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103rd LOUISIANA DERBY NOTES: March 24, 2016 (Early Set)

  • ·        Forevamo Keeps Moving Forward for Stall
  • ·        Tom’s Ready Not Just the Other Benson
  • ·        Casse Tags in Conquest Windycity, Returns to Fair Grounds
  • ·        Uncle Walter Adds Blinkers to Focus on Rebound
  • ·        Adore Adds Intrigue to Fair Grounds Oaks
  • ·        Northwest Tale Gets Another Two-Turn Opportunity
  • ·        The Stamina Plot Thickens for Stageplay
  • ·        Eagle Flying for Graded Stakes Glory
  • ·        All-Grade II Stakes Pick-4 on Saturday (Races 7-10)




Brittlyn Stable’s Forevamo has gone from figuratively being on the outside looking in to literally doing so in a matter of five weeks. The son of red-hot sire Uncle Mo went into the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes as a minor stakes winner with questionable class credentials and came out as a serious Kentucky Derby contender who not only defied his 40-1 odds, but did so by progressing by approximately five lengths on  speed figures for the second consecutive race.

On Saturday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, instead of being simply labeled an outsider, he must start from the outside post 11 under regular rider Colby Hernandez in the Grade II $1,000,000 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby for trainer Al Stall, Jr.

“Everything is good with him and he had a nice work Sunday and came out of it great,” Stall said. “He galloped Tuesday and is eating well and doing all the things you need to be doing.

“He laid a little closer when he was younger in his earlier races and got shuffled a hair around the six-furlong area last time, so I don’t think that will happen with the outside post this time. If the race stretches in that first part, I would like to be near the first flight. It’s hard to give instructions in a race like this. I would never tell (Hernandez) to take back if he didn’t need to.”

Forevamo, a Florida-bred half-brother to champion sprint filly Musical Romance, has been working well toward his next big test. On Mar. 20, he zipped a half-mile in 48.40 – a quick time for Fair Grounds’ main track in the morning – exactly one week after working the same drill a full second slower.

“He looks wonderful,” Stall beamed. “The horse is taking us here and that is the best way to get to these kind of races. This horse has been a developing-type horse and seems to be getting better and better.”




A notoriously fickle game, horseracing easily forgets one after a bad effort – even if it was a matter of weeks after a nearly show-stopping one. Ten weeks ago on Jan. 16, G M B Racing’s Tom’s Ready looked home free at the top of the long Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots stretch after making an eye-catching move to take the lead, only to ultimately be passed and consequently overshadowed once again by his compatriot of common ownership, Tom Amoss-trained Mo Tom.

It was the second time in their careers that the Benson Family-owned duo had gone tête-à-tête down the stretch – with the first being in the $80,000 Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 1 – and it reached an eerily similar result with Mo Tom clearing. The two colts whose owners control the fates of the New Orleans Saints landed on separate sides of the playing field next out in the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 20. While Mo Tom suffered a rough trip and rallied belatedly to get third, Tom’s Ready never appeared comfortable and stayed in contention until the top of the stretch where he was distanced and finished seventh of 11, beaten 13 lengths. Still, Stewart remains vehement that we have not seen the best of the son of More Than Ready.

“He’s doing well and he’s had a great few weeks,” Stewart said. “He’s a hard trying horse who has had some good works and is handling it well. He had a strong half and a really nice three quarters to follow that up and his weight is good. His feet and general health are excellent, too.

“What has helped him is that I switched up his training,” Stewart continued. “I was taking him out around 6 a.m. before, but I decided to start taking him out later where there was more cushion to the track and he fell right into it nicely. He’s a cool horse who just lies down and takes a nap before he goes out there and does what he’s supposed to do. It’s the first time for basically all of them going a mile and an eighth and I think he’ll handle it. I think the pace will play a little slower and I’m happy with the post. (Jockey) Brian (Hernandez, Jr.) has won on him and knows him. We’re ready.”



