It’s a New Orleans Thing: The Thanksgiving Classic is the Focus of City’s Funky 98-year Tradition
TEC Racing’s Heart Rhythm aims to do more than just win the Thanksgiving Classic: It’s CRPS Awareness Month
New Orleans, LA (November 21, 2022) – A new addition has been added to the horseracing fan’s bucket list – Thanksgiving Day at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. On Thursday, decked out in their Kentucky Derby finest but with the volume turned up to “Mardi Gras” decibels, locals young and old will descend on the horse track that has been integral to the city’s unique culture for 151 years.
Across the country on Thanksgiving, some families gather at Grandma’s house while others plan their day around football. Nearly every racing fan among them would trade places with one of the tens of thousands who celebrate the New Orleans tradition of dressing up, stepping out and seeing the horses run on Thanksgiving Day. New Orleanian songwriter Allen Touissant sang it best: “We’ve got our own kind of thing / It’s a New Orleans thing.”
The centerpiece of the celebration is when older sprinters line up in the gates for the 98th running of the $175,000 Thanksgiving Classic.
“It’s crazy,” New Orleans native and trainer of Thanksgiving Classic contender Carribean Caper Al Stall Jr. said. “They come out dressed in vintage clothing and homemade hats. To me that’s a very underreported phenomenon. I think a lot of the service industry people who are off that day have been at the center of it all. They’ve been coming out and pumping big time energy into that day. It’s also a homecoming for locals and horse people who had gone out of town. There are just a lot of factors that come into play to make it a special day.”
John Ortiz stables the morning line favorite in this year’s edition, Heart Rhythm. A newcomer to the barn, Ortiz claimed Heart Rhythm for $100,000 on behalf of owner Elliott Logan of TEC Racing this past September at Churchill Downs. In that race, he finished 6th behind foes he’ll face again in the Classic, Ready to Pounce and Surveillance.
“I think this horse will like the distance,” Ortiz said. “I think the long stretch at Fair Grounds will be good for him. His last race was 6 1/2 (furlongs) so I like that he’ll have a big kick cutting back in distance for that long stretch. We shipped him in right after the Keeneland race, I knew this is where I would go with him.”
Making his first start under Ortiz’ care, Heart Rhythm dazzled the Keeneland crowd winning a $140,000 Allowance, defeating Chattlaot, who he’ll face again in the Classic and inspiring his connections to aim for his first stakes victory. The barn’s go-to rider Rey Gutierrez will be aboard and hustling the Flat Out 4-year-old from gate one, looking to add to his impressive total of five opening weekend wins in 12 mounts. Gutierrez will don TEC Racing’s orange CRPS awareness month silks. Ortiz reports that owner Elliott Logan will be donating any winnings from the Classic, and all his horses’ races this month, to charity in hopes of finding a cure for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Logan’s daughter Taylor battles this race disease.
After missing races for various reasons throughout the year, Caribbean Caperr’s fitness will be tested. Facing males for the first time, so will her talent.
“For fillies to beat males, it takes talent,” Stall said. “For whatever reason, history tells you that fillies sprint pretty well against the boys. Safely Kept won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Meafara got nipped in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in Miami. Kimari was like 4-1 against the boys this past year. At short distances it seems like speed is speed.”
If she can return to her 2021 form, she could very well be the heir to last year’s winner Just Might’s Thanksgiving Classic crown. Caribbean Caper went a perfect five-for-five as a 3-year-old, but she has been kept off the track for most of her 4-year-old campaign, running just once and losing by 4 1/2 lengths to Fille d’Espirit on Aug 16 at Colonial Downs.
“Trying to find a race back for a horse who has no conditions is really, really tough,” Stall said. “We entered her all over and we couldn’t get a race to fill. I’m talking Horseshoe Indianapolis, Thistledown and Ellis Park. We ran her in that race at Colonial Downs and knew she would need it. Then we pointed to the TCA at Keeneland and everything was 100%. Woke up the morning of the race and she had a 102.1 fever. Nothing was wrong with her, so she got over that in no time at all.”
Starting from post six in this field of seven, she’ll get a chance to let the break unfold before Colby Hernandez decides to use her early or stalk near the lead. She is 4-1 on the morning line. Stall looks to win this race for the fourth time in the past seven years. Yockey’s Warrior won it twice in 2016 & 2017. Bobby’s Wicked One more recently in 2019.
Steve Asmussen has won the Classic six times, and his 3-year-old Bloom Racing Stable and David A Bernsen’s Chattalot will try to replicate his win across the track as a 2-year-old in the Sugar Bowl. The lone need-the-lead runner in the field, Chattalot will break from gate four under jockey Adam Beschizza. The 6-1 morning-line 3-year-old is a perfect two-for-two at Fair Grounds. Steve Asmussen’s entry would not only give him his seventh Classic, but also one more win towards 10,000. He has 9,944 as of Monday Nov 21.
