NEW ORLEANS – DARRS, Inc.’s Brendan Walsh-trained Honorable Duty won his second stakes of the 2016-17 Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots season, taking the Grade III $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap in its 32nd running.
Over 1 1/16 miles, the main track event for older horses serves as a major prep for the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap on Apr. 1. Honorable Duty took the first of the four local races for said division when annexing the $75,000 Tenacious Stakes last out on Dec. 17 and purposely passed on the $75,000 Louisiana Stakes on Jan. 21 to point for the Mineshaft. In the evenly matched field, he was a co-highweight at 118 pounds along with three others.
After breaking from post six in the seven-horse field, the son of Distorted Humor sat comfortably in fourth-place, mid-pack, while speedster Rise Up blitzed fractions of 23.69 seconds for the quarter and 46.79 for the half over the fast track. Taking his cue from jockey Julien Leparoux, the Kentucky-bred bay gelding challenged new leader Dazzling Gem at the top of the stretch, overhauled said rival and then held off an impressive rally from 2015 Grade II Louisiana Derby champion International Star in a time of 1:43.03. The final margin was a half-length at the wire, with Mike Maker-trained International Star a nose to the good of Brad Cox-conditioned Dazzling Gem. The race favorites, 7-2 third choice Eagle, 3-1 favorite December Seven and 3-1 second choice Mo Tom followed. Rise Up was a well-beaten last of the septet.
“I had to ride him hard for a while, but he’s a grinder and they were going pretty quick early,” Leparoux said. “He was trying very hard and fought back all the way to the wire. That was a good race, for sure.”
“He ran like we thought he would and he had been training so well ever since we gelded him,” Walsh added. “I think he’s a very good horse who is improving. He idled a little bit in the front, but it was the first time he had passed horses so early in the race, but he ran great and I expected that he wouldn’t let us down.”
“The horse ran good,” jockey Miguel Mena said of International Star, who is owned by leading national owner Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. “He ran a big race. He ran second and got in a little trouble, but he ran good.”
“He got a little aggressive on the backside and I wish he would have kept it off a little bit,” jockey Robby Albarado said of Steve Landers Racing’s Dazzling Gem. “I didn’t want to make the lead that early, but that’s horse racing.”
Ownership principal David Ross purchased Honorable Duty, bred by Juddmonte Farms, out of Keeneland’s mixed sale in November of 2015 for $130,000 and – with Saturday’s $75,000 winner’s portion – has earned back much of that in his last two efforts. Honorable Duty, while giving his conditioner his ninth graded tally, increased his career bankroll to $261,276.
Honorable Duty returned $12.40, $5.40 and $4. International Star, forgotten on the board at 9-1 despite a stellar Fair Grounds record, returned $8.60 and $5.80 to his faithful, while Dazzling Gem returned $4.60 to show.