With a Hot Hand on Turf, Calhoun Continues His Climb Up the Standings
Top trainer offers up plans for star filly Hidden Connection & others going forward
New Orleans (January 15, 2022) – When Martin Mueller, Richard Reid and Donald Ladd’s Gentle Soul crossed the finish line in front in the 8th race on Thursday at Fair Grounds Race Course & slots, Bret Calhoun climbed all the up into a tie with four-time champion Brad Cox. Cox added two more to regain command on Saturday, but Calhoun figures to answer back in short order. From low-level Louisiana-bred runners to top level stakes horses, Calhoun has enjoyed success in all categories, but he’s really thrived on turf, where the green-footed Gentle Soul joined Who took the Money and Excess Magic with two wins each on the lawn.
Thirteen wins is an impressive win total less than halfway through the meet, but consider how hot his hand has been since December 11 — 11 for 39 (28%). Never one to chase trainer titles, Calhoun, according to his own recollection, took the 2005 crown at Remington Park and added the 2012 title at Lone Star 2012. Nearing 30 years as a trainer, his numbers speak for themselves: 3,353 wins and nearing $100,000,000 in earnings (currently at $94,848,491). The question at hand…does he have the fire in the hole to compete for this meet’s Fair Grounds title?
“I wouldn’t think so,” Calhoun said “It’s funny how this meet has gone. I thought I had a few Louisiana-bred maidens that would have already won. I tried to have them ready to run at the first of the meet. As the best laid plans go, a couple of them got sick, a couple had minor injuries. So those are horses that are still out there and I think will win for us soon. Instead, we’ve won with some that you thought were going to run and had chances but you don’t think they are can’t-lose type horses. We’ve been fortunate to win with those. The other thing is we try not to have a lot of grass horses but we’ve won with a lot of grass horses. So it’s been a pleasant surprise in some places.”
“I don’t get at this point in my life too worked up about titles,” Calhoun continued. “I just want to win as many races as we can and put them in the right places and win. It’s always nice to be part of the thought process for that (title) but it’s not something that drives me to maneuver horses here or there, to pull horses from other places just to win races. I just like to win the right races for the right money.”
One of Calhoun’s most promising horses on the grounds is Hidden Brook Farm and Black Type Thoroughbreds’ Hidden Connection, who has posted four local works, including 1:00 4/5 breeze on Saturday morning. The winner of her first two starts, including the Pocahontas (G3) at Churchill Downs with an 88 Bris speed figure, this filly by Connect concluded her freshman season finishing 4th after a stumbling start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).
“She’s not quite ready yet,” Calhoun said. “There’s no reason to force it. She’s a smaller lighter filly. We’re not going to pound a bunch of races into her too soon. She’s coming along nicely. I think she is bulking up which is something we wanted to see, so we’re really happy where she is in her training and her development. At the end of the day we sat down and talked about it (running in the Silverbulletday) and we are going to stay with our plan of waiting and going to the Rachel [Alexandra (G2) on February 19].”
An early buzz horse for the Kentucky Oaks, Calhoun says he won’t force it.
“Everybody has the hopes and dreams of the Oaks and all that but I don’t want to do anything to set her back from a tremendous filly career. There are a lot of spots that could fit, including the Eight Belles (G2) (at seven furlongs), I don’t know yet. We’ve had some nice 3-year-olds the last few years. We campaigned them smartly, and they’ve made 1 million or 2 million apiece and they’ve been worth a lot of money. I am going to take the same path with this filly.”
Tejano Twist capped off a nine-race 2-year-old season finishing 2nd in the $100,000 Gun Runner, awarding 10-4-2-1 Derby points. By Practical Joke, the game plan going forward looks to be at one-turn distances.
“I’ve shipped him over to Copper Crowne [training center],” Calhoun said. “He’s walking the shed row for a few weeks. He’s going to go back into training on Monday. You won’t see him back to the races for a couple months. We just gave him a little breather. End of the day we didn’t have Derby dreams [with Tejano Twist], but I do think he is a very good one-turn mile, shorter distance horse, so we are going to freshen him up for the spring.”
Some of the standout horses have been notching their wins on the turf include: Gentle Soul, Excess Magic, Lovely Ride, and Who took the Money.
Half-brother to By My Standards (also trained by Calhoun), Gentle Soul has flown through his first and second-level allowance conditions. Improving upon his first two-turn turf try, this son of Tapizar earned an 87 Bris, displaying a sobering turn of foot to flash a Bris late pace figure of 106.
“Obviously this horse has been slower to develop than By My Standards was,” Calhoun said. “This horse had some injuries along the way early in his career. He’s always trained like a good horse even though he hasn’t always run like one. I do think it is a “light come on” type of situation. He’s been a bit of a disappointment to us up until now. His mother was turf we were honestly searching and that’s how we landed back on the turf and he has had two monster races.”
Third in this summer’s Honorable Miss (G2) at Saratoga, Ain’t No Elmers had a tough go in the recent $75,000 Menard Stakes at Fair Grounds.
“She came out of it great,” Calhoun said. “Trip-wise it was absolutely horrible. We lost all chances at multiple spots along the way there. At the end of the day the soft turf that day didn’t do her any good. If she gets back to really good form we’ll go on, if not we’ll probably breed her after the next race.”
Thirty-one days down and forty-nine to go in the meet, the Calhoun barn is making the right decision in trying new angles with their horses, finding the ride jockeys to guide them home, and placing them at the right levels. Aiming for the trainer title or not, with success like this, Calhoun will certainly hover near the top of the list throughout.
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 150th Thoroughbred Racing Season – highlighted by the 109th running of the Louisiana Derby – will run from November 25, 2021 through March 27, 2022. More information is available online at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.