By Ryan Martin and Brian W. Spencer
Harlan Punch ($8.60, $4.80 and $3.00)added another stakes triumph to his resume when sitting up close to the pace out battling a stubborn Silver Dust in the Louisiana Stakes.
Owned by Front Row Racing, Ten Strike Racing, Kevin McReynolds and Bob Miller, the 6-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday set the pace alongside Snapper Sinclair through opening fractions of 24.63, 49.68 and 1:14.31. At the top of the stretch, Silver Dust made a wide move and confronted the eventual winner but Harlan Punch was able to keep him at bay and hung on to win by three-quarters of a length under Florent Geroux in a time of 1:45.05. Silver Dust ($6.00 and $3.60) ran second and Phat Man ($3.00) closed for third
“I try to put them in the right spot and be a good passenger,” Geroux said. “He has good tactical speed and has been running great in his past few races. He’s been training well, and we were very confident and hoping he would deliver this kind of performance.”
Harlan Punch was making his second start for defending leading Fair Grounds trainer Brad Cox.
“It worked out really well,” Cox said. “He’s a very honest, hard-knocking horse. We picked him up in November and he seems to be very honest and a very good workhorse. We’re real proud of him.”
Harlan Punch earned $45,000 from his win in the Louisiana Stakes which enhanced his career earnings to $749,058. He previously scored stakes wins in the Stymie Stakes at Aqueduct and Grade III Philip Islein Handicap at Monmouth Park for former trainer David Jacobson as well as the Veterans Stakes at Zia Park when under the care of Justin Evans.
Completing the order of finish were Snapper Sinclair, Honorable Duty and Hawaakom.
Harlan Punch was bred in Kentucky by Rosemont Farm. He is out of the Pulling Punches broodmare Indy Punch.
John Mentz’s Wynn Time put a short-priced bow on Saturday’s Road to the Derby Kickoff Day presented by Hotel Monteleone stakes action at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots when capturing his third stakes win of the meet in the Duncan F. Kenner.
Trained by Hugh Robertson and ridden by Marcelino Pedroza, the Illinois-bred son of Three Hour Nap broke sharply from his outside draw in the field of six before conceding the lead to longshot Speightsong shortly after the break through an opening quarter in 23.33. That pace player quickly retreated after being challenged by the eventual winner into the turn, as Wynn Time regained the lead through a half-mile in 47.12. He was then able to repel a late challenge from Randy Exelby et al.’s Greg Foley-trained Control Stake, who was close throughout and narrowed the margin late under Ricardo Santana, Jr. while falling a neck short at the wire. It was three-quarters more back to Satish Patel’s James Baker trainee Balandeen, who was head-and-head with Wynn Time through much of the stretch under Florent Geroux before settling for third.
“We were going so slow in the first quarter that I thought we were going to win for fun,” Pedroza said. “He gets the lead so easy, and that makes him hang a little, but he always gets the job done.”
“Sometimes it’s tough when they’re running into the wind like that, and the horses behind him are getting it cut in front of them,” Robertson added. “He likes it here.”
Wynn Time completed the six-furlong trip in 1:10.78 while winning for the eighth time in 11 lifetime starts. The $45,000 winner’s share increased his lifetime earnings to $324,820. He paid $2.80, $2.20 and $2.10 as the 2-5 post-time favorite, with Control Stake returning $7 and $4.20, and Balandeen paying $2.80.
Colonelsdarktemper, Kowboy Karma and Speightsong completed the running order.