Fair Grounds Barn Notes: Friday, January 20

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· McPeek Likes Pat On the Back’s Lecomte Chances
· Rocket Time to Stay on Dirt in Louisiana
· Cox Expects Improvement from Chocolate Ride, Dazzling Gem
· Ever So Clever Tops Work Tab

MCPEEK LIKES PAT ON THE BACK’S LECOMTE CHANCES

One of the more accomplished entrants in Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots’ Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on Saturday, Harold Lerner et al.’s Pat On the Back, is arguably being overlooked as the first major New Orleans Kentucky Derby prep looms.

A son of Congrats out of an Awesome Again mare, the chestnut has two stakes victories under his belt — both in New York-bred company — and has proven versatile in running style with a gate-to-wire win in the $250,000 Sleepy Hollow Stakes two back on Oct. 22 and a closing tally in the $121,000 Aspirant Stakes in September. Last out, the Kenny McPeek trainee was a dull sixth, beaten 11 lengths, in the Grade III Delta Jackpot on Nov. 19.

“He’s really coming in well,” McPeek said. “He had a lung infection, which we found after his last start and I think the travel got to him coming all the way down (to Louisiana). Obviously we’ve had plenty of time to recover from that and I like the way he’s training. He’s rock solid and does everything you ask him to. The last race is a big-time throw-out.”

With Dallas Stewart’s Saint’s Fan expected to scratch due in part to his outside 12 post, Pat On the Back would become the outside horse and last to load in the 11-hole.

“I can’t control the pace and we’ll let (jockey) Dylan (Davis) decide what to do leaving from there,” McPeek said. “I won’t micromanage him on that. He knows the horse better than anyone.”

Davis was aboard the $70,000 Fasig-Tipton August 2016 purchase for his first five starts, including all three of his victories. He replaces Robby Albarado, who was aboard at Delta.

ROCKET TIME TO STAY ON DIRT IN LOUISIANA

According to trainer Al Stall, Jr., Frank Fletcher Racing Operations’ Rocket Time is going to run in the $75,000 Louisiana Stakes over the main track in lieu of the Grade III $125,000 Colonel E. R. Bradley Handicap on the grass. Cross-entered, the son of Tiz Wonderful would be making his initial turf try if raced in the latter. Stall did leave the door open for racing in the latter if weather were to force it off the Stall-Wilson turf course.

A stakes winner over the local dirt, the gelded 6-year-old is perfect in two tries on the New Orleans oval and has won seven of 15 career tries. He is twice graded stakes-placed, including a third in May’s Grade III Lone Star Park Handicap over the Louisiana’s 1 1/16 miles distance.

COX EXPECTS IMPROVEMENT FROM CHOCOLATE RIDE, DAZZLING GEM

Going into the Santa Super Saturday card on Dec. 17 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Brad Cox looked primed to have big day on his hands and was confident in all of his horses, especially GenStar Thoroughbreds’ multiple graded stakes winner Chocolate Ride and Steve Landers’ Dazzling Gem. Backed to favoritism in each of their efforts, they missed their respective marks, with the former finishing a neck fourth in the $75,000 Diliberto Memorial over the Stall-Wilson turf course and the latter making a bid at the top of the stretch after a slow break before faltering to seventh, beaten six lengths.

“They’re both doing great,” Cox said. “I think Chocolate Ride will move forward big time, especially with coming off the long layoff and having that race under his belt. There’s not as much speed in the race this time, so that might help him too. I think as long as he likes the ground he’ll be tough and I think a little softer turf might not bother him at all and be a little better on his feet, anyway.

“I’m not down on him,” Cox said regarding Dazzling Gem. “He was definitely the biggest disappointment last month, but I think and hope he can relax this time. If he does that, I think he has a big shot to win. If he turns down the backside and tries to take off like he did last time, then he won’t. I never expected him to be last going into the first turn and then he rushed up. That kind of caught us off-guard and it didn’t leave anything for his finish. I still really like this horse.”

Fourth last year in the Grade I Arkansas Derby and third in the Grade II Louisiana Derby just three weeks prior — each at 1 1/8 miles — the son of top handicapper Misremembered should also appreciate the slight stretch from a mile and 70 yards in the Tenacious Stakes last month and the 1 1/16 miles of the $75,000 Louisiana Stakes. Jockey Robby Albarado picks up the mount.

EVER SO CLEVER TOPS WORK TAB

Highly regarded sophomore filly Ever So Clever worked another sharp five furlongs on Friday morning in 1:02 flat for trainer Steve Asmussen. Twice graded stakes-placed, including a third last out in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes behind Farrell, the Clearview Stable-owned daughter of Medaglia d’Oro is gearing up for her sophomore bow.

Twin Creeks Racing et al.’s Mike Stidham-trained multiple stakes-placed Forest Circle worked a sharp half-mile in 47.80. The defending champion trainer also sent out highly regarded sophomore turf filly Stallion Heiress, who drilled a half in 48.20 for Stallionaire Enterprises.

Paul Van Doren’s multiple stakes-winning millionaire Rise Up worked a half-mile in his usual swift fashion, getting the distance in 48.20 for trainer Tom Amoss.

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