02/28/2013 4:48PM

Fair Grounds: Black Gold first chance for Up With the Birds to try turf

Michael Burns
Up With the Birds won lsat year's rich Coronation Futurity at Woodbine, but that race was restricted to Ontario-breds and contested on Polytrack.

Malcolm Pierce has his Fair Grounds mojo back. After winning with just 2 of 45 starters during the 2011-2012 Fair Grounds season, Pierce has enjoyed a far more fruitful meeting this winter, with 7 wins from 27 runners. The Canadian-born trainer, whose bread and butter is the long Woodbine meet, already has unveiled a pair of talented Ontario-bred 3-year-old fillies, Deceptive Vision and Dance Again, and in the $75,000 Black Gold Stakes on Saturday sends out one of the leading Ontario-bred 2-year-old colts of 2012, Up With the Birds.

Up With the Birds is one of seven entrants in the Black Gold, which shares top billing on the card with the $75,000 Allen “Black Cat” Lacombe, the 3-year-old filly version of the race that drew an overflow field of 13. Pierce has two more fillies for the Lacombe: Overheard won a first-level Fair Grounds turf allowance on Dec. 13, and can contend again with a similar showing. Tonight We Dance, who won an off-turf Fair Grounds maiden Dec. 27, would be making her turf debut if the Lacombe remains on turf.

And don’t laugh: After four good drying days (cool, low humidity, breezy) the turf stakes Saturday actually stand a decent chance of staying on turf. The Lacombe field is capped at nine starters with the portable inner turf rail moved 25 feet out into the course.

Up With the Birds’s big payday in the $250,000 Coronation Futurity last Nov. 10 makes him the richest horse in the Black Gold, which will be contested at 7 1/2 furlongs if on turf, and one mile 70 yards if moved to dirt. But there is no strong reason to think he has a significant edge on several others in the race. A Sam-Son Farms homebred by Stormy Atlantic, Up With the Birds improved in his second start when Pierce stretched him out to two turns, but he beat only six rivals there, and had but five foes in the Coronation, which is restricted to Ontario-breds. Up With the Birds is bred for grass but never has raced on it.

A Florida shipper, Skylander, stretches out from a pair of fast-paced turf sprints and should ensure a lively tempo, which is good news for Mughaadir, a Shadwell Farm homebred who was an eye-catching turf maiden winner on Dec. 21, his only start this winter. Mughaadir did not clock a fast time, and his four-length win produced a modest Beyer Speed Figure, but he made a flashy move to go from seventh at the quarter pole to first at the stretch call, looking like a colt with still more to give.

Cairo Six also won a turf maiden race around two turns at the meet, beating a potentially talented colt named Smooth Stone on Dec. 1. Animal Style, a $30,000 claim last autumn, won a maiden race and the Van Berg Stakes in his last two Fair Grounds starts. Both were sprints, and he has distance questions to answer. Favorite Uncle is set to make his turf debut, and is a half-brother to Grade 1-winning turf mare Lady of Shamrock.

In the Lacombe, Magical Moon might have found a good spot to notch her first win of 2013. In Magical Moon’s only previous turf try she won a Saratoga maiden sprint by more than 10 lengths, suggesting turf – if not a distance of ground – suits her best. Trained by Al Stall, Magical Moon got in a useful dirt-sprint comeback race on Feb. 10.

Smitten finished a closing fourth making her career debut in a two-turn Keeneland turf race last fall, but she is using the Lacombe as a potential stepping-stone to the Fair Grounds Oaks after having to miss the Rachel Alexandra Stakes last weekend because of a minor injury.