02/21/2015 6:29PM

Chocolate Ride wins Fair Grounds Handicap in stakes debut

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Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography
Chocolate Ride and jockey Florent Geroux win the Fair Grounds Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths Saturday.

NEW ORLEANS – Florent Geroux, riding Chocolate Ride, kept waiting for the expected pacesetter, Skyring, to pass him and take the lead. He never came, and Chocolate Ride never relinquished his early lead, wiring the Grade 3, $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap in his stakes debut.

Claimed for $40,000 by trainer Brad Cox and owner John Wentworth on Nov. 21 at Churchill, Chocolate Ride won a first-level turf allowance race here Feb. 7, finishing strongly enough to give his connections reason to take a shot in the Fair Grounds Handicap.

“We saw it was not coming up that strong a race, and when there wasn’t a lot of speed, that was the deciding factor,” said assistant trainer Ricky Giannini.

Not a lot of speed? Try no speed.

“He broke well, and I made the lead, and I was just looking for [Skyring] to come up on the outside, but he didn’t,” said Geroux.

Gifted an easy lead, Chocolate Ride made the most of it. On a course that had been carrying front-runners Saturday, he set mild splits of 24.26 and 49.03 seconds, and when Geroux cut and ran at the top of the stretch, he opened a huge lead. Glenard, an English import making his U.S. debut for trainer Graham Motion, finished fast and bridged the gap, but his rally fell short while carrying him nearly three lengths clear of third-place Pyrite Mountain. Skyring, the 5-2 favorite, was dull throughout and finished last.

Chocolate Ride, a 5-year-old Candy Ride gelding, ran nine furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.84 and paid $28.20 to win.

Chocolate Ride had “a few minor foot issues” when he was claimed, Giannini said, but the barn has worked diligently to help him through them. And from the look of things, nothing was bothering him Saturday.