03/29/2015 10:15AM

Call Me George scores longshot victory in New Orleans Handicap

Alexander Barkoff/Hodges Photography
Call Me George wins the New Orleans Handicap by a head Saturday at Fair Grounds.

NEW ORLEANS – With a quarter-mile to run in the New Orleans Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds, the longshot Call Me George, with James Graham aboard, was running in last place.

Trainer Grant Forster said winning didn't look likely for Call Me George at that point, but Forster said he knew that the horse and jockey weren't about to give up.

“He just keeps coming, keeps coming,” Forster said of Call Me George.

Concerning Graham, Forster said: “That was just the epitome of a James Graham ride, giving 110 percent on every mount.”

With a determined stretch run, Call Me George surged past Albano and the favorite Moreno near the finish line to win the $400,000, Grade 2 race for 4-year-olds and up by a half-length. Albano finished second, a head in front of the third-place Moreno, who led by a length in midstretch but ran out of steam in the final furlong.

Call Me George, a 5-year-old Point Given horse, completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.07 to earn his first stakes victory. He paid $46.40.
It was a nice way for Graham, the track's leading rider, to reach a career milestone – victory No. 2,000.

“Thanks to Grant for putting me on this horse,” Graham said. “He’s a good old horse, and he has tried so hard against very tough company.”

Mineshaft runner-up Mystery Train, who would have added an element of early speed, was scratched Saturday morning by trainer Darrell Vienna, so eight horses started. The longshot Go Go Rocket was the early leader, running the first quarter-mile in 23.48 seconds and the half in 47.57, with Moreno and Albano close behind.

Call Me George was fourth at that point.

“I thought we were actually in a really good spot,” Forster said.

Albano, with Kerwin Clark riding, pushed to a narrow lead entering the final turn, with Moreno, with Joe Talamo riding, looming on the outside. Meanwhile, Call Me George, who doesn't run turns well, Forster said, was dropping back on the inside.

Moreno pushed in front of Albano approaching the eighth pole, and Albano fought back in the final sixteenth. But neither could hold off Call Me George.

“He fought hard,” Clark said of Albano. “When I finally got the lead inside the 70-yard pole, two jumps later, here comes [Call Me George]. I think we'll have a good summer with him.”

Talamo said of Moreno: “I was able to sit right off the speed, really the perfect trip.  I had a lot of horse turning for home.  During the stretch, he started looking around.  I wish they would have come to me sooner, but he ran his race. He tried.”

So did Call Me George, who won for the sixth time in 23 starts. He was claimed twice last year – for $40,000 in March at Fair Grounds and for $62,500 in May at Churchill Downs. That's when Forster became his trainer.

The owners are Clint Joyner, Matthew Bond, and Jim Curry. Forster said Curry had been in the horse's original ownership group and wanted to reacquire him.

Call Me George finished third in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup in his final start last year, and he was third in optional-claiming company March 1 in his 2015 debut.

“He was short going into that race, and we knew it,” Forster said. “He just came out of it so well.”

Well enough to win the New Orleans Handicap.