Five weeks after his high-profile pupil Airoforce failed as the favorite in the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star, top trainer Mark Casse returns to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for the Grade II $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby unbothered by that disappointment. Smartly switching his approach, the Florida- and Arkansas-based conditioner brings in Conquest Stables’ Conquest Windycity, an unknown quantity with two victories from just four starts who shipped in early and got a work over the New Orleans oval on Sunday, Mar. 20, negotiating a half-mile in a spritely 48.80.

“He went really good and I thought it would be nice to get a breeze over the track,” Casse explained. “He worked well and we’re just trying to see how good he is right now. He’s got to step up his game and we’re hoping he can. The distance should suit him – there are no questions about that. If there was a prep race at a mile and a quarter, that’s where I’d run him. The farther the better.”

Unlike his aforementioned John C. Oxley-owned multiple graded stakes-winning stablemate, Conquest Windycity has a lot to prove with being just an allowance winner going up against multiple stakes winners in Louisiana’s premier racing event. Luckily though, unlike Airoforce, there are no questions as to whether the dark bay son of to dirt stud Tiznow will enjoy the main track. Out of a full-sister to Grade II-winning juvenile Jump Start, the $800,000 sale purchase has come to hand well in his last two starts, winning both and defeating Grade I-placed Rated R Superstar in his last effort.



Other than the loss of John C. Oxley’s post-time favorite Airoforce, the most significant disappointment in the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes was the performance of Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Uncle Walter. Trained by Mike Maker, the son of Uncle Mo was sent to post at 8-1 and keyed by as one of the major players on the strength of his game third-place finish in just his third lifetime start in the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes five weeks prior. Instead, the bay colt was wide on the turns and then quickly backed up at the three-eighths-pole before finishing last, beaten 41½ lengths in last of 11. He returns from his Gulfstream Park base for another crack at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots Saturday for the Grade II $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby.

“He had a little bit of a breathing issue,” Maker said. “Hopefully it’s gone now. He’s a strong work horse and he had a good work the other day, so that seems to be behind him. There’s nothing out of character with him right now and the breathing problem seems to be taken care of with a change of equipment and some treatment.”

Maker, who has won the last two Louisiana Derbies with Ramsey color-bearers Vicar’s In Trouble and International Star, expects a different race from the compact maternal grandson of Unbridled’s Song. In that, he is also making what could be a key equipment change, as well as replacing Javier Castellano with locally based jockey Robby Albarado. He breaks from post eight of 11 and has been assigned morning-line odds of 20-1.

“I’d like to see him fourth or fifth somewhere in there,” Maker continued. “We’re going to add blinkers, which might put him in the race a little more.”




The sweetly named Adore will hope to gain the adoration of the Fair Grounds fans the way she has that of Oaklawn Park when the improving chestnut daughter of Big Brown ships in for 2014 Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks-winning owner Winchell Thoroughbreds and trainer Steve Asmussen. Adore signaled her readiness with a bullet five furlongs on Mar. 14 over the local strip in 1:00.60 and gets Julien Leparoux in the saddle.

“Timing of the Fair Grounds Oaks works very well or her,” Asmussen explained. “I like the spacing. She’s a filly who has progressed significantly in her three-race career and obviously it’s a tough spot for her, but I think she will run well.”

A winner at second asking when trying two turns for the first time, she improved 10 Beyer Speed Figure points from a 58 running fourth on debut to 68 winning by 1¾ lengths. She jumped up again on the scale five weeks ago on Feb. 21 in a first-level allowance/optional claiming event at the Fair Grounds Oaks’ 1 1/16-miles trip and was a strong winner by four lengths, earning a 79 Beyer – two points higher than Rosemont Farm’s Venus Valentine earned winning the Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes a day prior in New Orleans.

Inbred to the Claiborne mare Edge, a daughter of Damascus who begat both Big Brown’s sire Boundary and her multiple stakes-producing third dam Eaves, Adore is bred to improve with age and distance and such has been on display as she prepares for her toughest test.



Though Charles Fipke’s homebred 3-year-old filly Northwest Tale has not been a disappointment, the two-time winner from five career starts has yet to show her stamina the way trainer Dallas Stewart would prefer. A Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots-based daughter of Wood Memorial winner Tale of Ekati and maternal granddaughter of the great Kentucky Derby-winning champion filly Winning Colors will get one more shot at two turns in Saturday’s  before one-turn contingency plans are embraced by her connections.

