Barn Tour: Handal Readies Turf Talent for His First Fair Grounds Meet

Contact: Kevin Kilroy
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New Orleans, La (Nov. 14, 2023) – Three NYRA-based trainers will be sending a string to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for the winter. Raymond Handal, Robert Falcone Jr., and Rob Atras each have been allotted just shy of one dozen stalls for the 2023 – 2024 meet. Eyeing the Stall-Wilson turf course, Handal has a cadre of grass horses ready to lead the barn to the winner’s circle, as well as designs on being active at the claiming box. 

“About half of the horses I am bringing down are going to be my nice grass horses,” Handal said. “I’m bringing a filly called Union Dolly who’s been running second or third in a (first-level allowance) up here. I just won a maiden special with a horse I claimed off Brad Cox for $75,000, Catskills Humor. She just won second off the claim and she’s headed (to Fair Grounds).”

Last year Handal sent a few to Gulfstream Park; the year before, Turfway Park. 

“I’ll be bringing Elle Est Forte, who I claimed from Ian Wilkes,” Handal said. “She’s going to be running at the higher level. Then I have a nice two-year-old by Constitution (Hamilton’s Way), who has been running in the Maiden Special Weight on the grass.”

Ray Handal’s success reached new heights in 2023 when in April Promiseher America came flying late at Aqueduct in the Gazelle (G3), earning her a spot in Kentucky Oaks 149. Handal’s first graded stakes victory.

“Recently, I’ve been more focused on getting the big horse and buying babies,” Handal said. “At Fair Grounds, along with the grass horses, I’ll get back to my old roots a little bit. I’ll have some lower-level claiming horses to keep us busy playing the claiming game. I like claiming. It’s how I made my name in the game. I think we’ll have a lot of fun down there.”

Nine years ago Handal began with two horses based out of Aqueduct. Now 40-head strong, the majority of Handal’s barn will remain in Queens.

“I’ve tried (sending a winter string) everywhere else so I figured I might as well give Fair Grounds a whirl,” Handal said. “I feel like I’m trying to find my niche somewhere. I like the track, the facility. It seems like a good surface.”

Though Handal has never entered at Fair Grounds, he did spend a meet galloping for Neil Howard, a Fair Grounds Racing Hall of Fame trainer who still keeps a local stall.

“A hundred years ago I worked a winter (at Fair Grounds) galloping for Neil Howard,” Handal said. “I was 21 or 22. Papa Neil. I go way back with Neil. When I was a little kid running around the racetrack, I was helping him, hanging around his barn when I was like 12-years-old at Gulfstream.”

With a lifetime win percentage of 16% through nine years training, Handal’s career has all the signs of going in the right direction. Each year, except in 2022, he has earned more than the last and coming into the 152nd season of racing at Fair Grounds, Handal is positioned to do it again. 

“We’ll be pretty active,” Handal said. “We’ll have more runners than you’d think for someone who has ten stalls. I’ll get some Louisiana-breds. I am going to be claiming in the cheaper $5,000 to $10,000. range to have action. Hopefully you’ll be hearing our name a bit.”

A new pilot in Fair Grounds jockey colony will be getting the call from Handal. 

“I’m going to be using Jaime Torres,” Handal said. “He’s from New York. He was breezing horses up here for me, and helped me a lot. He’s a really good kid.”

In a little over a year’s time, Torres has already won 100 races, mostly across the NYRA circuit, but recently he has been based out of Kentucky.

“I have two other cheaper horses and I am going to buy another here off somebody,” Handal said. “Those we’ll be placing pretty aggressively right off the bat. Running right at the bottom. I’ll be claiming right away and I’ll be looking to place whatever I claim pretty aggressively, even if I love them.”

Over the past five years, Handal has won with 15% first race after the claim. That win percentage jumps to 24% with runners making their second start for the barn. 

“Nowadays I’m doing a lot more higher-end claiming, so we usually give them a shot or two (before dropping in class),” Handal said. “Usually I claim them and figure them out, then second time off the claim is when I have them in the system a lot longer and know them a lot better. I’m not afraid if we claim, drop and lose them if we get the W.”


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

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