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Brisnet Handicappers Edge Fair Grounds notes 2/12/10

Rachel Alexandra will return in New Orleans Ladies

Horse of the Year RACHEL ALEXANDRA (Medaglia d'Oro) will make her four-year-old debut in the March 13 New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds, assuming she continues to progress as expected, owner Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stables confirmed Thursday. The inaugural running of the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies is for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

"That is our intended goal," Jackson said by phone Thursday evening. "I believe she's on schedule and she'll get the prep race before she goes on to Oaklawn. There are other tracks that have offered to have us go, but right now we'd rather stay here."

Oaklawn Park announced earlier Thursday that the date of the Apple Blossom (G1) had been moved back six days to April 9, in order to give Rachel Alexandra and champion older female Zenyatta (Street Cry [Ire]) sufficient time to each get one start before meeting for the first time in what Oaklawn is billing as the "Race for the Ages." The new date of the Apple Blossom places it 27 days after the New Orleans Ladies.

"We're obviously thrilled by the news that Rachel Alexandra, already a legend based on her accomplishments last year, intends to make her 2010 debut at Fair Grounds," Fair Grounds Vice President and General Manager Eric Halstrom said. "We are already working to make sure March 13 will be a special day befitting of racing royalty."

Jackson expressed his hope that the New Orleans Ladies would attract a solid field of competitors despite the imposing proposition for the others of having to face one of the top female racehorses in history.

"I'd really like to have more than just nominal competition in the race," Jackson said. "Assuming it's a fair race I don't expect Rachel to have any trouble but at the same time, regardless of whether they're superstars or not, it embellishes the track's reputation and Rachel’s reputation to have the best possible competition.”

Record rainfall in December and more high levels of precipitation in January repeatedly forced two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen to adjust Rachel Alexandra's schedule. More recently, however, she has posted official workouts on consecutive weekends, including a half-mile breeze Saturday in :50 3/5.

"It's not anyone's fault, but with the rain and the track conditions it's been a serious setback to Rachel's routine," Jackson said. "When you're training a horse it's an animal that needs to have a regular routine and Steve's been hard-pressed to keep her going given the weather. When we do get her to the track it's well maintained, but she's behind schedule and that means we're compressed to try to get everything done and keep her on schedule leading up to works and preparing her for a major competition at Oaklawn."

Fair Grounds officials added the New Orleans Ladies to the stakes schedule last fall in hopes that a scenario such as this would play out. Now it appears Fair Grounds will get its wish -- to showcase the champion filly in front of New Orleans' faithful race fans.

"It's always fun to visit New Orleans, one of the top cities in the United States," Jackson said. "My wife loves it. You have great food. The rebound has been phenomenal as far as sports are concerned so maybe that will help lead to a full recovery."

Rachel Alexandra, who will be returning off a six-month layoff in the New Orleans Ladies, established herself as one of the all-time great fillies last year with historic wins in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Preakness S. (G1) and Woodward (G1), as well as six other stakes races, including the Grade Fair Grounds Oaks (G2). She also easily defeated champion three-year-old male Summer Bird (Birdstone) in the Haskell Invitational (G1).

WAR ECHO (Tapit) will go for her third straight victory on Saturday when she starts in the $60,000 Pelleteri S. at Fair Grounds. The Grade 3-winning filly ended her sophomore season with a Churchill allowance win and a 3 1/2-length score in the nine-furlong Daily Racing Form Distaff S. over the track. She'll cut back slightly here to 1 1/16 miles, but will have regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons. Others in with a chance are BUBBLER (Distorted Humor) and CLEAR SAILING (Empire Maker). Bubbler put in a hard drive to just hold by nose in the Marie G. Krantz Memorial H. after suffering her first career loss when sixth in the Furl Sail H. Clear Sailing will be making her stakes bow in this spot following a 4 1/4-length maiden win and 8 3/4 allowance score at Fair Grounds...

