Smile Happy Returns in The Louisiana, Where Saudi Crown is Ready and Waiting

Contact: Kevin Kilroy
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  • The Lecomte & Silverbulletday are the centerpieces, four stakes for older horses highlight the Road to the Derby Day undercard
  • “All Stakes” Late Pick Five – $250,000 Guaranteed Pool (LOW 15% takeout)

New Orleans, La (Jan 18, 2024) – Absent from racing since July’s Stephen Foster, Lucky Seven Stable’s Smile Happy will make his returns to the races in Saturday’s $175,000 Louisiana Stakes Presented by Relyne GI By Hagyard (G3) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Facing a field of seven older males going 1 1/16 miles, Smile Happy will have his work cut out for him, as FMQ Stable’s newly turned 4-year-old Saudi Crown earns the 8-5 morning line favoritism coming off a sensational campaign that earned him a spot in the 2023 Breeders’ Cup Classic.  

With a 5:30 p.m. post time (all times Central), the 78th running of The Louisiana is slated as race 12 on Saturday’s 13-race “Road to the Derby Day” card, which features the Lecomte (G3) and the Silverbulletday presented by Fasig-Tipton, both prep races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks that will award 20-10-6-4-2 qualifying points to the top-five finishers. First post is noon. 

With a big 2023 seemingly on the horizon for Smile Happy after his impressive win in the Alysheba (G2) at Churchill Downs, the narrative took a turn for the Ken McPeek trainee after his pre-race antics and pursuant fifth-place finish in the Stephen Foster. 

“He went through a period where he didn’t want to train, load in the gate, he was very difficult,” McPeek said. “The hardest thing is that he has a very strong will. He really likes training on the farm here in Florida and has had a really good series of works. We’ve been able to do some gate schooling. I run him with some trepidation because sometimes we don’t know how he’s going to act going to the gate. He’s very much an alpha and wants to do things his way. We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ve got him back to where we want him.”

Beginning on Nov. 4, the son of Run Happy has posted eight drills at Silverleaf Hills Training Center, McPeek’s facility in Ocala, Florida. Physically Smile Happy has been sound, but mentally he has been difficult to prepare for his races.

“Here at Silverleaf he can go out in the paddock, he can do a lot of different things,” McPeek said. “He has the same routine every day. As a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old, he never did anything wrong. He started some of this really last spring when we were getting him ready. He won in an allowance race at Oaklawn and then came to Kentucky after that. Even at Oaklawn last winter he went through a stage where he didn’t want to train in the right direction. He’d go the wrong way but he wouldn’t go the right way. I think it has to do with that he needs the same routine, and our goal is to keep Smile Happy happy.”

Three for three going 1 and 1/16th miles, the 5-year-old horse has raced locally once before, finishing second to Epicenter in the 2022 Risen Star (G2).

“When he’s racing, I’m not sure exactly what sets him off, but you just have to be careful with him,” McPeek said. “In some cases he can be a very difficult horse to handle.”

Drawing post 2, Smile Happy will be reunited with his Alysheba pilot, Brian Hernandez Jr.

Heading into the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 2023 Pennsylvania Derby winner Saudi Crown had never finished out of the exacta in five races for trainer Brad Cox. After pressing the pace through the opening three calls, he came up short of the 10 panels and finished tenth. 

“He’s somewhat lightly raced,” Cox said. “We’re still trying to develop him. Hopefully this is the next step. We hope he can perform well and everything goes well and we can turn our attention towards Saudi. We’re hoping that he will be a top horse this year.”

Saudi Crown is being pointed towards the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) on Feb. 24. First, the 4-year-old gifted with gate speed will be tasked with a pace scenario in the Louisiana that could be taxing, as Five Star General and Kupuna will also have interest in the early lead.

“I’m not treating it like he has to be on the lead,” Cox said. “He’s a smart horse. He’s capable of sitting off. When he broke his maiden, he sat off horses. I really don’t think he has to be on the lead. It probably will be a situation where he will have to take a breath at some point, you can’t just run all-out throughout.”

