· O’Neill Invades for More New Orleans Glory
· Don’t Split Tens Impressive for Pessin
· Salty Sophomore Maidens Highlight Saturday Card
· Stidham Impressed by Haniel
· Guest Suite Sizzles to Top Work Tab Wrap-Up
O’NEILL INVADES FOR MORE NEW ORLEANS GLORY
Trainer Doug O’Neill’s ability with top 3-year-olds cannot be doubted and the multiple classic-conquering conditioner added to that last season when he shipped in Paul Reddam’s Land Over Sea to easily annex the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks – a race he also took with Reddam’s Musical Plan in 2007. This year, he heads to the Big Easy a few weeks earlier and with serious shots in each of Louisiana Derby Preview Day’s co-features: the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes for open 3-year-olds and the Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes for fillies – two races that have become key preps for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, respectively.
O’Neill’s ridgling, So Conflated, enters on the strength of a victory in the $100,000 California Derby on Jan. 21 over Golden Gate’s synthetic Tapeta course. In what was the son of Eskendereya’s first try around two turns and out of maiden company, the gray aced the test, defeating six others in a three-quarter-length tally. Mario Gutierrez, who has been aboard both of O’Neill’s Kentucky Derby winners, comes in for the ride, but was assigned an arguably disadvantageous 14-hole post in the 1 1/16-miles event.
The Florida-bred has kept good company in his short career. In three starts including his Dec. 3 unveiling, So Conflated has a pair of victories, one which was an adjudged elevation after next-out winner Dabster was disqualified. He was third behind highly touted American Anthem in his Del Mar debut.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to come down there and run for big purses and against quality fields,” O’Neill said. “It’s a great place to see where you are with your top 3-year-olds at this point. I like the long stretch for So Conflated and with 3-year-olds, I don’t mind being on the outside with him. He’s doing well.”
O’Neill also is bringing ERJ Racing, W C Racing and Dennis O’Neill’s Shane’s Girlfriend, who looks to bounce back from a 10-length drubbing received at the hands of divisional leader Unique Bella. Said effort – just her third lifetime start – was her first in two months after she shipped to Louisiana to romp in the Grade III Delta Princess in mid-November. The daughter of Adios Charlie impressed speed figure aficionados that day and looks to return to form in a return to two turns.
“She’s doing really well, too,” O’Neill said. “Last out, we dropped her to one turn and it was a weird race and we also ran into (Unique Bella) that day. She was stuck between horses in a hot pace on the backside. I think she will be much more comfortable this time around two turns.”
DON’T SPLIT TENS IMPRESSIVE FOR PESSIN
A sophomore to watch is Tim Keeley’s homebred Don’t Split Tens, who won at second asking for trainer Neil Pessin on Feb. 12 with professionalism under Mitchell Murrill. The son of Congrats improved upon a fourth at first asking behind next-out stakes performer Zinger one month to the day prior when sitting a handy second before taking over at the top of the stretch, opening up a 2½-length lead and winning comfortably by a length over Unlimited Play, who had beaten him by a head for third in January.
“It was impressive,” Pessin said. “From here we will go to an ‘a-other-than’ and take it step-by-step. If he were to win impressively, then maybe a stakes at Keeneland would be in order, but it’s baby steps right now and we’ll see where he’s at. He’ll have to move up to win the allowance.”
Don’t Split Tens is an Illinois-bred half-brother to multiple graded stakes winner and multi-surface specialist My Option, a daughter of Belong to Me who won stakes from six furlongs on the dirt to nine furlongs on synthetic and broke her maiden and was Grade III-placed on the turf. She earned $487,898 in a career that also saw her finish a respectable fifth in the Group I Singapore Cup. Like My Option, Don’t Split Tens is a medium-sized stone gray.
“He might be a little bigger than her, but they look very similar,” Pessin concluded.
SALTY SOPHOMORE MAIDENS HIGHLIGHT SATURDAY CARD
Saturday’s 11-race card features a pair of intriguing sophomore maiden events – one open and one restricted to fillies – going a mile and 70 yards on the main track. In the first of the two, which showcases nine well-bred colts, American Equistock Racing Inc.’s Brendan Walsh-trained Multiplier figures to take attention at the windows on the strength of a solid third in this identical condition on Jan. 21. Closing from 10th of 11, the cleverly named son of The Factor lost by a diminishing two lengths that day and has the return services of Brian Hernandez, Jr. from the seven-hole.
Another to watch is Donegal Racing’s Manning, from the barn of Tom Morley. The good-looking son of Malibu Moon cost $320,000 at auction and closed methodically in his debut, a two-turn turf maiden that was likely chosen more for its two-turn trip in mid-December than its surface. Gabriel Saez rides from the rail for a trainer who is very high on this colt.
