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Barn Notes: Thursday, December 4

IN TODAY'S NOTES: SHARP LIVING UP TO HIS NAME AS A HEAD TRAINER; MATRIARCH WINNER LA TIA ARRIVES AT FAIR GROUNDS; GOLDEN ROD WINNER WEST COAST BELLE FAIR GROUNDS-BOUND

SHARP LIVING UP TO HIS NAME AS A HEAD TRAINER

            Conditioner Joe Sharp understands the importance of a good start in the racing game – whether it be by the horses he saddles or the early strike percentage he boasts – and he has come barreling out of the proverbial gate in a fledgling career as a head trainer, batting 40% with his first 40 starters with an impeccable 65% in the exacta.  With over seven years of experience assisting two of the most respected horsemen in the game, the 29-year-old understands what it takes to develop a successful and profitable operation.

            “I worked for (Mike) Stidham for four years and then spent three years with Mike Maker and learned a lot from both of them,” Sharp reflected.  “Especially from Maker – he was like a father to me and really respected, trusted and gave me a lot of confidence and faith in my ability to claim good horses and run large operations like I did in New York, Kentucky and here in New Orleans.  There’s a lot of respect and trust between us.”

            After being integral to the success of the Maker-trained and Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey-owned Vicar’s In Trouble last Fair Grounds season – including a resounding victory in the Grade II Louisiana Derby – Sharp hopes that such success, itself, is integral to his first Fair Grounds meet as the top man in charge.  In the first couple weeks of the meet, he seems to be right on target – striking with half of his eight starters and finishing second with two others to place him in a tie for second-place with old boss Stidham in wins.

            “After our first 20 horses started and we and were 40%, I was so happy,” Sharp said of his winning percentage.  “Now that I’ve run 40 and we’re still there, it feels great.  I’m riding this wave longer than I expected, but I have had a lot of support along the way and we really tried to prepare ourselves for this meet.  The key is getting a good start and getting early attention.  Luckily we have also had racing luck and picked some good spots.”

            Sharp’s exceptional preparation has been on vivid display, especially when it comes to improving claimed horses and developing an outstanding clientele for whom to train them.  Such aspects were both on exposition when the Brad Grady-owned 3-year-old Aztec Brave dismantled a promising field in a second-level turf allowance on Nov. 28 by five facile lengths and earned a strong 106 Equibase Speed Figure while under mild urging from jockey Forest Boyce.

“I’m pretty excited about Aztec Brave,” Sharp remarked.  “He’s moving forward and ran a good number.  He has a bright future.

“Before the meet, I tried to claim a variety of horses who like a lot of surfaces,” Sharp continued.  “I had five horses on my own while I was still working for Mike (Maker) and was able to establish some business for when I went on my own and that has been key.  I like a horse with back-class and good numbers and like to try to get them back to that point and beyond.  It’s the little things you try to focus on and improve with them.”

Another horse who seems to have improved under Sharp’s tutelage is allowance sprinter Sandbar, a recent claim by the Ramseys who reversed form quickly in the Sharp barn.  In two post-claim starts, the gelded sophomore son of War Pass won a $20,000 claiming event at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 and then was a game second to multiple graded stakes winner Sum of the Parts at the Fair Grounds on Nov. 29.  The Ramseys, the leading ownership in America, have supported Sharp since the not-so-distant beginning. 

“I met with Mr. Ramsey when I decided to go on my own and he said he would support me and he is a man of his word,” Sharp explained.  “He said he’d give me 10 horses.  He initially gave me three and I’ve claimed seven more for him.  When I met with him he told me that he only hires the best.  Aside from Mr. Ramsey, I’ve had a lot of support from some great owners and the phone has been ringing recently from some local guys from New Orleans.”

The Ramseys and Sharp also teamed up with impressive Louisiana-bred One King’s Man on Nov. 23, who won an allowance optional claiming event by two lengths in the gelding’s first start for said connections.  The gray son of K One King will now head to Louisiana Champions Day on Dec. 13. 

Sharp will also team up with the Ramseys for a possible career milestone this weekend.  The native of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia will do his best impression of hometown abolitionist John Brown and raid California’s Golden Gate Fields to saddle Ramsey homebred juvenile colt Broughton Kitten in the $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes.  The son of Kitten’s Joy comes off a hard-charging third in a turf allowance at Churchill Downs behind Juddmonte Farm’s highly regarded Courtier.       

“He’ll be my first stakes starter and hopefully my first winner,” Sharp said.  “It’ll be on my 30th birthday, too.

No matter how this weekend goes, the promising future of the young upstart trainer is burgeoning and will most likely consistently be on display throughout the 2014-15 Fair Grounds season. 

MATRIARCH WINNER LA TIA ARRIVES AT FAIR GROUNDS

            Hernandez Racing Club’s La Tia – America’s newest Grade I winner – has arrived at Fair Grounds Race Course, which will be her home base for the winter.  On Sunday, the daughter of City Place won the last Grade I for fillies and mares of the year when annexing the Matriarch Stakes at Del Mar over a grassy mile.

“She got to the Fair Grounds on Monday,” reported trainer Armando De La Cerda.  “She came out okay; she’s happy and a little tired from traveling.”

Going wire-to-wire under Joel Rosario, the 5-year-old daughter of City Place proved that the third time was the charm in Grade I company after finishing a game fifth and fourth – the latter losing only by a length and a half – in the last two editions of the Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington International Racecourse.  In her career, she has 10 wins in 23 starts, with eight stakes wins – five graded – and is $16,674 short of breaking the $1 million earnings mark.

“I have 11 of my best horses here for the winter and I want to keep an eye on her,” De La Cerda continued.  “I don’t know where we’re going to run yet, but she will get a little time to rest, then we will find something.”


GOLDEN ROD WINNER WEST COAST BELLE FAIR GROUNDS-BOUND

            Gary and Mary West’s talented 2-year-old West Coast Belle – winner of Saturday’s Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs – is set to arrive at Fair Grounds Race Course on Friday or Saturday, according to trainer Wayne Catalano.  The homebred daughter of Tapit’s victory in Churchill’s fall meet centerpiece for juvenile fillies came despite going very wide under Shaun Bridgmohan into the lane and followed up a runaway victory in the $60,000 Rags to Riches over a flat mile five weeks prior on Oct. 26.

            “She’s doing fine,” Catalano confirmed.  “Right now she’s going to train at the Fair Grounds and we’ll point to some races. Our goal will be the (Grade I $1,000,000 Kentucky) Oaks (on May 1).”

            A smallish filly with an impressive stride considering such, the gray daughter of solid producer Splendid Solution could make her first stop in the Grade III $175,000 Rachel Alexandra on Feb. 21 on the way to the Kentucky Oaks.

            “We’re hoping she will get a little bigger,” Catalano continued.  “I’ll get together with Mr. West and Benny (Glass, the West’s racing manager) and we’ll decide which route is best for her.  I would say either the Fair Grounds Oaks or Ashland (Stakes) being the last stop before the (Kentucky) Oaks.”

            Catalano will be based at Fair Grounds in person for a significant portion of the winter, while also running strings at Oaklawn Park and Gulfstream Park.  A survivor of a severe case of pneumonia this summer that hospitalized him for 22 days – an ailment that flared up during a flight between his Arlington and Saratoga bases – the multiple Breeders’ Cup-winning conditioner now gets around in a state of the art 30-foot Airstream Flying Cloud travel trailer.