Drilling five furlongs in company with Nash on Jan. 13, Saudi was positioned behind the Lecomte-entrant throughout as the duo had to maneuver a crowded Saturday morning frontstretch.

“It didn’t quite set up as well as we expected.” Cox said. “There were other horses out there and we got caught up with a little more company than we wanted. I was very, very happy with the breeze. He was a little wide through the lane and around the turn. Plenty fit. He had a good work the week before last. We just wanted him to cruise along the other day and he did. I think he’s set up for a big spot.”

Back to a distance proven to be in his wheelhouse, the place-finisher in the Dwyer (G3) and Jim Dandy (G2) will line up to the immediate outside of Smile Happy and likely be forward-minded under jockey Florent Geroux.

Winless at the Louisiana distance, Winchell Thoroughbreds’ newly turned 4-year-old Red Route One has also never faced older foes. However with $1,162,425 in earnings, the well-toured West Virginia Derby winner trained by Steve Asmussen has more in the bank than any rivals in the field.

“I’m kind of anxious for him,” Asmussen said. “One mile and one-sixteenth for him just starting back here, it is a starting point for the year. He is a horse that needs as much ground as we can find for him. I do like how he’s trained over the winter, and I’m anxious to see how he stacks up against the older group.”

Other top rivals include the Tenacious winner, Elttaes Stable’s Five Star General. The 8-year-old trained by Grant Forster proved his maturity when headed early in the Tenacious, only to settle, stalk, and pounce to win his third stake of the year. Winner of the 2023 Louisiana Stakes, Lothenbach’s Happy American will defend his crown for Neil Pessin after running third in the Tenacious last out. 

Here’s the complete field for the Louisiana Stakes (G3) from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, and morning line): 1. Red Route One (Joel Rosario, Steeve Asmussen, 5-1); 2. Smile Happy (Brian Hernandez Jr., Ken McPeek, 9-5); 3. Saudi Crown (Florent Geroux, Brad Cox, 8-5); 4. Happy American (Jareth Loveberry, Neil Pessin, 8-1); 5. Five Star General (Marcelino Pedroza Jr., Grant Forster, 6-1); 6. Confidence Game (Corey Lanerie, Keith Desormeaux, 15-1); 7. Kupuna (Rey Gutierrez, Bret Calhoun, 15-1).


Just Might Enters Kenner In Search of Missing Piece

Griffon Farms & Michelle Lovell’s millionaire sprinter Just Might enters the $100,000 Duncan F. Kenner Memorial Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots fresh off adding a second Scherer to his resume. The 8-year-old trained by Michelle Lovell has won three of the four older sprint stakes in Fair Grounds series. The Kenner is the missing piece. But there’s an asterisk. In the 2022 edition he stormed to the front and finished first but was disqualified by the stewards and placed last for crowding a rail rival. 

Four foes who only had a view of Just Might’s tail in the Scherer enter the Kenner for another shot at getting by him. Written for 5 1/2 furlongs across the Stall-Wilson turf course, two newcomers will join the fray as seven total older males enter the 71st running of the Kenner.   

Slated as race 4 on Saturday’s 13-race “Road to the Derby Day” card, post time for the Kenner is 1:30 p.m. The program features the Lecomte (G3) and the Silverbulletday presented by Fasig-Tipton, both prep races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks that will award 20-10-6-4-2 qualifying points to the top-five finishers.  

In the morning line, five of the older males land between 3-1 and 9-2 with oddsmaker Mike Diliberto’s nod going to Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber, and R.T. Racing Stable’s Sosua Summer. All three wins by the 5-year-old Summer Front horse have come on the lawn and at the Kenner distance. Trained by Bill Mott, all three wins have come at Saratoga. In town for “Road to the Derby Day” and named to ride in 11 races, Luis Saez takes the call and will try to pilot Sosua Summer to his first stakes victory from post 3.

On the other hand, Just Might just added his tenth stake to his resume winning the Richard Scherer Memorial on “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day.” Though it had been over a year since he’d joined trainer Michelle Lovell for a photo in the winner’s circle, the 8-year-old’s fifth local stakes-win earned a 108 Brisnet Speed figure, the top effort of his 49-race career. 

