· Kathballu Seeks Louisiana Hat Trick, Tops Seven in Big Easy
· Hopes High, Realistic for Valadorna’s Seasonal Bow
· I’m a Chatterbox, Finley’sluckycharm Highlight Work Tab
KATHBALLU SEEKS LOUISIANA HAT TRICK, TOPS SEVEN IN BIG EASY
Five D Thoroughbreds’ Kathballu is arguably in career form as the daughter of Bluegrass Cat makes her 5-year-old bow as the mare to beat in Saturday’s $50,000 Big Easy Overnight Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The Kenny McPeek-trained chestnut charge tops a septet of female sprinters in the 5½-furlong event over the Stall-Wilson turf course.
Kathballu will be going after her third consecutive stakes victory in the state of Louisiana following an easy win last month in the $50,000 Pan Zareta Stakes over six furlongs on the Fair Grounds main track and a similarly dominant victory in the $75,000 Orleans Stakes four weeks prior over a two-turn seven-furlong trip at Delta Downs. She will be seeking her first victory over the turf and continuing a steady pattern of running increasingly shorter distances since finishing fourth three starts back in the one-mile Grade II Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs. With her lone turf attempt yielding a last-place finish in the Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes two Novembers ago — albeit around two turns — she is not a shoo-in for victory here. Robby Albarado picks up the mount from the six-hole, as jockey Florent Geroux will be in Florida to ride in the Grade I $12,000,000 Pegasus World Cup Invitational aboard Zayat Stables’ Prayer for Relief.
While Joe Sharp-trained Pan Zareta second- and third-place finishers Power of Snunner (Brian Hernandez, Jr., post three) and Calypso Run (Gabriel Saez, post four) must garner respect, it is the two inside horses making their first starts since November who will likely take more heat at the windows. Lloyd Madison Farm’s Vickie Foley-trained Clairenation (Miguel Mena, post two) enters off four consecutive victories that commenced with a graduation over this course and distance on Mar. 20. The half-sister to multiple stakes-placed turf colt Zapperini has excellent stalking pace.
Adding intrigue to the race is Ben McElroy’s Brendan Walsh-trained Equation (James Graham, rail), a flashy undefeated filly from three starts who runs for the Irish-born conditioner for the first time after commencing her career with Wesley Ward. She was last seen winning a second-level allowance at Churchill Downs on Nov. 20.
The field is completed by Simple Surprise (David Flores, post five), a local allowance winner over this course and distance who comes back on 29 days’ rest for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Steve Asmussen and consistent turf sprinter Boom Bam Bing (Colby Hernandez, post seven), who was fourth last out in the $50,000 Battle of New Orleans over these conditions on Dec. 3.
HOPES HIGH, REALISTIC FOR VALADORNA’S SEASONAL BOW
Aspirations are concurrently optimistic and realistic for Stonestreet Stables’ highly regarded Valadorna, as the daughter of Curlin embarks on her sophomore season Friday afternoon at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The 2016 Grade I $2,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up has been training well at the New Orleans oval, including four consecutive drills over the main track. Her last serious work, two back, was an impressive 48 flat for a half-mile on Jan 14 — fifth-best of 135 moves.
“Obviously she’s probably not going to at her absolute very best, but we feel like she’s ready to run,” trainer Mark Casse said. “We’re expecting a good race out of her.”
Casse, whose charges batted 16% off the bench from 166 starts in 2016, is renowned as one of the best second-off trainers. In such, it would not be a big surprise to see Valadorna move significantly forward off the race — no matter the outcome — in what will likely be her second start of the season in the Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes on Feb. 25. Such is likely one of the reasons the bay filly passed on the Listed $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes last weekend over the same mile and 70-yard trip as Friday’s allowance.
Other than a three-month layoff, the lightly raced homebred must also overcome the rail post in a six-filly field.
“We would have liked to have a different post position, obviously, but at least the race went,” Casse said. “We may keep her a little closer this time, as it’s not a big field. We are just hoping for something to build on.”
