Barn Tour: After a Banner Year, Mike Stidham Talks 2024
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Kevin Kilroy
New Orleans, La (Jan. 1, 2024) – On Saturday, Dec. 30, trainer Mike Stidham saddled Tufani, the $100,000 Pago Hop victress at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. It was his fourth-time winning that event. A fitting end to what has been another big year for Stidham Racing.
In his 34th year as a trainer, Stidham surpassed his high-water mark for North American earnings to reach $5,098,073 in 2023. A big part of that success was Godolphin’s Proxy, who capped off a sensational career with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) to go along with his two graded stakes victories in 2023.
On Jan. 1, Godolphin’s Heckled won Race 8 at Fair Grounds, breaking her maiden for Stidham by open turf-lengths, and possibly setting the tone for what could be a thrilling year.
What does Stidham have in store for 2024? Stidham’s barn at Fair Grounds includes two very exciting newly-turned 3-year-olds in Track Phantom and Central Avenue, along with a slew of talented turf horses readying for an afternoon appearance. Stidham provided an update on some of his top horses.
With a third-place finish in the Golden Rod (G2) on Churchill Downs’ Stars of Tomorrow II card and a second-place finish in October’s Frizette (G1), Godolphin’s Central Avenue could be a major player in the 3-year-old filly division in 2024.
“She’s been working well at Fair Grounds. We’re looking at her for the preps that lead to the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), so we’ll see.”
In her sixth local drill, the daughter of Street Sense breezed a swift :47.80 half-mile on New Year’s Eve, going second fastest of 82.
After an impressive second-place finish when sprinting on debut, Pin Oak Stud’s Phantom Speed stretched out on the Road to the Derby Kickoff Day undercard and finished third. The Arrogate colt ran well but was beaten by Ethan Energy, trained by Brad Cox.
“I expected a little bit better, but the Cox horse looks like something special. (Phantom Speed) is a big, heavy colt. Certainly he’s going to benefit from the race and improve physically and mentally from that run. That came up a very solid maiden race. Anytime you’ve got a well-bred $700,000 yearling that comes out and runs a big race like he did the first time out you begin thinking along the lines (of derbies), but we’re a long way out from thinking that high.”
At 9-4-1-1 with $369,849 in career earnings, Susan and John Moore’s Catnip won the Monmouth Cup (G3) in June of 2023.
“He’s really doing well. Training very well. We’re happy with him. We’re waiting to see if we get an invitation to the Pegasus Turf. If that happens, we’ll probably go there. If it doesn’t happen then we’ll definitely be looking at the Colonel Bradley.”
The $100,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley is an older turf route scheduled to be run on the Jan. 20 Road to the Derby Day. Stidham won the 2011 edition with Optimizer.
With her second win at the 2023-2024 meet, the Godolphin filly has proven she fits against stakes caliber fillies. Having not debuted until April of 2023, with the Pago Hop Tufani’s record is 7-4-1-0.
“(Tufani) has always shown us a lot of talent since we first got her,” Stidham said. “She’s developed. She’s learned to relax. I think the arrow is pointing up for her. Ben (Curtis) has done a great job with getting her to settle and come running like that. I’m very pleased with what he’s done for us.”
On Dec. 27 Nelson Avenue posted his first workout since finishing third in a Dec. 10 allowance at Fair Grounds. The two-time winning 5-year-old by Into Mischief breezed 4 furlongs in 48.80, ranking sixteenth fastest of 52 at that distance.
“He’s doing well. We’re looking to try Nelson in a turf race for his next start. There’s a turf allowance on (January) the 20th we’re looking at for him.”
“We’ve always liked Maycocks Bay. He’s another one we’re going to try on the grass. He’s out of a filly named Hallie Belle that we raced and she was a stakes winner on turf. His next start will be on the grass.”
Godolphin’s Maycocks Bay is entered in a turf route allowance at Fair Grounds on Jan. 7, 2024. His dam Hallie Belle won the 2017 Pago Hop.
After two fourth-place finishes this fall, Godolphin’s newly-turned 3-year-old Mill Street ran again to break his maiden on Nov. 25 at Fair Grounds. Bet to 4-1 against a field of 14, the Medaglia d’Oro gelding finished tenth.
“We’ve liked Mill Street from early on. We were disappointed in his last race for sure. At Colonial and Keeneland both of his races were looking like he just needed a little bit more distance. That he could sit back and make a decent run,. Then the other day he was kinda flat at the end. We do still like him. We’re just looking for him to put it together. He’s always impressed us as being a better 3-year-old than a 2-year-old so we’ll see what happens with him.”
Sweet Miss Maggie:
Similar to her half sibling Chop Chop, who ran second in the Alcibiades (G1), Sweet Miss Maggie debuted on turf on New Year’s Eve. Finishing near the back, the Omaha Beach filly showed her readiness to get into the race through the first two calls before fading.
“Her family indicates that the grass should help her. Her dirt works have not been spectacular but they’ve been solid. We’re thinking that the grass will help her do well in the afternoon, so that’s why started her in that spot.”
On Jan. 1, Godolphin’s Heckled won Race 8 at Fair Grounds, breaking her maiden for Stidham by open turf-lengths. Godolphin’s 4-year-old Hard Spun filly debuted in third at Fair Grounds last winter and had since finished second four times for an 8-0-4-1 record.
“She’s had some tough beats. Second four times in a row this summer. Keeneland she was fourth, only beaten two lengths. She’s very capable of still being a decent filly.”
A recently turned 3-year-old Louisiana-bred, Benji Star has caught Stidham’s eye. The son of Upstart out of the Posse mare Skye High has posted two recent gate workouts, and on Dec. 27 went 5 furlongs from the gate in a nice 1:01.20, eighth best of 30 on the day.
“He’ll be making his first start soon. He’s a La-bred we’re impressed with, and I don’t usually have a lot of La-breds. When we’ve had opportunities with Louisiana-breds, we’ve done okay with them. We had a horse named Jockamo’s Song for Dare To Dream that won a few of the Louisiana-bred stakes (including the 2015 Louisiana Champions Day Sprint and the 2016 Costa Rising).”
About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, one of the nation’s oldest racetracks, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, LA, Fair Grounds, which is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN), also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 16 off-track betting parlors throughout Southeast Louisiana. The 152nd Thoroughbred Racing Season–highlighted by the 111th running of the Louisiana Derby–will run from Nov. 17, 2023 through March 24, 2024. More information is available online at www.fgno.com.