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Four Intriguing Supporting Stakes Round Out Road to the Derby Kickoff Day

Feel The Thunder Stable’s Gran Estreno, the $20,000 claim that keeps on giving, is expected to feel the thunder of Pin Oak Stable’s Strike Again next to him once again over the local Stall-Wilson turf course in Saturday’s Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap on Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

Gran Estreno, who finished second to Strike Again by three-quarters of a length here in the $60,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap Dec. 4, will be attempting to make amends for that defeat and has been installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite based on his consistent record over several years, but Strike Again has been pegged as a close second choice at 7-2 in Saturday’s Col. Bradley ’Cap, the second graded stakes offered in addition to the Grade III Lecomte Stakes for 3-year-olds that highlights the expanded 13-race program.

Because the Lecomte is the first leg of Fair Grounds’ three-race sophomore series that concludes with the $1 million Grade II Louisiana Derby March 26, that race for 3-year-olds with Triple Crown aspirations gets top billing, but the Col. Bradley, featuring the Gran Estreno, Strike Again and seven other older battle-scarred veterans of past turf wars, could be a far more contentious affair.

Four other stakes, to include the $100,000 Silverbulletday Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, the $60,000 Louisiana Handicap for older horses on the main track, the $60,000 F. W. Gaudin Memorial Stakes for older sprinters and the $60,000 Dr. A. B. Leggio Memorial Stakes for older female grass sprinters complete the stakes portion of the afternoon.

Capable of providing strong competition for Gran Estreno and Strike Again in the Col. Bradley are Cudney Stables and John Gunther’s Midnight Mischief, runner-up in Churchill’s Grade III River City Handicap and the 9-2 third choice in the morning line; Sam-Son Farm’s Red Strike (8-1), undefeated in two starts but third in the $60,000 Woodchopper here after stumbling badly at the start; David P. Holloway Racing’s Dubious Miss (8-1), winner of Keeneland’s Grade III Ben Ali Handicap last spring; Henry Pabst’s Joinem (8-1), clearly best in high level allowance company here Dec. 16; and Stacey Moak’s Southern Anthem (8-1), runner-up in Keeneland’s Grade III Sycamore Stakes last fall.

Team Block’s Amazing Results (10-1) and W. S. Farish’s Insider Tip (20-1) complete the Col. Bradley field.

APART LOOMS AS 8-5 FAVORITE IN $60,000 LOUISIANA HANDICAP – Adele Dilschneider’s Apart, hero of the Grade II Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in September and the Grade III Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill in November, looms a strong 8-5 choice in the morning line for Saturday’s $60,000 Louisiana Handicap, first leg of Fair Grounds three-race series for older horses that concludes with the Grade II New Orleans Handicap on Louisiana Derby Day March 26.

Garrett Gomez, Eclipse Award-winning jockey of 2009, will fly in from Southern California for the mount on the Al Stall Jr.-trained Apart, who is assigned 120 pounds in the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana ‘Cap.

Shouldering the top impost of 121 pounds in the Louisiana Handicap is Zayat Stables’ Z Humor, who will be ridden by jockey Shaun Bridgmohan and is conditioned by 2009 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen.  Z Humor is the 7-2 second choice in the morning line, won the $125,000 Delta Mile at Delta Downs last November and most recently was runner-up in Fair Grounds’ $60,000 Tenacious Handicap Dec. 18.

Third choice at 9-2 in Saturday’s main track affair for older horses is Jim Tafel’s Country Flavor, 119, who won the Tenacious Handicap by a neck and also captured last spring’s Grade III Hanshin Cup at Arlington Park.  Jockey Shane Sellers, aboard for the win in the Tenacious, returns in the irons aboard the Greg Geier trainee.

Completing the Louisiana Handicap field is Louie Roussel III and Ronnie Lamarque’s Recapturetheglory, 118, Jamie Theriot up; Richard Rudolph and Michael Vranich’s Royal Express, 116, Kerwin Clark; Preston Stables’ Flat Out, 118, Corey Lanerie; and Bonnie Heath Farm et al.’s Mad Flatter, 117, James Graham.

MAMBO GALLIANO, EARLY RETURN VIE IN GAUDIN MEMORIAL—Louie Roussel III’s Mambo Galliano, winner of Fair Grounds’ Thanksgiving Handicap, and Richard, Bertram and Elaine Klein’s Early Return, runner-up in the local Bonapaw Stakes, are the 7-5 and 8-5 choices respectively in Saturday’s $60,000 F. W. Gaudin Memorial Stakes for older horses at six furlongs.

Completing the field are Judson Streicher’s Le Grand Cru, Oliver Pierce’s Sweetsouthernmoon, and Debbie Davis’s Hawaiian Dream.

LEGGIO MEMORIAL GRASS DASH ATTRACTS 10 FILLIES AND MARES-Despite her name, Pop-A-Top’s Red Hot Buddha is only a lukewarm choice at 7-2 in the morning line for Saturday’s $60,000 Dr. A. B. Leggio Memorial Stakes for older fillies and mares at about 5 1/2-furlongs over the Stall-Wilson turf course.

Melnyk Racing Stables’ Mullins Beach (4-1), Team Valor International and Highfield Stock Farm’s Chantilly Nayla (9-2), and Coteau Grove Farms’ Lady Alexander (5-1) are also well regarded in what shapes up as a wide open wagering affair for members of the distaff set.

Completing the Leggio field is Ike and Dawn Thrash’s Wild About Marie, Branch Equine’s Bandora, Richard Davis’s Greeley’s Rocket, WinStar Farm’s Mimi’s Bling, Last Call Racing Partnership’s Mizzcan’tbewrong and L. T. B. and Miles Childers’ Sheer Beauty.