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Stakes Recaps: Pago Hop, Woodchopper, Pan Zareta & LA Futurities

Richard Klein and Bertram Klein’s Believe in Bertie backed up her morning-line favoritism and popped the cork on her connections’ New Year’s Eve celebration with a track record-setting performance in the 33rd running of the $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

Ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan for current meet-leading trainer Brad Cox, the 3-year-old daughter of Langfuhr was dominant throughout, leading through fractions of 24.01, 47.27 and 1:10.85 for six furlongs. With 8½ lengths to spare and her pilot motionless in the stretch, she maintained powerfully through a final quarter-mile in 23.37 to win the about one-mile event on the Stall-Wilson turf course by 7¾ lengths in 1:34.22, breaking the record of 1:34.51 set by 6-year-old campaigner Paroled in 2015.

A Louisiana-bred, Believe in Bertie ($5, $3.40 and $2.80) won for the fourth time in nine starts and annexed her second career stakes event and first in open company, earning a state-bred bonus-inflated $62,640 to increase her career bankroll to $271,522. She is the first foal out of unraced Street Cry (IRE) mare Saint Bertie and a granddaughter of four-time graded stakes-winning mare Allamerican Bertie, runner-up by less than a length in 2002’s Grade I Alabama Stakes.

“She’s got such a high cruising speed, so I just wanted to stay out of her way and be a good passenger,” Bridgmohan said. “She was doing it so easily. I never even had to pull the stick on her.”

“She went out fast and kept going fast. She came home 11 and change and looked great,” Cox added. “She’s the kind who likes to get into a rhythm and carry her speed and she’s super-talented; as talented as any horse in the barn.”

Chasing throughout and holding on for second was Jordan V. Wycoff’s Mike Maker-trained two-time stakes winner Gianna’s Dream ($4.20 and $4) under the meet’s current leading rider, Florent Geroux. A nose behind her was Wayne R. Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s Joe Sharp-trained longshotFrozen Hannah ($9.80 to show) under Gabriel Saez.

“I had a good trip and was trying to get to the winner, but we were second-best today,” Geroux said. “The winner ran a huge race.”

Local stakes winner Princess Erindelle rallied from last to fourth, followed by Inconclusive, Most Beautiful (GB), Always Right, Ready for Chianti, Nobody’s Fault, La Peregrina, Motown Lady and School Board Prez to complete the order of finish.

Two races prior, the $75,000 Woodchopper Stakes for the boys over the same trip featured another gritty winning performance from Hillerich Racing and trainer Bernie Flint’s One Mean Man, who earned his fifth stakes victory of 2016 under the guidance of journeyman Robby Albarado when out-gutting Dare to Dream Stable’s pace-setting Mike Stidham trainee Tiznoble by a head. Sitting in third, a few lengths behind a comfortably clear leader in Tiznoble, the gray son of Mizzen Mast cut into that margin on the far turn and ran down his roan rival with the kind of determination that has become synonymous with his family tree, including multiple graded stakes-winning full-sister Mizz Money.

“He’s one of my favorite horses to ride,” Albarado said. “He’s very predictable in his works and was working well. In the races, when he’s in that position battling head-and-head, he doesn’t like to lose. He’s a fighter. He looks like a quarter horse and you never would think that he would be a two-turn horse, but he is. Bernie does a great job with him, especially considering he had a long year and ran some tough races.”

“He’s a good horse who has been good to me,” Flint added. “He doesn’t win by much, but he sure puts it on them at the end. He had a nice rest before this race and he’s back.”

One Mean Man ($8, $4 and $3.60) won for the seventh time in 18 starts and sixth in a dozen 2016 starts, earning $45,000 to increase his career bankroll to $464,597. Tiznoble ($8 and $5.20), who set fractions of 24.06, 48.33 and 1:12.96 under Mitchell Murrill, finished up a head to the good of Glockenburg LLC's Pavel Vaschenko-trainedCordon ($9.80) in third as the winner stopped the clock in 1:35.98, closing their final quarter in tandem in a remarkable 23.02.

