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Graham Cracks Top of Leader Board with Thursday Triple

Headlines for Friday, January 16, 2009

  • Graham Cracks Top of Leader Board with Thursday Triple
  • Emma-Jayne Wilson Planning March Return to Fair Grounds
  • ‘Cisco' to Ride Again This Season at Fair Grounds
  • Trainer Morris Nicks Remaining in New Orleans


Graham Cracks Top of Leader Board with Thursday Triple

NEW ORLEANS, La. -With three wins Thursday, Irish-born jockey James Graham moved into a tie for the lead in the rider standings heading into Friday. Who's the co-leader? Last year's leading rider, Jamie Theriot.

After finishing second to Theriot last winter in New Orleans, and second to Rene Douglas last summer at Arlington Park, is Graham focusing on the chance to win his first jockey title since arriving in the United States in 2001?

"It doesn't really matter," said Graham during training hours Friday morning.  "I just came here to ride because I love riding.  Where else in the world (but on the racetrack) could I get paid for doing something I love to do?  I'm having a good year, and I'm having a lot of fun."

Thursday's triple began in the fifth race astride Becky's Express for trainer Mike Stidham, continued in the ninth aboard Diamond Tycoon for high percentage conditioner Andrew McKeever, and concluded in the finale on Maus N Around for trainer Theo Journet.

Last Saturday, Graham tallied aboard Sam-Son Farms' French Beret for the second straight year in Fair Grounds' $100,000 Grade III Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap.  The $60,000 winner's share helped move Graham over the $1 million mark in local earnings this season, the only Fair Grounds rider to have achieved that feat at the current meet.

What does Graham think of the two-time Bradley winner trained by Mark Frostad?

"I love that horse," Graham said of French Beret.  "He's got a few quirks about him, but I've got a few quirks, too.  That's why we get along.  He wants to win, but he wants to do it his way.   You can't force him.  He would have won the (Grade II) Mervin Muniz last year here but he had traffic trouble.  Once he got clear he came running hard.  A couple of jumps past the wire we were in front."


Emma-Jayne Wilson Planning March Return to Fair Grounds 

Canadian jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, North America's Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey of 2005 and also the first and only female jockey to win Canada's Grade I Queen's Plate, plans to return to competition at Fair Grounds in March after taking most of the winter off at her home north of the border.

"Right now the plan is to come to Fair Grounds in March and maybe ride the last three weeks of the meeting," Wilson said Thursday.  "We plan to come down there to see some of our local Canadian horsemen racing in New Orleans.  It will be part of a kind of networking tour before we head back up to Woodbine for the Canadian season.

"I've been keeping myself busy with projects around my (Brampton, Ontario) home and also been keeping myself in shape physically," Wilson said.  "However, next week I'm going away to go skiing in British Columbia.  That should also keep me in shape."

When Wilson won the 2007 Queen's Plate, it was aboard Mike Fox, owned and bred by Morgan Firestone, who died Tuesday in Hamilton, Ontario, at the age of 78.

"I didn't know him extremely well, but we had a special kind of connection," Wilson said.  "He had been in racing a long time (racing graded stakes winners such as Shiny Keep, Jalaajel and Alexis) but he had never won a Queen's Plate.  That was his dream, and that was my dream, so I helped him achieve his goal and he helped me achieve mine.  That's why I felt I had a special connection to him.  In fact, it gives me chills just to think about it, now."


‘Cisco' To Ride Again This Season at Fair Grounds

Veteran jockey Francisco Torres, who led the Fair Grounds standings for a good portion of the current session before being sidelined by a broken collarbone and a broken left shoulder Jan. 8, updated his status moments after completing a visit to his New Orleans-based orthopedic surgeon Friday morning.

"I'll be out of action for four to six weeks," Torres said via cell phone after his doctor's visit. "I'm going to stay in New Orleans for awhile, and I plan to come back to Fair Grounds to finish the local season when I'm able to ride, but one of the things I want to do during my recovery period is to go to Mexico to visit my grandmother (Maria Torres).  She's an elderly lady now, and I want my fiancée (Joy Haddock) to meet her.

"Injuries are part of the game," said Torres about the sudden interruption of his exceptional Fair Grounds debut this winter. "You have to take them in stride.  It could have been a lot worse."


Trainer Morris Nicks Remaining in New Orleans

 Conditioner Morris Nicks, a longtime winter fixture in Hot Springs, Arkansas, will remain stabled at Fair Grounds this season despite the opening of Oaklawn Park Friday.

 "I stayed here in New Orleans all last year, too," Nicks said.  "I'm really starting to like it, now."

  Two seasons ago locally, although Oaklawn-based, Nicks saddled Roger Smith's Smitty's Sunshine to win the $100,000 Leggio Memorial as well as the $100,000 Bienville in the midst of that mare's six-race win streak which also included triumphs Churchill's $100,000 Mamzelle Stakes and Calder's $100,000 Distaff Turf Sprint Handicap.

 Nicks is currently enjoying a local season with high win and in-the-money percentages.

 Entering Friday's racing program, Nicks had saddled 12 winners from 51 starters, with four second-place finishes and eight thirds.

Among those was James Spence's Tensas Yucatan, bred by Sam Leake Jr., who won a state-bred allowance race here by nine lengths on Jan. 8.  The 5-year-old daughter of Ide out of a Dehere mare has earned $366,877 in her career.