· Local Hero Gets Chance to Shine in Risen Star
· Majestic Quality and Dalmore Add to Desormeaux Invasion
· Well-Regarded Redesdale Returns in Friday Feature
· Jenda’s Agenda Adds to Deep 3-Year-Old Filly Ranks
· Untrapped Looking to Stay that Way in Risen Star
· Eagle Scouting for a Win in Mineshaft Return
· Wicked Lick Tough and on the Improve for Walsh
· Hogy Gets Second Shot at Green Mask in Colonel Power
LOCAL HERO GETS CHANCE TO SHINE IN RISEN STAR
The proverbial buzz horse on the backstretch for Saturday’s featured Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots is arguably Local Hero, from the consummately capable barn of 13-time leading trainer Steve Asmussen. A $500,000 Fasig-Tipton March 2016 purchase, the son of Hard Spun romped on graduation last out over the New Orleans oval, running nine other sophomores off their hooves — at one point with a 10-length lead in mid-stretch — and crossing the wire an eased 7¼ lengths superior under Florent Geroux. The son of graded stakes-winning mare Liam’s Dream drew the three-hole in the Risen Star while retaining the services of the meet-leading rider.
“He ran a tremendous race last time, albeit in a softer spot, but he was fast over the surface,” Asmussen said. “He deserves a chance. It’s a huge step up in competition, obviously, but he could not have been more impressive that day. I think he has obvious ability and it is an ideal draw for him. I have a great amount of confidence in Florent’s judgment.”
Debuting in a seven-furlong maiden at Keeneland Oct. 23, the dark bay colt was a strong second behind well-regarded Mark Casse trainee Our Stormin Norman, who started next in the Grade III Delta Jackpot. Sent off at 4-5 next out, he again ran into a Casse crusader in Hollow Point, who caught Local Hero en route to a two-length victory in a Churchill Downs maiden at the same trip Nov. 26. Two months to the day later, he reveled in the step up in trip when dismantling his competition, earning an 89 Equibase speed figure.
“He came in from Niall Brennan a well-educated and very mature horse,” Asmussen continued. “He is a very talented colt who’s been very straight forward. He ran solidly first time out. Then I had a touch of a disappointment the second time, but after coming to the Fair Grounds and giving him a bit of time, he ran to his works. He continues to train very impressively.”
Local Hero is the third foal, first to race more than once and first winner for his Grade III-winning dam, a mare from the only crop of ill-fated Saint Liam that also included freakishly talented Buddy’s Saint and Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.
MAJESTIC QUALITY AND DALMORE ADD TO DESORMEAUX INVASION
Louisiana son Keith Desormeaux returns to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots Saturday with Sorry Erik, a live longshot in the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes, but adds to his presence with two other possible graded stakes winners on the card in Grade III winner Dalmore and maiden Majestic Quality, who start in the Grade III $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap and Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes, respectively.
“Dalmore is doing very well,” Desormeaux said. “Coming to New Orleans was sort of driven by wanting to run Sorry Erik, but this race for Dalmore really suits him, too. Those are good horses he’s going to run against, for sure, and taking nothing away from them, but he has been running against horses like Hoppertunity, California Chrome and Midnight Storm, so this is a nice bit of class relief for him. I’m hoping that he’ll run well.”
Dalmore races off three weeks’ rest after a sub-par performance in the Grade III San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita. Last time he shipped to Louisiana — the only time — he was a valiant runner-up in the Grade III Super Derby four races back. Defeating one of the Mineshaft favorites, Mo Tom, in that race, he was fifth in California Chrome’s Grade I Pacific Classic one race prior to that. A winner of three of 16, his best performance was taking the Grade III Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita at the Mineshaft’s 1 1/16-miles distance in early July.
Majestic Quality is a maiden, but has been unlucky in a series of salty maiden special weight events out west. Hitting the board in three of her last four starts, the bay daughter of Quality Road was last seen attempting the turf, which went marginally well with a mild late rally to be fifth. Overall, the $40,000 Keeneland September purchase has seven starts and closed well in each of her last five.
“She has a lot of class and we are hoping she can put it all together,” Desormeaux said. “On numbers, she can compete with these fillies, especially if she moves forward.”
WELL-REGARDED REDESDALE RETURNS IN FRIDAY FEATURE
Perhaps the best-bred horse on the backside, Redesdale returns to try to stay unbeaten on Friday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. A perfect 2-for-2, the son of Speightstown out of Harpia — a graded stakes-winning full-sister to iconic super-sire Danehill — runs in a six-furlong second-level allowance for co-owners Chad Schumer and Brendan Walsh. The latter, who trains the bay 4-year-old colt, is very high on the charge.