“Right now she has good energy and is training well,” Stewart said. “I’m not sure why she hasn’t stretched out, but I think she deserves another shot. She’s trained well here all winter and put in a lot of miles. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll look at one-turn races like the Eight Belles and Acorn.”

Last out, a race after a lackluster fifth – beaten 11¼ lengths in the mile and 70-yard Listed $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes – she was impressive when taking a six-furlong allowance over Larry Jones’ well-regarded Sapphire Seas. In Saturday’s Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, she picks up reigning national champion jockey Javier Castellano and breaks from the rail.

“She’s fitter now and I think she’s ready,” Stewart said. “I spoke to Javier and we will get her up into the race a little. She’ll be forward.”




The second act of Steve Asmussen-trained Stageplay’s sophomore season did not turn out to script, as the Mike G. Rutherford homebred floundered in the Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes as the 3-5 favorite at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. On Saturday, the good-looking gray daughter of Curlin returns for another crack at the 1 1/16-miles trip at which she has lost twice in as many attempts, including a runner-up effort three back in the Grade II $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs.

“I’m going to try and draw a line through the Rachel Alexandra,” Asmussen said. “I waited until I trained her back (after the race) to see if we would run her (in the Fair Grounds Oaks). We worked her a couple of times and I think that maybe that was just a bad day for her. I feel like we’re back on track with her and (jockey) Florent (Geroux) is confident in her.”

Established as the morning-line favorite at 5-2, Stageplay must contend with familiar New Orleans-based foes as well as a few new faces from California, including Grade I winner Street Fancy and multiple Grade I-placed and certified Songbird chaser Land Over Sea, who is expected to vie for favoritism with the Kentucky-bred.

The only two-time stakes winner in the lineup, Stageplay owns the co-highest Beyer Speed Figure of 88 with Land Over Sea, a number she earned on debut when taking 6½-furlong Keeneland maiden special weight last fall. Being out a mare by a top sprinter and having tired last out have given rise to doubts about her pedigree, despite her decisive win in the Listed $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes two back on Jan. 16.




William S. Farish’s Eagle has been a picture of consistency in recent months for trainer Neil Howard. A son of Candy Ride who has been first or second in his last five races and in eight of 11 career starts, the attractive and compact chestnut will try to prove that he has what it takes to be a graded stakes winner in Saturday’s Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

Based locally, the homebred has been training forwardly for his rematch with Gallant Stable’s Majestic Harbor – a stalwart 8-year-old who outfought Eagle last out in the Grade III $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap – as well as his reacquainting with two-back conqueror, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Mike Maker-trained International Star.

Still, confidence does not lack in his supporters, as the five-time winner and minor stakes victor has been established as the 2-1 morning-line favorite, despite his outside 10-post. Javier Castellano, the regular rider for Farish’s 2015 champion older horse Honor Code, picks up the mount from Brian Hernandez, Jr., who was aboard for his first 11 starts.

“All indications say that you never know until they do it, but I think he will like running a mile and an eighth (for the first time),” Howard said. “I’m thinking with his pedigree and running style, I wouldn’t see it as a problem. We won’t do anything than we have been doing with him. He always runs hard at the end and is versatile with his style. You can place him where you want him. We’ll wait and see and I’ll let Javier make those decisions.

“He really looked great breezing,” Howard continued. “He’s put on a little weight since the Mineshaft and I can definitely see where he’s held his flesh beautifully.”



With a  50-cent minimum bet, Saturday offers three Pick-4 sequences at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Starting in the seventh race (3:23 p.m. Central Time), the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap kicks off an all stakes – all four Grade II events – sequence that proceeds to the Grade II $300,000 Muniz Memorial Handicap on the Stall-Wilson turf course (Race 8), Grade II $400,000 TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (Race 9) – the top national Kentucky Oaks prep of the last decade – and ends with the meet centerpiece, the Grade II $1,000,000 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby.


Michael Adolphson | @AdolphsonRacing