A pair of good-looking maiden winners from dangerous barns in Elm Racing’s Brad Cox-trained Holiday’s Angel (Robby Albarado, post three) and Stoneway Farm’s Neil Howard-trained Song of Spring (Brian Hernandez, Jr., post six) garner respect. Both have tactical speed in a race that should be dictated early by Ken Sentel and trainer Merrill Scherer’s local allowance winner What What What (David Flores, post two), the 9-2 morning-line second choice. Valadorna was assigned 4-5 favoritism.
Both Casse, who is currently tending to his sizable Florida string, and regular jockey Julien Leparoux will fly in for the race. The remainder of the field is comprised of turf stakes-placed San Antonio Stroll (Francisco Torres, post four) from the capable Danny Pish barn, and Blasted Boss (Miguel Mena, post five), who was dominant in a December maiden at Remington Park for trainer Bret Calhoun.
I’M A CHATTERBOX, FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM HIGHLIGHT WORK TAB
The three fillies who appear the ones to beat in the Grade III $400,000 Houston Ladies this Sunday at Sam Houston Race Park all had their final drills over the Fair Grounds surface, led by Carolyn and Fletcher Gray’s multiple Grade I winner I’m a Chatterbox, who worked five furlongs in 1:00.20. Trainer Larry Jones seeks his third victory in five years in the first major race for older mares on the calendar year. Recent Fair Grounds stakes winner Danzatrice worked a half-mile in 49 flat for trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Gainesway Stable, while Gary and Mary West’s Wayne Catalano-trained multiple graded stakes winner Family Tree worked five panels in 1:02.40.
Also headed to Houston and appearing live in his event is Michael Hui’s Greengrassofyoming, who worked a half-mile in 49.20 for trainer Mike Maker. He is one of three from the trainer entered in the Grade III $250,000 John Connally Turf Cup.
Carl Moore’s recently Grade I-placed Finley’sluckycharm returned to the work tab for the first time since finishing a begrudging runner-up in the Grade I La Brea Stakes on Dec. 26. The Bret Calhoun trainee was timed for a half-mile on Wednesday in 49.20.
Dallas Stewart’s Saint’s Fan turned in another good-looking move as he prepares for his third lifetime start, which may likely come in restricted company at Delta Downs early next month. The Stewart-bred and -trained undefeated son of Tale of Ekati went five furlongs in 1:00.80. Expected to be one of the favorites in the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes last weekend, he was scratched, citing the outside 12-hole, among other reasons.
A trio of highly regarded Al Stall, Jr., trainees put in drills during the dark days, topped by Brittlyn Stables’ Forevamo, who worked a half-mile in a sharp 48.60 on Tuesday. G M B Racing’s Tom’s d’Etat, a good-looking winner in Saratoga maiden company on Aug. 5 — but unraced since — worked three furlongs in 37.60 on Thursday. This morning also saw Fair Grounds Racing Club’s Excitations work a swift fourth-best of 53 half-mile in 47.60. The son of Into Mischief was a head second on debut behind highly regarded Girvin on Dec. 16 in a swift 1:10.32.
William and Corinne Heiligbrodt’s multiple stakes-winning juvenile of 2016 Golden Mischief worked for the third time since taking the $50,000 Letellier Memorial on Dec. 17, working five furlongs in 1:00.80 for Asmussen.
Jay Em Ess Stable’s December Seven worked toward his stakes debut in the Grade III $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap later this month with a half-mile drill in 47.80 for trainer Paul McGee. The promising 4-year-old gave his conditioner his 1,000th victory on Dec. 29 with a gate-to-wire, dominant victory. Also working toward the Mineshaft and housed in the same barn is Neil Howard-trained graded stakes-winner Eagle, who worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 for breeder-owner William S. Farish.
A filly to watch is trainer Larry Jones and Cindy Jones’ homebred Jenda’s Agenda. She worked five furlongs in 1:05 flat, the first work since romping on debut Jan. 7 in 1:10.75 for six furlongs. She is a daughter of Proud Citizen and multiple graded stakes winner Just Jenda.