03/06/2012 5:05PM

Fair Grounds: Cease, Sunday's Child provide a lift for Stall's stable

Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Cease wins the $150,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park.

Trainer Al Stall saddled four winners Nov. 24, opening day of the Fair Grounds 2011-12 meeting, but when the calendar flipped to 2012, it’s fair to say that Stall’s meet stalled. It took Stall two months and 48 Fair Grounds starters to win as many races as he took down on that single late November afternoon, but there are signs that the fallow period is fading. The brightest of them was the performance Saturday night at Sam Houston by Cease, who ran himself back into graded stakes competition with a decisive victory in the $150,000 Maxxam Gold Cup.

Second in a second-level allowance race last month at Fair Grounds, his first start of the year, Cease won the 1 1/8-mile Maxxam Gold Cup by almost three lengths while appearing to race in total comfort.

“He looked like a winner from when the gate opened, and that’s what you like to see,” Stall said Tuesday morning.

Lightly raced Cease moved directly from a first-level allowance victory to a close third in the Hawthorne Gold Cup last fall, before finishing his year with a fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. Stall said Cease was likely to make his next start April 1 at Fair Grounds, though his race could come on dirt in the New Orleans Handicap or on turf in the Mervin Muniz Handicap.

Back at Fair Grounds, the Stall-trained Sunday’s Child narrowly prevailed Saturday in the Sarah Lane’s Oates Stakes, a grass race for Louisiana-bred 3-year-old fillies. Sunday’s Child, Stall said, is likely to run back in the Crescent City Oaks on March 31.

But plans for another better-known horse owned by the Brittlyn Stables of Maurice and Evelyn Benoit, Star Guitar, remain up in the air, Stall said. Star Guitar is in steady training and doing well, but the $60,000 Costa Rising Stakes on April 1 doesn’t offer a large enough purse for Star Guitar to break the all-time Louisiana-bred earnings record held by Happy Ticket, a mark Star Guitar is fast approaching.

Mena, McMahon serving bans

Two of the meet’s leading riders, Miguel Mena and C.J. McMahon, began serving suspensions this past Saturday after dropping their appeals of penalties handed down by Fair Grounds stewards for riding infractions. Mena’s suspension runs through March 10, while McMahon – who was given days for two incidents – will be sidelined through March 18, according to his agent, Tony Martin. Martin said McMahon will be permitted to ride Ravi’s Song in the March 17 New Orleans Ladies Stakes while his general suspension is ongoing. Entering Thursday’s races, Mena ranked third among Fair Grounds riders with 62 victories, while McMahon, an apprentice, was fourth with 60 wins.

◗ James Graham, second-leading rider at the meet, escaped serious injury Sunday when Meldrick, his mount in the eighth race, hurt himself early in a two-turn turf race. Meldrick veered toward the outside rail and Graham was unseated, rolling into a support post, according to the rider’s agent, Britt McGehee. Graham took off his mounts the rest of Sunday afternoon, but was scheduled to work five horses Wednesday morning and will be active on Thursday’s card.

◗ Jockey Jesse Campbell, who won the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap on Nates Mineshaft, has left the Fair Grounds colony to get ready for the opening of the Woodbine season.