02/14/2012 2:48PM

Fair Grounds: Cease still has to answer some questions

Tom Keyser
Cease was a close third in the 2011 Hawthorne Gold Cup.

Cease basically came out of nowhere last year, going from a being maiden few had ever heard of in August to a legitimate contender in graded stakes races in the fall. Everything happened quickly, while nothing was totally and satisfactorily answered during 2011, and Cease’s 2012 debut in the featured eighth race on Thursday at Fair Grounds should help to start filling in the blanks.

Five-year-old Cease, bred and owned by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farms, is one of seven horses entered in a second-level, dirt-route allowance also open to $40,000 claimers. The Thursday feature also includes Infrattini, defeated as the even-money favorite in a race like this last month, and Tonto Fontenot, who freaked in his most recent start, running as fast as a stakes horse in a Jan. 18 conditioned claimer.

Cease’s most recent start came in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, where he finished fifth, beaten less than seven lengths after contesting what turned out to be a taxing pace and holding the lead to the stretch call. In his previous start, Cease had finished a close third in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, coming in just a head behind Where’s Sterling, the troubled and encouraging fourth-place finisher in the Donn Handicap last weekend. Those races followed a breakout two-start Saratoga campaign during which Cease won a maiden race by more than 13 lengths and a first-level allowance by more than three, racing both times on a wet track. Cease had earlier in the summer finished first in a Churchill turf maiden race, but he was disqualified from that apparent win.

“We still don’t really know what he is,” said trainer Al Stall. “Is he a turf horse? Is he a dirt horse? Is he a graded stakes horse, a listed stakes horse, an allowance horse? We still have a lot to find out.”

Stall feels on more solid footing when it comes to Cease’s readiness for his comeback. Cease didn’t get an extended post-Breeders’ Cup break, and has logged six timed workouts readying for Thursday’s start. Miguel Mena, aboard for five of Cease’s seven starts, has the call.

Infrattini, trained by Paul McGee, could finish only a well-beaten second in a Jan. 19 race at this class level and distance, but the horse that beat him, Nate’s Mineshaft, ran the fastest one-mile, 70-yard time of the meet, and didn’t slow down in the stretch run enough to let Infrattini gain much ground.

Tonto Fontenot looked mildly brilliant in his most recent performance, winning a $25,000 nonwinners-of-three claimer by more than 13 lengths while clocking a very fast 1 1/16-miles. Whether that win translates into a competitive showing against the likes of Cease remains to be seen.