“I knew (Just Might) was not finished,” Lovell said. “People started losing faith in him, but he is the same as he’s always been. We were meeting very tough horses (this year). I’m so proud of him.”

Newcomer to the colony Jaime Torres retains the mount on Just Might, having guided him successfully last out in the Scherer.

Here’s the field for the Duncan F. Kenner from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, and morning line): 1. Just Might (Jaime Torres, Michelle Lovell, 7-2); 2. Pirate Rick (Joel Rosario, Raymond Ginter Jr., 8-1); 3. Sosua Summer (Luis Saez, Bill Mott, 3-1); 4. Evan Sing (Corey Lanerie, Al Stall Jr., 9-2); 5. Bad Beat Brian (Chris Emigh, Brittany Vanden Berg, 7-2); 6. Swift as I Am (Jareth Loveberry, Tanner Tracy, 10-1); 7. Minnesota Ready (Ben Curtis, Neil Pessin, 9-2). 


Beatbox Tabbed as Bradley Favorite in Wide-open Edition Attracting Nine

Second last out in the Buddy Diliberto, Rob Comestro and Jeff Ganje’s Beatbox was made the 5-2 favorite in a wide open edition of the $100,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. A field of nine older males will face off going 1 1/16 miles on the Stall-Wilson turf course with the portable rails down for Saturday’s card. 

The 38th running of the Bradley will go as Race 11 of 14 with a post time of 5:00 p.m. The stakes-laden “Road to the Derby Day” program will get underway at noon and also features the Lecomte (G3) and the Silverbulletday presented by Fasig-Tipton, both prep races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks that will award 20-10-6-4-2 qualifying points to the top-five finishers. Slated as race 11, post time for the Colonel Bradley is 5:00 p.m.

Beatbox broke his maiden on the lawn, but the 6-year-old by Pioneer of the Nile subsequently raced seven times across the Tapeta of Turfway Park, where he won the Dust Commander Stakes. Transferred to Cherie DeVaux’s barn ahead of his 2023 campaign, Beatbox eventually was entered back on the sod, though he has been unable to prove victorious through five tries. Overcoming a difficult trip and demonstrating his ability to quicken late, Beatbox finished second to Two Emmys in the Diliberto by one length under Joel Rosario, who retains the mount on Saturday.

Finishing behind Beatbox in the Diliberto, Russell Welch and Ran Leonard’s Rising Empire and Jerry Romans Jr. and Hamilton Smith’s English Tavern both appear to be logical rivals to the favorite in the Bradley. An allowance winner upon return to Fair Grounds, Rising Empire looked to have regained the form he unveiled when finishing second in the 2023 Muniz. Trained by Brendan Walsh, the 6-year-old horse weakened in traffic to finish ninth in the Buddy D. Luis Saez gets the call and will break the son of Empire Maker from post 8. English Tavern, however, proved game in their common race, running third. With his lone stake score coming in 2021’s Prince Geroge’s County at Laurel Park, the 7-year-old gelded son of English Channel trained by Michell Lovell has four wins at the Bradley distance, though he is blanked in five local turf tries.

Second choice in the morning line at 3-1, Gary Barber and Kinsman Stable’s Strong Quality enters the Bradley for trainer Mark Casse looking for his first turf win since stringing two together in the first tries of his 2023 campaign. Though he was able to hold the lead through the first three calls of both the Manhattan (G1) and the Arlington Million (G1) this summer, the 5-year-old horse faded and finished five lengths back in both. Strong Quality added another allowance win to his resume wiring the field and winning by nine lengths across Churchill Downs’ main track in November. Drawing post 2, the son of Quality Road will be reunited with Florent Geroux.

