for the locally-owned 1988 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner, is Fair Grounds’ final major designed prep for the $1 million Grade II Louisiana Derby March 26 as the centerpiece event of the New Orleans Thoroughbred racing season.
Headlining Howard’s updates is his contention that Gaillardia Racing’s Wilkinson, hero of the Grade III Lecomte Stakes here Jan. 22, is now being considered for a return engagement in the Risen Star.
“Right now, I would say it is 60-40 that he’ll run (in the Risen Star),” Howard said, “with the 60 percent being that he will run.”
In the days after the Lecomte win, Howard was considering bypassing the Risen Star with Wilkinson and training him up to the Louisiana Derby, and that, of course, remains an option.
Courtlandt Farms’ Machen, another talented sophomore trained by Howard who won his last start in high-level allowance company by five lengths here Jan. 30, is also being pointed for the Risen Star.
Courtlandt Farms’ Prime Cut, also a prime 3-year-old in Howard’s barn who had been considered for the Risen Star, is now not likely for that test. Prime Cut breezed a half-mile Monday morning in 50.40.
“(Prime Cut) is entered ‘main track only’ in a race on Friday,” Howard said. “We don’t want to push him up the ladder too fast, and we want to get him going two turns for the first time in an easier spot.”
Howard also indicated that William Farish, E. J. Hudson Jr. and the Estate of James Elkins Jr.’s Grasshopper, although nominated to the upcoming Grade III Mineshaft Handicap Feb. 19, would not be a likely starter. Grasshopper, who won the Mineshaft in 2008 and was second by a neck in that year’s Grade II New Orleans Handicap, has made two starts this season at Fair Grounds after returning from a 10-month layoff.
APPRENTICE DENNY VELAZQUEZ MAKING HIS WAY AT FAIR GROUNDS – Apprentice jockey Denny Velazquez escaped serious injury when his mount Whiskey Bent, owned and trained by Jay Cuccia, broke down in Sunday’s fifth race at Fair Grounds. Velazquez was able to fulfill the remainder of his engagements Sunday despite body soreness.
Born in Jones, Oklahoma, Velazquez, 17, has been riding eight months after beginning his career at Canterbury Park last year. He has been the leading apprentice at Fair Grounds throughout the season and had ridden 10 winners locally entering Monday’s racing day.
FAIR GROUNDS’ KATIE MIKOLAY PICKS 8 OUT OF 9 SUNDAY – Katie Mikolay, Fair Grounds’ racing analyst and television personality, picked the first eight winners on top during Sunday’s nine-race program at the Crescent City oval. Among the winners comprising her eight-bagger was Virginia Lazenby’s True, who paid $13.20 to win in Race 7.
In the race in which she failed to pick the winner on top, her top selection finished second and her second choice won the race, crediting Mikolay with the exacta box.
The native of Chicago, Illinois, is enjoying her first season as Fair Grounds’ paddock hostess.
SHANE SELLERS’ SON SABIN AN ALL-STATE ATHLETE – Sabin Sellers, 18, son of Fair Grounds-based jockey Shane Sellers, is an All-State lacrosse player whose St. Thomas More Cougars high school team from Lafayette, Louisiana, won the varsity division of the fifth annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Lacrosse Classic.
The three-day regional tournament was held in New Orleans at the end of January, allowing the senior Sellers to attend the tournament and enjoy a brief visit with his son.