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Giant Oak Gets Saturday Breeze - Startling Block Briefly

Headlines for Sunday, March 08, 2009

  • Giant Oak Gets Saturday Breeze - Startling Block Briefly
  • La. Derby Probable Free Country Breezes at Gulfstream
  • Proudinsky, Soldier's Dancer Poised as Starting Highweights in Muniz
  • Albarado Wins Four, Gets Out Of Town


Giant Oak Gets Saturday Breeze - Startling Block Briefly

NEW ORLEANS, La. - Louisiana Derby contender Giant Oak's Saturday breeze, clocked in 1:00.80 for five furlongs, was a routine move in advance of Fair Grounds' Grade II $600,000 showcase race Saturday.

However, just past the wire, trainer Chris Block's big horse bobbled briefly, giving the Illinois-based conditioner some moments of concern until he was able to check out his horse out back at the barn.

"I wasn't sure exactly what had happened there," said Block about an hour later after having gone over his horse with a fine tooth comb, "but I needed to find out real quick.

 "I asked James (jockey Graham who was aboard for the breeze and will ride Giant Oak in the Louisiana Derby) about it - and he said it was nothing.  He said the horse just hit some uneven ground.  Maybe it was from the tire tracks left over after the break."

With the brief scare behind him, Block was anxious to look at the upside of Giant Oak's move, accomplished in company with the Neil Pessin-trained You Dancing Devil.

"We got about what we were looking for," the trainer said.  "He worked as well as you could want.  We let the other horse get as far in front as we wanted, and James said ‘Oak' relaxed real well behind him.

"I feel real good about the owners' decision to let James ride him this time in the Louisiana Derby.  Although this will be the first time James has ridden him in a race, he's gotten to know this horse real well in the mornings, and they've always seemed to click together.  Also, James knows this track very well, and you always know you're going to get 110 percent from him any time he rides any horse for you."

Giant Oak, a Virginia Tarra Trust Illinois homebred, first attracted national attention when he finished second by a neck in Churchill Downs' Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Nov. 29.  However, in his first start as a 3-year-old in Fair Grounds Grade III Risen Star Stakes Feb. 7, the Giant's Causeway colt was blocked behind rivals most of the way and finished fifth after making up ground in the late stages.


La. Derby Probable Free Country Breezes at Gulfstream

Silver Wing Stable's Free Country got his final workout prior to the Louisiana Derby Sunday, breezing five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.20 at Gulfstream Park.

Louisiana native and regular rider Kent Desormeaux was aboard for the work, which was the fastest of 25 moves at the distance by four-fifths of a second.

 "Everything went good.  We're good to go," said Silver Wing principal John Gerbas Jr., who will send out his first Louisiana Derby starter.

 Free Country, who is trained by Ken McPeek, heads to the Louisiana Derby off a fourth-place finish as the favorite in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.  He won his first two starts, including a highly regarded first-level allowance race at Gulfstream in early January.

Free Country and the other Florida shippers for Saturday's Louisiana Derby Day presented by Budweiser are scheduled to arrive at Fair Grounds on Thursday.


Proudinsky, Soldier's Dancer Poised as Starting Highweights in Muniz

Johnanna Louise Glen-Tevern's Proudinsky, who will be attempting to become the first back-to-back winner of Fair Grounds' $500,000 Grade II Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap, will share the starting top impost of 119 pounds in Saturday' renewal.

Last year, the German-bred Proudinsky pressed the pace most of the way in New Orleans' premier event for older grass horses, took command from the favored Irish-bred Daytona in the final furlong and drew clear to tally by a length at the wire.

Proudinsky's win gave Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel his initial victory in the Muniz, named for Fair Grounds' longtime racing secretary. Frankel has captured each of Fair Grounds' four Grade II races in his career.

Also assigned in 119 pounds and also expected to start in the Muniz is Herman Heinlein's Soldier's Dancer, the late running gray 5-year-old who won the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf by a half-length at Santa Anita Jan. 24 as the public choice.  Previously the Franks Farm Florida-bred had missed by a nose when runner-up in Calder's Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap Dec. 6.

Incidentally, Midnight Cry Stable's Einstein, who won the 2007 renewal of the Muniz, proved clearly best in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap last Saturday over synthetic going.


Albarado Wins Four, Gets Out Of Town

Six-time Fair Grounds leading rider Robby Albarado won Friday's second race aboard William Reed's Delightedly, the third on Jake Morreale's Lightup The Shadow, the fifth astride Thoroughbred Partners' Eighteenthofmarch and the eighth on Stonestreet Stables' Heavenly Chorus before leaving for out of town engagements Saturday and Sunday.

Entering Sunday's program, Albarado enjoyed a one-win lead in the Fair Grounds jockey standings with 71 winners while 2007-08 leading rider Jamie Theriot increased his total to 70 wins after capturing Saturday's seventh aboard Horton Stable's Pleasant Song.

Both Albarado and Theriot are riding at Oaklawn Park Sunday. Albarado rides Chou Croute Handicap winner Smart Surprise and Theriot has the call on Truly Bound Handicap runner-up Bear Now in the Azeri.