“Chad was at the January (2016 Keeneland) sale and he called me and said there’s a horse with a huge pedigree in there and to have a look at him because I think we could get him for the $25,000-30,000 range,” Walsh said. “I was training at Palm Meadows and I looked at the pedigree and my immediate thought was ‘what’s wrong with him’. Chad said that he was basically just immature, so we got him and I thought if worst came, we could run him for a $30,000 tag at Churchill and break even. He came to Palm Meadows and was a soft horse who looked like he didn’t have a lot of work done with him as far as training. We worked him and he worked quicker than what we wanted and then I wanted to see what he could do. I was on the horse beside him while he was breezing and I looked down and thought there’s no way we are putting this horse in for a tag.
“The he went to Keeneland and was working really nicely and then he won first out at Churchill in the summer,” Walsh continued. “He had some little things bothering him, so we let him get over those during the fall and we brought him back here (to Fair Grounds) and he won without me having to squeeze on him too much in his training. This next race will be a good one because it’s against tough sprinters with much more experience. I think he’s a seven furlong to a mile kind of horse, so we’ll likely move up to that after this race; probably at Keeneland.”
Redesdale earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure for his last run, an allowance event in which he ran down speedy Larry Jones-trained Wainscott in the final yards under Robby Albarado. Said journeyman returns to the saddle Friday afternoon in the day’s seventh race, an allowance-optional claiming event in which they break from the rail as the 2-1 morning-line favorite. Major threats include stakes-winning Speightsong, making his first start for the barn of Ron Faucheux, the speedy Adens Dream and hard-knocking older horses Modern Medicine and Pulling G’s.
JENDA’S AGENDA ADDS TO DEEP 3-YEAR-OLD FILLY RANKS
Don Alberto Stable’s Unique Bella may be the heavy early favorite for the Grade I Kentucky Oaks, but the deepest waters are arguably in the bayou for the 3-year-old filly division, housing such main players as Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Valadorna, Grade II winner Farrell and up-and-coming players Untapped and Wicked Lick — all four of whom run in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes Saturday at the New Orleans oval. A new filly threw her bonnet into the ring on Sunday afternoon when Jenda’s Agenda stayed a perfect 2-for-2 with a facile victory in a two-turn first-level allowance.
Bred and co-owned by trainer Larry and wife Cindy Jones, the daughter of the late Proud Citizen and the Jones’ multiple graded stakes-winning Just Jenda debuted at Fair Grounds on Jan. 7, speeding through six panels in 1:10.75 under Gabriel Saez. She won in a canter by 6¼ lengths that day and did so again in gate-to-wire fashion on Sunday over well-regarded Neil Howard trainee Stonetacular by a measured length; Saez virtually motionless in the saddle.
According to Jones, Jenda’s Agenda performed to expectations and will now be considered for the Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks on Apr. 1, a race Jones won with Fletcher and Carolyn Gray’s I’m a Chatterbox two years ago. Now co-owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm, a longtime client of Jones who bought into the compact bay after her debut, she ran in its famed red and white quartered silks on Sunday.
UNTRAPPED LOOKING TO STAY THAT WAY IN RISEN STAR
It is hard to imagine that a horse trained by Steve Asmussen could be slightly overlooked in the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, but such could very much be the case at the New Orleans oval. Michael Langford’s Untrapped will be one of two entrants by the Hall of Fame conditioner, giving the 13-time champion trainer a chance at a third Risen Star tally. Untrapped drew the two-hole, while stablemate Local Hero is situated immediately to his right in stall three. Ricardo Santana, Jr., flies in from Oaklawn Park to ride.
“Both of my horses drew extremely well,” Asmussen said. “Untrapped has trained really nicely and I’m very anxious to see how he runs back. We did a little bit of an adjustment with his training and it seems to have gone well. Originally, I was going to go to Oaklawn with him, but with the way he ran last time in the Lecomte, I wanted to give him a chance to run back here. I’m excited to see where it puts him.”
Untrapped has started three times and owns a lone victory. He debuted in a 6½-furlong Keeneland maiden special weight event, finishing six lengths astern a runaway future stakes winner in Uncontested. He returned on Nov. 20 with a runaway of his own, powering home at Churchill Downs by 5¼ lengths at the same distance.
Given two months off, the son of Trappe Shot made his sophomore and two-turn bow in the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 21, running a solid race to be second after having to wait in upper stretch over the muddy going. He gets a second shot at winner Guest Suite and is the co-fifth choice at 10-1 on the morning line.
A $125,000 OBS April purchase, he hails from a deep Claiborne Farm lineage and has been working well since his Lecomte run, including a trio of drills over the surface.
