Updated on 09/15/2011 1:39PM

Can't keep a good horse down


NEW ORLEANS - Valhol has trained so well since he won the Tenacious Handicap on Dec. 2 that he will race again Saturday at Fair Grounds in the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap, a race he had been scheduled to pass.

* had been away from the races for nine months - first with an injured leg and then as he recovered from pneumonia - when he returned in the Tenacious. He put in a powerful performance, responding to a rough stretch run by bulling his way to the lead and drawing away to score by a length. A couple days after the race, trainer Dallas Keen said he and owner Jim Jackson expected to skip the Louisiana Handicap with Valhol.

But Jackson said Wednesday that Valhol would run Saturday and pass on an upcoming handicap race here as he moves toward his early-season goal, the March 3 New Orleans Handicap. Jackson said the 27 days between the Tenacious and the Louisiana Handicap gives Valhol enough time to be ready.

Valhol's half-mile Fair Grounds work Monday, clocked in 48.40 seconds, was the second-fastest during a busy morning of works.

"Dallas told me, 'Jim, he's doing so good it's scary,'" Jackson said.

In the Louisiana Handicap, Valhol probably will face five to seven rivals, including Neon Shadow and the up-and-coming Rock Slide, who makes his stakes debut.

Trained by Neil Howard, Rock Slide was an easy winner in a third-level allowance race here Dec. 9 in his first grass start. That race served as a prep for Saturday's stakes. Rock Slide has now won three straight races by a combined 15 lengths. He worked a solid five furlongs Monday.

A future on dirt

Serena's Tune's return to dirt Dec. 20 resulted in an easy victory, and the 3-year-old filly is likely to run next in a main-track sprint stakes at Fair Grounds, perhaps the Feb. 9 Pan Zareta Handicap.

*, the first foal out of champion Serena's Song, was considered a Kentucky Oaks hopeful during the spring after an impressive start to her career in Southern California. But after finishing eighth in the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn, Serena's Tune raced on turf for her next six races, until her victory here.

In a field that included stakes winners Hattiesburg and Cheryl P., Serena's Tune stalked the early pace, took over turning for home, and won by 4 1/2 lengths, running six furlongs in 1:09.55, one of the fastest times of this meet.

Trainer Josie Carroll said Serena's Tune's sixth-place finish on turf in the Dec. 1 Leggio Handicap here and the positive signs the filly had given during her main-track works prompted the shift to the main track. "It's something we've been thinking about for a long time," she said.

Clergy a juvenile on the rise

Perhaps the two most impressive 2-year-old maiden winners of the Fair Grounds meet, Garb and Clergy, both are trained by Frank Brothers, who won the Louisiana Derby two seasons ago with Mighty.

Garb won a maiden race here Dec. 10, and Clergy won the 10th race on Dec. 21. A first-time starter by the first-crop sire Pulpit, Clergy showed good speed in a training race win here, but he surprised even Brothers with his debut performance.

Breaking from an inside post, Clergy dueled on a quick pace, was passed on the far turn, but came back while racing along the inside to win going away by two lengths, running six furlongs in a swift 1:10.79. It was an unusually professional performance for an inexperienced horse, especially one who was slow to come around.

Clergy showed little ability and was difficult to handle last spring, so he was gelded. Brothers attributed Clergy's emergence this winter to being gelded and the normal maturation process.

"Fall was his time," Brothers said.

Horses by Pulpit have shown an affinity for route races, but Brothers isn't convinced Clergy wants to run long and said he's leaning toward another sprint for Clergy's next start.

Clergy was bred and is owned by Adele Dilschneider, part-owner of Mighty.

As for the next two-turn 2-year-old allowance race, Brothers has Garb and Robe, a Churchill maiden winner, ready for that spot.

Mr. Bigbird can fly

Mr. Bigbird, a 2-year-old full brother to Grade 1-winning sprinter-miler El Corredor, turned in perhaps the most impressive performance in three schooling races here Wednesday.

After breaking slowly and dropping well behind the leaders, Mr. Bigbird moved up steadily along the rail and finished strongly on the inside of Toi Fund, who led throughout and held on by a head. The time for the five-furlong race, 1:02.60, was close to two seconds faster than the other two training races. Mr. Bigbird is trained by Bill Badgett.

The speedy Toi Fund also might make an impact in his debut.

Another to watch is the Michael Dickinson-trained 3-year-old filly Out of Egypt, who was hard held while finishing third in the morning's final race.



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