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Stakes Advance: Grade III Mineshaft Handicap & Bayou Stakes

MUNIZ WINNER SKYRING RETURNS IN WIDE-OPEN FAIR GROUNDS HANDICAP

Last season, Calumet Farm’s Skyring ran arguably two of the best races of his career over the Stall-Wilson turf course and on Saturday the 6-year-old son of English Channel returns with a new trainer and his connections’ hopes that he can return to the form that saw him win the Grade II Mervin H. Muniz, Jr. Memorial and finish second in this very race, the Grade III $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap, in 2014.  The Fair Grounds goes as the ninth of 12 races on Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford and is the final prep for the Muniz – the marquee turf race of the season.  It is contested over 1 1/8 miles on the grass, is a weighted handicap and has attracted four stakes winners.

Skyring has not won in three subsequent starts since the Muniz and has changed hands twice since leaving the shedrow of D. Wayne Lukas – first to Jose Fernandez and finally to Neil Drysdale, who will give a leg-up to Mike Smith before they break from post 10 of 11 horses. 

Shortleaf Stable’s Kenny McPeek-trained Trace Creek exits a career-best performance when second to Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Coalport in the Grade III $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston on Jan. 24.  The 5-year-old son of Harperstown will be ridden by Chris Landeros from post eight. 

Skyring and Trace Creek’s major competition could come from two charges exiting the Grade III $125,000 Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap on Jan. 17 at Fair Grounds.  Gaineway Stable’s David Carroll-trained beaten favorite Villandry, the 118-pound highweight, will try to make amends for his dull sixth-place finish as the 2-1 betting choice and return to the form that saw him impressively take the Grade III $100,000 River City Handicap on Nov. 8 – earning a field-high 100 Beyer Speed Figure (turf).  Florent Geroux rides from post two.

Gary and Mary West’s Highball finished a gaining third in the Bradley after a belated bid had him fall 1¼ lengths short of Charlie Smith’s victorious String King.  The son of Lemon Drop Kid has been working well and sports three stakes placings in eight career starts.  On Friday, the bay colt worked a sharp five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.80, signaling his readiness.  Shaun Bridgmohan has the return call from the same three-post from which they broke in the Bradley – except this time they have an extra sixteenth of a mile to get it done.

The remainder of the Fair Grounds Handicap field consists of Andrew Stone’s Graham Motion-trained European import Glenard (James Graham, rail), who will be making his American debut, John Wentworth’s Brad Cox-trained local allowance winner Chocolate Ride (Jesus Castanon, post four), Bortolazzo Stable’s Todd Pletcher-trained minor stakes winner Pyrite Mountain (Rafael Bejarano, post five), Flaxman Holdings’ Graham Motion-trained Quadrivium, who is also cross-entered in the Grade III $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap, Charles Fipke’s Dallas Stewart-trained classic-placed Golden Soul (Brian Hernandez, Jr., post seven), Big Lick Farm’s Reid Nagle-trained graded stakes-placed Daddy’s Kid (Xavier Perez, post nine) and Rollin Fishback and Charles Logsdon’s stakes-placed Dreams Cut Short (Miguel Mena, post 11).


ISTANFORD LEADS STIDHAM TRIO IN BAYOU

Earlier on the card, Ike and Dawn Thrash and Sam and Janet Alley’s multiple graded stakes-winning filly Istanford kicks off her 2015 campaign in the $60,000 Bayou Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the Stall-Wilson turf course.

A win in the Grade III Arlington Classic over the boys and another in the Grade II San Clemente Handicap at Del Mar in the course of her 3-year-old season make the Mike Stidham trainee the class of a field of nine.  Off since a speed-and-fade effort in the Grade I $400,000 First Lady Stakes at Keeneland behind eventual Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Dayatthespa, the 4-year-old daughter of Istan will seek her fourth career stakes victory in the Bayou. Rafael Bejarano, who rode Istanford to two stakes victories in 2014, has the mount from post four.

Istanford is one of three fillies entered by Stidham in the Bayou, the other two being Twin Creeks Racing Stable’s Notte d’Oro and Pin Oak Stable’s Hung the Moon. The former made her stakes debut in last month’s local prep, the Marie Krantz Memorial Handicap , and won that event by a length from off the pace. The latter finished third behind her stablemate in that same event in her first start for the Stidham barn. Notte d’Oro will be ridden again by meet-leading jockey James Graham from the rail, while Miguel Mena gets the return call aboard Hung the Moon from post seven.

Lothenbach Stables’ multiple stakes-winning mare Eden Prairie will look to turn the tables on Notte d’Oro after finishing second to that filly in the Krantz. Trained by Neil Pessin, Eden Prairie was second in the Bayou last year and should be well-placed early under rider Florent Geroux from post nine.

Synapse (Richard Eramia, post two), Compelling Case (Robby Albarado, post three), Nice Number (Brian Hernandez, Jr., post five), Samiam (Kerwin Clark, post six), and Stoupinator (Marcelino Pedroza, post eight) complete the Bayou Stakes field.