New Orleanian Tom Amoss has won this race three times. BCWT Ltd’s Long Weekend is in his care, but with Amoss currently on suspension, Chris Richard takes over the training duties of in the interim. The son of Majesticperfection will likely be duking it out with Chattalot on the front end.
“Tom’s main concern for this horse is he wants him to break sharp,” assistant trainer Kinnon LaRose said. “When this horse breaks sharp and is on the front end or close to the front end that’s where he’s done his best running. That’s what we’ve been focusing on these last couple of weeks is getting his mind right and trying to get him to break sharp from the gate and be forward in the race.”
For just shy of a month, Long Weekend held the fastest 6-furlong time of Fair Grounds’ 2021 – 2022 meet. On that day in February he was able to get the early jump on the field and cruise through soft early fractions before emboldening down the stretch and emptying his tanks to run the final 2 furlongs in 23.64 seconds. He hasn’t been back to the winner’s circle since. Marcelino Pedroza Jr. will climb aboard after riding him at Horseshoe Indianapolis in his last two races. The seven-time winner drew post five and was made the second-favorite by Mike Diliberto at 7-2.
If there is a horse-for-the-course in the field, those honors would go to Big Chief Racing LLC Rocker O Ranch L’s Surveillance. Fair Grounds was the site of his spring 2022 coming-out party, going two-for-two on the main track along with a score sprinting on the turf. That accounts for all three of his career wins. After a string of five in-the-money finishes, this 5-year-old by Constitution ran 5th last out on Nov 16 in the Bet On Sunshine at Churchill. Trainer Keith Desourmeaux calls upon last year’s leading rider James Graham. Made 9-2 by Diliberto, Surveillance drew post three.
Lotthenbach Stable’s Ready to Pounce proved he belongs in stakes company after earning a 93 Brisnet Speed figure, his fastest, and finishing in second ahead of Surveillance and Heart Rhythm in Sept at Churchill. The More Than Ready 4-year-old is trained by Neil Pessin and will be ridden by Jareth Loveberry from gate two. He is 6-1 on the morning line.
Drawn to the far outside in gate seven, Richard Davis’ 3-year-old colt Simply Wicked enters the Classic after winning a conditional allowance event at Delta Downs on Oct 7. Stakes-placed as a 2-year-old, this son of Wicked Strong was able to run down Chattalot in a 5 furlong contest at Delta in February. Tabbed at 10-1, the Robertino Diodoro-trainee will be piloted by David Cohen.
On this day, you would not believe it if someone told you that horse racing didn’t hold the same spot in American hearts as it did throughout the first half of the 20th century. Whoever finds their way to the winner’s circle will be showered with cheers from a sea of Thanksgiving’s most stylish revelers.
Thanksgiving festivities begin early with a first post at noon CT. The Thanksgiving Classic is scheduled for 3:30 pm CT and it is programmed as race eight of the nine-race card.
TEC Racing’s Heart Rhythm is here to do more than win the Thanksgiving Classic: It’s CRPS Awareness Month
Trainer John Ortiz will be at Fair Grounds on Thanksgiving to watch the newest member of his barn run in the Thanksgiving Classic for one very special reason – Taylor Logan.
“I will be there because this race is pretty important for the owner’s family,” Ortiz said. Elliott Logan (of TEC Racing) has a daughter with CRPS, a rare disease she is battling, and November is the awareness month.”
Maybe you’ve noticed them at Woodbine or at Churchill. The orange and white silks with an orange ribbon that reads “TAL” at the top and “CPRS Fighter” on the sides. Taylor is the one who designed these silks, and the jockeys and trainers are racing for her, along with the 200,000 others across the U.S. affected by this rare disease with no cure, described as the most painful in the world.
“We’re gonna change the silks to the orange ones she designed, which is the recognition color,” Ortiz said. “We are going to run this race in her honor. It is a very painful disease she struggles with.”
Jockey Rey Gutierrez will don TEC Racing’s CRPS awareness silks in the Thanksgiving Classic.
“Whatever earnings he (Elliot Logan) makes this month he will be donating to the charity for fighting this disease,” Ortiz said. “That’s why it’s so important to win this race not just for the horse’s sake, not for the money’s sake, not for Thanksgiving’s sake, but to bring awareness so we can hopefully help find a cure. Horses can make people feel better. Sometimes we just focus on the wrong part of it, and I am glad that we have a story to share. That’s why it’s important for us to be down (at Fair Grounds).”
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 15 off-track betting parlors throughout Southeast Louisiana. The 151st Thoroughbred Racing Season – highlighted by the 110th running of the Louisiana Derby – will run from Nov 18, 2022 through March 26, 2023. More information is available online at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.