Gigante and Northern Invader Move Rivalry Back to the Turf in Saturday’s Woodchopper

Contact: Kevin Kilroy
Publicity Specialist
[email protected]
  • Watch This Birdie Gets Morning Line Nod Over Tufani In Overdrawn Pago Hop 

New Orleans, La (Dec. 28, 2023) – With four stakes victories to his name, the versatile Gigante enters the $100,000 Woodchopper with the proven upper hand over his main rival Northern Invader, having beaten that foe in two common races. With the portable rails at 9 feet on the Stall-Wilson turf course at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, a full field of twelve 3-year-olds males will contest the 39th running of the Woodchopper going about one mile.

The Woodchopper is scheduled to go off at 3:45 p.m. (all times Central) as the seventh race on the Dec. 30 program. Post time on Saturday is 12:45 p.m. for the ten-race card, which includes the $100,000 Pago Hop, the female equivalent of the Woodchopper.

Iapetus Racing and Diamond T Racing’s Gigante began his career utilizing his natural speed to get the jump on foes, winning both the Kitten’s Joy at Colonial Downs as a freshman and the Caesars at Horseshoe Indianapolis in front-running fashion. On August 12 in the Secretariat (G2) he demonstrated his tactical versatility circling the field to beat the likes of Nagirroc, Silver Knott and Woodchopper-foe Northern Invader. Last out in the Commonwealth at Churchill Downs, he stalked the leading trio and took over coming for home, earning his second win on a fast main track, his second win over Northern Invader, and his first win donning blinkers.

Drawing post 4, Gigante will receive the services of jockey Edgar Morales. If the 3-1 morning line favorite is able to hold serve it would be Asmussen’s third Woodchopper title, having saddled back-to-back victors in 2007 and 2008 with Inca King and Jimmy Simms.

Lightly-race and ultra-consistent, West Point Thoroughbreds and David Ingordo’s Ontario-bred Northern Invader’s six-race resume includes two wins, three seconds, and a troubled-trip fifth in the Secretariat (G2) where he was backed to favoritism. When winning the Gio Ponti at Aqueduct in October, the Collected colt trained by Cherie DeVaux fought for the lead and took command after the first call before turning back a formful Shug McCaughey horse in Ohana Honor.

“It’s not that he needs the lead if there is speed in front of him,” DeVaux said. “He’s a big horse with a big stride, so it will just depend on the pace scenario in front of him where he ends up.”

Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. will climb aboard Northern Invader for the first time to break from post 7. Together, DeVaux and Hernandez have won four races from seven entries this meet. 

If Wayne Davis’ Deccan Prince breaks well, he’ll be the one to catch. Trained by the current meet-leading conditioner Shane Wilson, all three wins by the Kingman colt have come on the turf at the Woodchopper’s mile distance. And each victory came in front-running fashion. 

“He’s a hard-headed horse that doesn’t want to be rated, doesn’t want to be wrestled with,” Wilson said. “I rode some other guys and kept telling them to let him have his head, he’s going to go fast, but he’ll keep going, just let him go. They kept trying to get him back, and he’d throw his head up in the air and fight him. When Jose (Guerrero) came back from his collarbone fracture and he was able to ride him the last weekend of the meet here last year, I told him when they break just throw the reins at him, leave him alone, let him do his thing, and he went out there and won.”

Last out going 1 1/16 miles, Deccan Prince did his running on the lead before being caught and encountering trouble in the homestretch to finish fourth at 32-1.

“In his last race he faced older horses,” Wilson said. “We were always looking at the Woodchopper to get him in against straight 3-year-olds. It’s a competitive race, but they’re going to have to run him down to win it.”

Slotting into the gates in post 3, Deccan Prince will be accompanied by the current meet-leading rider, Jose Guerrero.

Al and Bill Ulwelling’s Velocitor, a two-time stakes winner, will enter for trainer Gary Scherer in hopes that his synthetic form established at Woodbine translates to the Stall-Wilson turf course. Tabbed at 8-1 in the morning line, David Cohen gets the call as Scherer looks to continue his success having won five from 21 starts so far this meet.

Here is the complete field for the Woodchopper from the rail out (with jockey, trainer and morning line odds): 1. Velocitor (David Cohen, Gary Scherer, 8/1); 2 Winters Lion (Jamie Torres, Joe Sharp, 8/1); 3 Deccan Prince (Jose Guerrero, Shane Wilson, 10/1); 4 Gigante (Edgar Morales, Steve Asmussen, 3/1); 5 Desert Duke (Mitchell Murrill, Chris Hartman, 5/1); 6 Mor Victory (Jareth Loveberry, Jayde Gelner, 20/1); 7 Northern Invader (Brian Hernandez Jr., Cherie DeVaux, 7/2); 8 Dapper Dude (Marcelino Pedroza Jr., Eduardo Rodriguez, 20/1); 9 Gluckstadt (Emanuel Nieves, Juan Sanchez, 30/1); 10 Point Proven (Corey Lanerie, Alice Cohn, 12/1); 11 Machine Gun Man (Rey Gutierrez, Juan Sanchez, 20/1); 12 Cash Fever (Kevin Roman, Tanner Tracy, 15/1).