EAGLE SCOUTING FOR A WIN IN MINESHAFT RETURN
William S. Farish’s homebred Eagle makes his 5-year-old bow on Saturday in the Grade III $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap for trainer Neil Howard and looks to improve upon a tough loss to Majestic Harbor after a stretch-long battle in the 2016 edition of the 1 1/16-miles event.
“I feel like he’s trained beautifully for this race and he’s ready to go,” Howard said. “It’s a high-end race to come back in, but with these kinds of horses that’s what you have to do. I feel like he really turned the corner early last season and came a long way. He became a model citizen. It’s always a little bit tough to come back, though.”
Last seen finishing fourth in the Grade II Suburban Handicap at Belmont on July 9 in what was his 11th race in 10 months, the son of Candy Ride (ARG) has trained forwardly, including a sharp six-furlong drill in 1:12.40 on Feb. 13. Blessed with the ability to rate, set the pace or close from well back, the maternal grandson of Howard-trained Horse of the Year Mineshaft drew well in post two and has the return services of Brian Hernandez, Jr. as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the well-matched field of eight older horses. He will be be facing rival International Star for the sixth time in their careers, having finished ahead of said Mike Maker trainee in three of their five meetings.
“These are good horses, but I like how he’s training,” Howard said. “He usually doesn’t get too far back and I think we got a little unlucky on a couple of occasions last year where he got hung wide more than a couple times. I think that might have cost him a race or two, but you never know, as it’s all hindsight. If he can save some ground, that’s the part that will help a little bit. It’s a first start back and I think getting a later start could help develop his season and give us a chance to be around in the fall. We’ll get through this race first and try to get a series of three or four races in.”
Howard confirmed that an early season goal for the Grade III winner is the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap, a race he was unlucky to lose in 2016 when a flying second, beaten a half-length by Bradester.
“He’s just been a very genuine horse,” Howard concluded. “I was glad to get him for one more season.”
WICKED LICK TOUGH AND ON THE IMPROVE FOR WALSH
While much, if not all of the focus in the Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra will be on favorites Farrell, Shane’s Girlfriend and Valadorna — and rightfully so — one filly who appears to be on the proper trajectory is Lee Mauberret’s Wicked Lick. With six races under her belt, the Brendan Walsh-trained Maclean’s Music daughter has three runs on the dirt, including a runner-up effort to Farrell last out in the Listed $145,000 Silverbulletday Stakes on Jan. 21.
“I really like how she’s doing,” Walsh said. “She keeps improving and she looks well. She’s a nice, good-looking filly and her race last time was very good.”
Closing from second-last in the Silverbulletday, the chestnut charge looked like a possible winner when wheeling off the turn full of run, but could not get to Grade II-winning victress Farrell that day, falling less than three lengths short over the muddy going. One race prior, she was second in allowance company to fellow Rachel Alexandra starter Untapped after having to wait on the far turn.
“The thing about her is that I know she will try,” Walsh concluded. “She’s a tough filly who will give it all she has.”
A homebred out of the Dehere mare Here Music, she has the return services of Brian Hernandez, Jr., on Saturday and breaks just outside Valadorna in post six of seven. With an expected strong pace to be spearheaded by Gris Gris, who breaks directly to her outside, the dynamics of the race seem to favor the late-running pair of Valadorna and Wicked Lick.
HOGY GETS SECOND SHOT AT GREEN MASK IN COLONEL POWER
William Stiritz’s pride and joy of the barn, Hogy, keeps on producing for trainer Scott Becker. The son of Offlee Wild is, at least on numbers, performing at a career-best at age eight and keeps putting forth big efforts. The crux is that different situations have prevented the late-closing nearly black gelding from getting his picture taken in five of his last six starts, including a quartet of runner-up efforts — three in stakes company.
“He’s firing every time, but that’s just how it goes,” Becker said. “He’s doing great and everything is good with him. The shorter field this time hopefully means less traffic and not going as wide. The good thing is that everything is the same with him. He’s a great one to have and everyone in the barn loves him.”
A graded stakes winner and victor in 15 of 40 career starts, including 30 on-the-board finishes, the earner of $818,347 breaks from post two in Saturday’s $50,000 Colonel Power Stakes and will take on favorite Green Mask, to whom he finished third two back in the $75,000 Bonapaw Stakes Dec. 17. Sandwiched between that race and his upcoming run was a heartbreaking runner-up effort in the $75,000 Turf Sprint at Sam Houston, where he was forced to swing six-wide. Florent Geroux, who was aboard that day, gets a second chance and a longer stretch to work with this time.