Home of the Louisiana Derby

Barn Notes: Sunday, November 20

·        Sunny Oak Shortens, Opens Up the Possibilities for Johnston

·        Quijote Aims to Continue Amoss Dominance of Thanksgiving

·        Mena Opens Up on Opening Day, Wins Four

·        Clearly Now Looks to Overcome Post in Thanksgiving

·        Work Tab

 

SUNNY OAK SHORTENS, OPENS UP THE POSSIBILITIES FOR JOHNSTON

Keith Plaisance’s Sunny Oak impressed Fair Grounds onlookers early Saturday evening when the Louisiana-bred daughter of Giant Oak cut back in trip from a series of route efforts to take the $50,000 Happy Ticket Stakes for trainer Eddie Johnston. The effort was the chestnut filly’s fifth consecutive in stakes company, resulting in her second win. In added-money efforts, the improving $42,000 Texas April 2015 Texas 2-year-old Sale grad has yet to finish off the board.

“We are very happy with her,” Johnston said. “Beating older horses yesterday, and I know (runner-up and multiple stakes winner) Smittys Cougar is a 3-year-old too, was nice. Every year around this time you get challenged with older horses and these younger horses improve and she seems to be blossoming. She’s the kind of filly where if you don’t train her every day she’s miserable and she’ll get cantankerous and let you know, but that means she’s a happy horse.”

Trying Sunny Oak was, by design, an attempt to avoid running against two other top Louisiana-bred fillies from the same connections, 4-year-old filly Pacific Pink - who runs in Sunday’s $50,000 Si Cima Stakes for older fillies going a mile and 70 yards - and Calamity Jane, a swift stakes-winning sprinter/miler whose best surface is the grass.

“The reason she went short is I didn’t want to run them against one another, so we hoped she would take to the shorter race, which would set us up for Louisiana Champion Day,” Johnston continued. “I’m blessed to know that she can go short, so I don’t have to run her against Pacific Pink, who is an older mare and is coming off a long layoff. Also there’s Calamity Jane, who I don’t know what we will do with her next, but her last work (a bullet  of 64 half-mile in 47.60 on Saturday morning) was very good. The track was tight because it was 6:00 a.m, but the rider said he didn’t really ask her. I may go to the Pago Hop with her, but I still have to nominate. We may give her an opportunity there and she doesn’t have much conditions left. It’s a good problem to have and I’m just glad all are doing well.”

Pacific Pink, granted she exits Sunday’s effort well, will point to a defense of the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies, while Sunny Oak will stay short in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Sprint on Dec. 10. 

QUIJOTE AIMS TO CONTINUE AMOSS DOMINANCE OF THANKSGIVING

Trainer Tom Amoss is respected in virtually any race he enters at Fair Grounds, but one race he has particularly dominated in recent years is the $75,000 Thanksgiving Handicap, a six-furlong Big Easy tradition that draws one of the biggest crowds of the season. Having won three of the last four editions, the New Orleans native sends out Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Quijote from post six of seven on Thursday. James Graham has the mount.

“It’s a pretty good race this year and a couple of the older horses in there are legit,” Amoss said. “Having said that, my horse deserves a chance. I think he’s a good 3-year-old and his comeback race at Keeneland last out was better than it looked on paper. This is the time of year when you have to be willing to go against older horses. He’s gotta prove he can do it, but I feel good about it.”

In eight starts, the son of Pomeroy owns a pair of victories - both at Fair Grounds - and has placed in a pair of stakes and a pair of allowances. Last out at Keeneland on Oct. 14, he ran a game race to finish second by 1½ lengths in a swift six-furlong sophomore allowance that stopped the clock in 1:10 1/5. The game effort was a welcome consolation after the Florida-bred had clipped heels and failed to finish the Grade II Amsterdam Stakes a race prior on July 30.

Amoss’ winners in the Thanksgiving include Delaunay (2012 and 2014) and last year with Control Stake, who was also a sophomore taking on his elders.

MENA OPENS UP ON OPENING DAY, WINS FOUR

While the 2016-17 meet is barely past conception, jockey Miguel Mena served notice on Opening Day that such could be a fruitful season for the Peruvian journeyman. Often near the top of the Fair Grounds rider standings at meet’s end, including a co-runner-up finish two seasons ago, Mena flexed his rolodex on Saturday, winning four races for four different trainers, including the $50,000 Happy Ticket Stakes with Keith Plaisance’s Eddie Johnston-trained Sunny Oak.

“It feels pretty good and it’s always great to start off the meet right,” Mena said. “It especially feels good to win for some good connections. Trainers like Al Stall (Jr.), Eddie (Johnston), Mike (Stidham) and (Howard) Alonzo all are good connections who win a lot of races at this meet. They have nice horses and they have nice Louisiana-breds too, and that is very important.”

Kicking off the season was also sweet for Mena, as he ended the 2015-16 meet with an injury that prevented him from attempting to win his second consecutive Louisiana Derby.

“Last year right at the end I got injured, so it gets me excited to start off well this year,” he concluded. “I’m looking forward to a safe and very good meet and right now I’m just looking for good opportunities.”

CLEARLY NOW LOOKS TO OVERCOME POST IN THANKSGIVING

For the fourth time in what will be five starts for trainer Ron Faucheux (since being privately purchased), Brittlyn Stable’s Clearly Now will break from the rail when he goes to post in Thursday’s traditional holiday sprint, the $75,000 Thanksgiving Handicap. To be ridden for the first time by Richard Eramia, subbing for injured Jose Valdivia, Jr., the 6-year-old nearly black 120-pound highweight will seek victory number eight in what will be his 27th career start. He is unraced since finishing eighth in the Grade III Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland on Apr. 9.

“He’s coming in really good,” Faucheux said. “I don’t think the layoff will be a problem and I think he’ll run his race. My biggest concern is he always seems to draw the one-hole, which isn’t good, but he’s won out of it before. Richard has worked him before, so we’ll just try to break clean and find a good spot. He’s a smart rider.”

Last season, the multiple graded stakes-winning horse was third to Tom Amoss-trained Control Stake from the same post as the 4-5 favorite. One race later, in a conditioned allowance event at the same trip, he was able to break from the rail, angle out and get clear sailing en route to a powerful stalk-and-pounce victory over that rival.

“It’ll set up well for us if the speed comes back for us,” Faucheux said. “He’s sound as can be and I’m hoping to have a good, strong 7-year-old campaign with him (in 2017). I don’t see him being retired any time soon.”

WORK TAB

Gary Barber’s graded stakes-winning turf and synthetic specialist mare Uchenna worked a half-mile in 49.40 for trainer Mark Casse. The Irish-bred daughter of Fastnet Rock won the Belle Mahone Stakes at Woodbine two back.

David Davis’ restricted stakes winner A M Milky Way blew out three furlongs toward his date with the $75,000 Thanksgiving Handicap on Thursday, negotiating the trip in 36 flat for trainer Karl Broberg.

Wes Hawley’s talented stakes-level campaigner Hawaakom worked a half-mile in 50.80 for his owner-trainer.

Stakes-placed sophomore filly One Last Shot worked a smart half-mile in 48.20 - good for third-best of 84 - for Speedway Stable. Previously with Bob Baffert and now in the care of Mike Stidham, the daughter of Any Given Saturday was second in last year’s Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf and is unraced since the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita in early January.