Another chestnut colt with fashionable breeding and a big blaze in the field is first-time starter Souper Tapit, from the barn of Mark Casse for owner-breeder Live Oak Plantation. The son of Tapit and Grade I winner Zo Impressive gets the services of Florent Geroux from the five-hole. The only horse with arguably more fashionable breeding is another son of Tapit, Godolphin’s Brookline, from the barn of defending champion trainer Mike Stidham. The half-brother to Bernardini is making his third lifetime start and removes the blinkers.
Favoritism may go to Combat Controller, based on his class lines and speed figures. In his past two races, he has chased Local Hero, who impressed many when romping by 7¼ lengths last out at this level and trip on Jan. 26. The Gessler Racing-owned and Ken McPeek-trained son of Awesome Again closed well to be third that day from well back.
Two races later, the fillies come into focus, with a field of 10 set to run. Despite her outside post, Sanford Robertson’s Walsh-trained Lilt should take plenty of beating in this spot. A leggy daughter of Uncle Mo, the homebred closed well at first asking, despite the same post on Jan. 21. Robby Albarado returns to the saddle for round two with this granddaughter of talented Group III winner Cassis.
Larry Jones enters the same pair of fillies who finished directly in front of and behind Lilt last out, Heaven’s Creation – a Jones-owned homebred – and Brererton C. Jones’ Proud and Fearless. The former breaks from post four under Gabriel Saez, while the latter drew the rail for rider Mitchell Murrill.
STIDHAM IMPRESSED BY HANIEL
Haniel’s eye-opening victory on debut on Feb. 11 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots was one that impressed even her conditioner, Mike Stidham, who has had his fair share of top turf fillies over the last few years. The Sangreal Investments homebred daughter of Mizzen Mast skipped comfortably to the front from her disadvantageous post 11 of 12, came into the stretch in control by about a length and then repelled her rivals with easy by 3½ widening lengths at the wire under Mitchell Murrill. The victory backed up a bullet work earlier in the week of 47.80 for a half-mile.
“I really like how she did it,” Stidham said. “She also had worked so well over the dirt and with expecting her to move up on the turf – which she did – that was nice to see. It was very impressive.”
Stidham confirmed that Haniel, who earned a ‘TDN Rising Star’ label for her effort, may be considered for stakes company next out in the $50,000 Allen Lacombe Stakes on Mar. 11. Out of winning El Corredor mare Nashira, Haniel hails from the same Mizzen Mast – Gone West cross responsible for multiple graded stakes winners and Fair Grounds favorites Mizz Money and One Mean Man as well as Hong Kong Group I winner Sea Defence (renamed Giant Treasure), the stallion’s highest earner.
GUEST SUITE SIZZLES TO TOP WORK TAB WRAP-UP
This week had its fair share of top stakes performers on the dark days work tabs, topped by Neil Howard trainee and expected Grade II Risen Star favorite Guest Suite. The son of Quality Road, victorious last out in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes, worked a bullet five furlongs with Robby Albarado up on Tuesday in 59.40 for William S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy. His Farish-owned stablemate and well-regarded graded stakes-winning 5-year-old Eagle also impressed the day prior with a six-furlong move in 1:12.40.
This time last year, all the hype for the sophomores was on Mo Tom, owned by local celebrities G M B Racing of New Orleans Saints and Pelicans ownership and trained by 11-time champion conditioner Tom Amoss. The son of Uncle Mo is flying slightly under the radar this year as he approaches his 4-year-old bow in Saturday’s Grade III $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap on Feb. 25 and signaled his readiness for such with a five-furlong move on Wednesday in 1:00.40. The Mineshaft will be the Lecomte and Ohio Derby winner’s first attempt against older horses. G M B Racing’s other star, Dallas Stewart-trained Tom’s Ready, was also on the tab this week, covering a half-mile in 49.60 on Monday morning. Said move was his third work since finishing fifth in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Trainer Steve Asmussen’s sophomore pair of Untapped and Untrapped each worked Monday toward the Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes and Grade II Risen Star Stakes, respectively, by drilling five furlongs. Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred filly Untapped went in 1:01.80, while the colt Untrapped got the distance a fifth of a second faster for owner Michael Langford. The latter will look to improve upon a bang-up effort last out in the Lecomte, where he rallied for second in his two-turn debut and third lifetime start. The former fell short at 17-10 second-choice odds in the Listed Silverbulletday Stakes, finishing fifth, and will look to improve for her connections.
A pair of turf graded stakes winners looking to improve in their second starts this year each worked this week for their date with next weekend’s Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap. Hillerich Racing and trainer Bernie Flint’s One Mean Man went five furlongs in 1:01 flat on Wednesday morning, while Wayne Spalding and Faron McCubbins’ marathoner Bullards Alley flashed some foot for trainer Tim Glyshaw by going the same distance that morning in 1:00.20 – good for second-best of 31 moves at the distance.