Here’s the complete field for the Col E.R. Bradley from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, and morning line): 1. Protonic Power (Marcelino Pedroza Jr., Armando Hernandez, 8-1); 2. Strong Quality (Florent Geroux, Mark Casse, 3-1); 3. Brigadier General (Brian Hernandez Jr., 10-1); 4. Duke of Carthania (Edgar Morales, Yovani Munoz, 20-1); 5. English Tavern (Jaime Torres, Michelle Lovell, 6-1); 6. Who Took the Money (Deshawn Parker, Bret Calhoun, 8-1); 7. Leave It to Kitten (Jareth Loveberry, Kathy Jarvis, 12-1); 8. Rising Empire (Luis Saez, Brendan Walsh, 5-1); 9. Beatbox (Joel Rosario, Cherie DeVaux, 5-2). 


Broussard and Pago Hop Winners Set to Clash in Saturday’s Marie Krantz Memorial

Gentry Farms’ Lovely Princess enters the $100,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots looking to back up her game win last out in the Broussard. Eight entered against her in the female counterpart to the Colonel E.R. Bradley, including Susan Moulton’s Tufani, the 5-2 morning line favorite streaking in after her win in the Pago Hop. Scheduled as race 9 of 13 on Saturday’s “Road to the Derby Day” card, post time for the Krantz is 4:00 p.m. The 1 1/16 miles turf affair will be the first leg of an “All-Stakes” Pick 5 with a $250,000 guaranteed pool.

Prior to winning her first stake in the Broussard, Lovely Princess had placed in four added-money events for trainer Ken Mcpeek. The runner-up in three consecutive stakes earlier this year–the Keertana at Churchill Downs, the Indiana General Assembly Distaff at Horseshoe Indianapolis and the Ellis Park Turf–the 4-year-old daughter of Twirling Candy would not be denied on “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day.” Securing the lead in the stretch, her work was not done as Creative Cairo came with a big late move. Lovely Princess dug in to win by a head. 

“She always runs hard,” McPeek said. “I think the filly she nosed out last time ran a big race and they were much the best of the rest of the field. I’m not sure my filly ran her best race, but she could do that this weekend.”

Installed as the 3-1 morning line second choice by Mike Diliberto, Lovely Princess will be guided by regular partner Brian Hernandez Jr. from the rail on Saturday.

Susan Moulton’s Tufani unleashed a dazzling turn of foot in the final stages to win the Pago Hop by two lengths against her 3-year-old peers on Dec. 30. Prior to that she won an allowance impressively and enters the Krantz on a hot streak. Trained by Mike Stidham, the Virginia-bred daughter of Distorted Humor secured not only her first stakes victory with the Pago Hop score, but also her pilot Ben Curtis’ first stateside stakes win. 

“(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.”

Curtis retains the mount and will work out a trip aboard Tufani from the far outside post of nine fillies and mares.

Here’s the complete field for the Krantz Memorial (G3) from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, and morning line): 1. Lovely Princess (Brian Hernandez Jr., Ken McPeek, 3-1); 2. Tryinmyheartout (Jose Guerrero, Shane Wilson, 20-1); 3. Swoonatra (Emanuel Nieves, Joey Foster, 20-1); 4. Anatolian (Luis Saez, Mike Maker, 8-1); 5. Creative Cairo (Florent Geroux, Lindsay Schultz, 4-1); 6. Fancy Martini (James Graham, Robertino Diodoro, 6-1); 7. Unbridled Mary (David Cohen, Ken McPeek, 10-1); 8. Join the Dance (Joel Rosario, Dallas Stewart, 12-1); 9. Tufani (Ben Curtis, Mike Stidham, 5-2).

“All Stakes” Late Pick Five – $250,000 Guaranteed Pool (LOW 15% takeout)

9th race: $100,000 Marie Krantz Memorial – 1 1/16 miles turf, fillies & mares, 4yo’s & up.
10th race: $150,000 Silverbulletday presented by Fasig Tipton – 1 mile 70 yards, 3yo fillies.
11th race: $100,000 Colonel E. R. Bradley – 1 1/16 miles turf, 4yo’s & up.
12th race: $175,000 Louisiana Presented by Relyne GI By Hagyard (G3) — 1 1/16 miles turf, 4yo’s & up.
13th race: $200,000 Lecomte (G3) – 1 1/16 miles, 3yo’s.



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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