      Watch This Birdie Gets Morning Line Nod Over Tufani in Overdrawn Pago Hop  

Both exiting impressive allowance wins and in search of their first stakes score, Watch This Birdie and Tufani rank as the respective top morning line contenders in the $100,000 Pago Hop. With fifteen 3-year-old fillies entered, 12 will draw in for what promises to be a contentious 40th running of the one-mile turf affair at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The portable rail will be set at 9 feet.

The Pao Hop is scheduled to go off at 4:45 p.m. as the ninth race on the Dec. 30 program. Post time on Saturday is 12:45 p.m. for the ten-race card, which includes the $100,000 Woodchopper, the male equivalent of the Woodchopper.

In a span of five races, Michael House’s Watch This Birdie has not finished out of the money since stretching out to two turns and moving to the turf for trainer Ignacio Correas IV. The daughter of Astern’s two allowance wins both came at Churchill Downs coming from off the pace.

Drawing post 4, the lukewarm 7-2 morning line favorite Watch This Bridie will be reunited with jockey James Graham who piloted her to a third-place finish in October at Keeneland.

Similar to her top rival, Susan Moulton’s Tufani has been stellar since stretching out. After her sprint debut, the daughter of Distorted Humor trained by Mike Stidham proceeded to break her maiden, beat first-level allowance ranks, then finish a game second just 3/4 lengths shy in the Brookmeade at Colonial Downs. 

“She’s always been one of those fillies that trains very well and gives us a good feel from the way she does things in the morning,” Stidham said. “We ran her for the first time short in New York and I think the distance was wrong for her, but then came back and she ran really well in her next start.”

In the Virginia Oaks, Tufani’s late turn of foot was rendered moot as Thirty Thou Kelvin wired the field on a day which saw front-running trips reign supreme. Last out in a second-level allowance at Fair Grounds, Tufani proved much the best to win by 2 3/4 lengths over a 13-filly field which included four foes who have gone on to try stakes company.

“Ben (Curtis) got her covered up and she really showed that gear that you’re looking for after tipping her out and getting her clear,” Stidham said. “I think we learned a little something about her in that race the other day that if you get her covered up, get her relaxed a little bit, she’s going to give you the gear, and that’s what we’re hoping for again.”

The Virginia-bred drew nicely for such a trip with post 3, and Ben Curtis keeps the mount on the 4-1 morning line second-choice.

Although it will be a class hike, Mueller Thoroughbred Stable’s Storm Bay looks ready to move forward. With three morning drills since finishing just over 2 lengths back in fifth last out at Fair Grounds, trainer Cherie DeVaux puts the blinkers on the Cross Traffic filly.

“She has been training well,” DeVaux said. “She didn’t get the most ideal trip last out. It’s against straight 3-year-olds and one of our goals with her is to get some black type, so (the Pago Hop) gives us the opportunity to get some of that for her.”

DeVaux calls upon Deshawn Parker to take the reins for the first time since Storm Bay’s debut at Horseshoe Indianapolis in May.

Here is the complete field for the Pago Hop from the rail out (with jockey, trainer and morning line odds): 1. Mo Bills (Jareth Lovebery, Mike Stidham, 10/1); 2. Spartan Queen (Colby Hernandez, Michelle Lovell, 8/1); 3. Tufani (Ben Curtis, Mike Stidham, 4/1); 4. Watch This Birdie (James Graham, Ignacio Correas IV, 7/2); 5. Musical Score (Marcelino Pedroza Jr., Brad Cox, 6/1); 6. Storm Bay (Deshawn Parker, Cherie DeVaux, 12/1); 7. Callie’s Grit (Jaime Torres, Joe Sharp, 12/1); 8. Ann Alee (Rey Gutierez, Michael Biehler, 12/1); 9. Financial Advice (Edgar Morales, Grant Forster, 20/1); 10. Kerry (David Cohen, Joe Sharp, 15/1);  11. Condensation (Corey Lanerie, Chris Hartman, 20/1); 12. Free Look (Florent Geroux, Brad Cox, 5/1); Also Eligible: 13. Secret Statement (Edgar Morales, James Baker, 12/1); 14. Batucada (Corey Lanerie, Brittany Russell, 12/1); 15. Fit and Famous (Kevin Roman, Tanner Tracy, 20/1).


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

Fair Grounds Turf & Sign