On the Louisiana worktab

Argentinean Group 1 winner GRAN ESTRENO (Arg) (Lucky Roberto), fourth in the John B. Connally Turf H. (G3) last out, covered a half-mile in :51 2/5 over the fast dirt at Fair Grounds on Thursday.

Recent American Beauty S. queen NORTHERN BELLE (Northern Afleet) breezed four furlongs in :48 3/5. The Steve Margolis trainee could return to Oaklawn Park for the February 20 Spring Fever S.

Grade 3-placed DUE DATE (El Prado [Ire]), off-the-board in the Bonapaw S. last out, worked four furlongs in :48 3/5.

Bashford Manor S. (G3) runner-up FLATTER THAN ME (Flatter), unplaced against allowance/optional claiming rivals most recently, posted four panels in :48 1/5.


FEBRUARY 11, 2010

by Frank Cotolo

Matching a strong week that delivered 45-percent winners for the public, Fair Grounds also kept speed at bay last week, producing mostly off-the-pace winners, in both sprints and routes, on the main track and turf, in the 40 races run.

It was fast from start to finish that week. We hope you read last week's notebook and used the closing information to benefit. From the look of the statistics, many bettors got on board and steered clear of backing top speed with conviction.

Calculating the most recent four weeks of racing, chalk has ruled with the public choice's winning 49 percent of the 132 races.

On the surface

If the 51 percent of the overall winners that came from off the pace the previous week impressed all of us, we were shocked from last week's tally of 70 percent. A mere five races went to horses with a wire-to-wire journey and most of those were sprinting around six panels.

Winning by stalking close to the pace (no worse than third and within a couple of lengths of the leader) was only accomplished 15 percent of the time, which was the same as the wire-to-wire winners.

There were seven turf races in the four-program week. Here, too, off-the-pace strategies worked best, with 57 percent of the seven events -- three sprints and four routes -- coming from fourth or farther back to cash the top prizes.


Though Steve Asmussen took another five horses through the winners' circle in four programs, his win rate has not risen enough to make the top-10 trainers by win percentage.

The latest hero there is Victor Arceneaux. He saddled a first-out winner last week and moved to the top of the list. Here are the top-10 Fair Grounds conditioners by win percentage:

Victor Arceneaux 31Steve Margolis 29Edward Johnston 28Tom Amoss 27Bret Calhoun 24Cody Autry 23Merrill Scherer 22Eric Guillot 21Wes Hawley 21Michael Stidham 21

Asmussen would be next with 17 percent, followed closely by Greg Foley (16), Ron Werner (15), Eric Heitzman (15) and Michelle Lovell (15). You may want to make note that Pat Mouton is winning at only 6 percent.


Friday (2/5)

1ST -- SECRET BERRY (Supremo Secret) set the pace, led into the stretch and did those things well despite being 12-1 and stopping on a dime in the stretch of this one-mile and 40-yard event on the dirt.

2ND -- TENSAS CAT (Cat Thief) came home well enough in this bulky field to secure third but interfered with another in the drive and was placed eighth.

4TH -- STORMIN LEAKY (Lake Austin) is a first-time starter that had speed enough to hold third after leading to the three-eighths at 6-1.

Saturday (2/6)

6TH -- MISS ACAPULCO (Malibu Wesley) dueled hard for the lead, allowing the favorite to win. She's capable of better next time.

9TH -- STEVE'S STAR (Dynaformer) started slowly, drove four wide to get the lead and was strong enough for a fifth finisher, at 6-1.

Sunday (2/7)

4TH -- COWBOY POKER (Erlton) ran around trouble, steadied at one point and still came back to be second.

Monday (2/8)

7TH -- FASS FEAT (Placid Fund) had a heavy duel through three calls with two different challenges to get second at 4-1.

9TH -- RED DAGGER (Friends Lake) went wire to wire against the bias in a claimer and is a sharp bet-back possibility.

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