Fair Grounds Barn Notes: Thursday, March 16

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· Hawaakom Fires Warning Shot for Nola Handicap
· Chocolate, Chip Sweeten up Salty Thursday Allowance
· Guest Suite Bullet Tops Work Tab

HAWAAKOM FIRES WARNING SHOT FOR NOLA HANDICAP

Stephan H. Smoot’s and trainer Wes Hawley’s Hawaakom zipped through his drill on Thursday morning for his conditioner, working five furlongs in a swift 59 flat as he prepares for the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap on Apr. 1, Louisiana Derby Day. The move was the quickest of 18 at the trip.

“He went great,” Hawley said. “He galloped out in 1:11 and change and he couldn’t blow out a match afterward and ate up really well and everything. He’s better than I’ve ever seen him and I think he’s getting better as he’s gotten older. It’s strange to say that because he’s seven, but he’s come along like this and is running better than ever. A year ago no one thought he was that good, but he kept running big.”

The Rodney Dangerfield of the handicap division, Hawaakom has not been the favorite in his last 19 starts dating back to July 2015 and has won five of those events, including the Listed $75,000 Louisiana Stakes at the Fair Grounds two back on Jan. 21. That effort was sandwiched by two clashes with Group I Dubai World Cup runner-to-be Gun Runner — a troubled fifth in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25 and a respectable second, beaten 5¾ lengths, in the Grade III Razorback Handicap last out.

“I think he ran a great race last time,” Hawley continued. “He was third or fourth choice and 12-1 and got no respect in the race, but still ran big. It was worth it to run because it’s $100,000 for second and also just in case it rained. In the Clark he lost by nine lengths after being checked on the backstretch. That was in a Grade I race and then he came back here and still paid nine dollars to win, which made no sense to me.

“We’ll just go and try to win this race,” he concluded. “It’ll be tough to beat Noble Bird and some of those others, but you just need a little racing luck and this horse is training unbelievable. We’ll enter and go from there.”

CHOCOLATE, CHIP SWEETEN UP SALTY THURSDAY ALLOWANCE

Next Thursday will feature the return of GenStar Thoroughbreds’ Chocolate Ride, who will try to return to the winner’s circle for the first time in more than a year in a one-mile allowance optional claiming ($80,000) event. Drawing a field of nine, the race also drew Louie Roussel, III-owned and -trained Chip Leader, who is firing on all cylinders for his connections.

Last seen finishing a lackluster third in the Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap on Jan. 21, Brad Cox-trained Chocolate Ride passed on the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap last out on Feb. 25 to look for softer company and a confidence boost. He breaks from the rail under new rider Shaun Bridgmohan after being piloted most of the last two seasons by Florent Geroux.

Chip Leader signaled his readiness with a swift half-mile in 48 flat on Tuesday, the top move of 27 at the distance. The son of Giant’s Causeway gave a big effort last out, taking a Feb. 4 allowance by 1¾ lengths in gate-to-wire fashion. A victor in five of 14 career tries, the temperamental chestnut has been a project for Roussel.

“He has a terrible disposition and has some shenanigans,” Roussel said. “We have tried nearly everything with him to get his mind right. Last time he got an easy lead and when you leave him alone like that, he really will give it to you the last quarter-mile. He’s in form right now. I may blow him out two days before, on Tuesday, going three furlongs. His last work was a very good work.”

Jose Valdivia, Jr., rides from post five in the nine-horse field.

The last time Chocolate Ride and Chip Leader met was Nov. 27, 2015 in which they finished one-two in a swift 1 1/16-miles allowance over the same Stall-Wilson turf course.

The remainder of the field is comprised of Let Us Be Glad (Gabriel Saez, post two), Ghurair (Brian Hernandez, Jr., post three), Tiznoble (Mitchell Murrill, post four), Blame Angel (Miguel Mena, post six) and Glorious Empire (Ire) (James Graham, post seven). Hesinfront (Robby Albarado) and Egyptian (James Graham) are entered as main track only.

GUEST SUITE BULLET TOPS WORK TAB

Neil Howard’s two stable stars, William S. Farish’s Eagle and Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy’s Guest Suite, each worked on Tuesday morning for their veteran conditioner. Eagle worked five furlongs in 1:01.20, while Guest Suite got the bullet for the same distance in 1:00.60. Another talented pupil from the Howard barn, B. C. W. T. Ltd.’s Society Beau worked five furlongs in 1:02.60 the next day. The bay sophomore son of Curlin has finished second four consecutive times in first-level allowance company, falling a dwindling head short last time to Total Tap.

Maggi Moss’ graded stakes-winning 4-year-old filly Big World worked a half-mile in 48.80 on Wednesday morning for trainer Tom Amoss. The daughter of Custom for Carlos has now won five of nine career attempts, including three state-bred stakes and the Grade III Tempted Stakes as a juvenile.

Brittlyn Stables’ Clearly Now worked a smart half-mile in 48.60 for trainer Ron Faucheux. The multiple graded stakes winner exits a tough-luck fifth in a stakes-level allowance last out, losing to streaking Yockey’s Warrior by just over four lengths after being steadied repeatedly. A next race is not yet determined for the seven-time winner of more than a million dollars.

Multiple restricted stakes winner Freudie Anne had her first work since conquering multiple Grade I winner I’m a Chatterbox in a turf allowance on Mar. 4. Owned by Marc Detampel et al., the Tom Morley-trained 5-year-old mare worked a half-mile in 48.20 on Thursday morning.

Mike G. Rutherford’s multiple stakes winner and graded stakes-placed Stageplay continues to work toward her comeback for conditioner Steve Asmussen, working five furlongs in 1:02 flat on Tuesday morning.

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