“He broke well and ran a little quicker than I wanted to make the lead,” Murrill said. “I got him comfortable and tried to inch away around the turn. My horse ran his race. He just got outrun.”

Mav,Sir Dudley Digges,Zapperini, Hay Dakota and Ikerrin Road (IRE) completed the order of finish.

Kicking off the quintet of New Year’s Eve stakes was the $50,000 Pan Zareta Stakes over six furlongs on the main track for fillies and mares. Five D Thoroughbreds’ Kathballu ($3.60, $2.40 and $2.10) provided little drama as she collared her foes at the top of the stretch after fractions of 22.32 and 45.89 and skipped off to a comfortable 3½-length victory in 1:10.72 under Florent Geroux for trainer Ken McPeek. James M. Courtney’s Joe Sharp-trained Power of Snunner ($3.80 and $3) closed from last to finish 2¾ lengths ahead of Barry and Joni Butzow-owned stablemate Calypso Run ($4.20).

“I had a good trip,” Geroux said. “She’s a very nice filly and she put me in the right spot right away. Turning for home, she was grabbing the bit and wanting to do more so I just let her go.”

Pleasant Tales and Blip n’ Th Bye completed the order of finish.

Louisiana-bred juveniles had their last chance at stakes money in 2016 in sex-divided divisions of the Louisiana Futurities over six furlongs on the main track.

In the $100,800 fillies division, Rodney Virgadamo and Keith Bonura’s Mr. Al’s Gal broke sharply and was never headed in a runaway win. Trained by Justin Jeansonne, the daughter of Salute the Sarge was racing beyond five furlongs for the first time, but it mattered little as she quickly assumed command of the early pace under Richard Eramia, turned away an early challenge from longshot Star Guitarist through splits of 21.83 and 45.65, and finished full of run to stop the clock in 1:10.64 with a 12¾-length victory

. “She broke really sharp and we tried to relax,” Eramia said. “I didn’t know I was going that quick until after the race, because she didn’t feel like she was going that quick, and at the eighth-pole she took off again. She’s a nice filly and will have some good races later.”

Darlene and Mike Peterson’s Bret Calhoun-trained Princess Samurai settled in mid-pack under Miguel Mena before offering a modest rally to finish second, three-quarters of a length in front of Stacey Moak’s Al Stall Jr.-trained Quarter Carat, who saved ground inside under Florent Geroux but could not match strides late.

Mr. Al’s Gal won for the second time in three career starts, earned $60,480 to boost her career bankroll to $85,280 and returned $15, $7.80 and $5.20. Princess Samurai paid $5.60 and $4.40, and Quarter Carat returned $3.20.

Sharp Henny, Singing a Song, Foxy Miss, Actif Storm, Star Guitarist, Southern Gold and Hot and Ready completed the order of finish.

Two races later in the $100,000 colts and geldings division, Jeff Drown and Gary Scherer’s Jack Snipe’s overcame the widest draw when parlaying a good break into a perfect, pressing trip to score. Ridden by Donnie Meche for trainer Gary Scherer, the 8-5 wagering favorite prompted Tigerstorm through splits of 21.61 and 45.88 before edging clear into the stretch and turning away a challenge from Energy Solutions Consultants’ Eddie Johnston-trained Run Away Ralph and Robby Albarado to score by a neck at the wire in a final time of 1:11.68. It was another two lengths astern to Norman Stables’ Street Honor in third under Gabriel Saez for trainer Lonnie Briley.

“It was an awesome trip,” Meche said. “He’s such a great horse to ride, he does anything you want. We got in the gate and he was just waiting for it to open, so he broke well and that made the trip easy. He saw (Run Away Ralph) on the outside (in the stretch) and was never going to let that horse by.”

The son of Half Ours won for the third time in six career starts and earned $60,000 to increase his lifetime bankroll to $141,800. He returned $5.40, $3 and $2.80, with Run Away Ralph paying $8.80 and $6.20 and Street Honor returning $5.80.

Tigerstorm, Just Due, Charlie Ballado, Set Hut, First After Break, Il Est Vite, Tooth, Run Bayou, Pops Legacy and Armanno completed the running order.