11/22/2012 5:31PM

Fair Grounds: Delaunay gives Amoss first Thanksgiving Handicap win

Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography
Delaunay and Rosie Napravnik win the Thanksgiving Handicap over Gantry.

NEW ORLEANS – When the owner Maggi Moss shelled out $40,000 to claim a horse named Delaunay last May 12 at Churchill Downs, her trainer Tom Amoss felt he was at least getting a solid animal. Delaunay has developed into something more than that. In the best race of his life, Delaunay comfortably turned back a bid from defending champion Gantry and won the $100,000 Thanksgiving Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths before an estimated crowd of 8,500 on a gorgeous opening day at Fair Grounds.

The victory gave Amoss, a prolific Fair Grounds winner throughout his long career, his first victory in the Thanksgiving, the traditional opening-day feature here.

“I’ve been coming to Fair Grounds since I was a kid,” said Amoss, a New Orleans native. “To win a signature race like this is a good feeling.”

Amoss has long delved deeply in the claiming game, and knows its wrinkles and twists as well as any trainer. He said that claiming a horse in Delaunay’s price range usually leads to one of two distinct trajectories.

“That category of claimers has basically disappeared in the U.S,” Amoss said. “With horses like that, they either go up, or go down.”

Delaunay has left no doubt about his direction of travel. He won the $67,000 Kelly’s Landing in his first start after the claim, and following a fourth-place finish in a Mountaineer Park stakes, has reeled off three straight wins after his score Thursday, with the Thanksgiving payday the biggest of his career.

Rosie Napravnik, riding her third winner of the day, unexpectedly found herself on the early lead in the Thanksgiving ‘Cap when Delaunay broke sharply and Cash Refund, the other primary pace player, was away a step slow. Cash Refund rushed up along the inside to take the lead, setting quick splits of 21.84 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 44.96 to the half while Delaunay shadowed him on the outside, awaiting his cue. When he got it after turning for home, Delaunay quickly left Cash Refund behind, and when Gantry tried to cut into his lead, Delaunay gave still more. Winning time for six furlongs on a fast track was 1:08.96.

“He’s just very responsive, very push-button,” said Napravnik, who rode Delaunay for the first time.

Gantry, coming back 19 days after finishing 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita, stayed on decently for second, but wasn’t as sharp as he’d been in three sprint-stakes wins here last season. Cash Refund, making his first start since June, ran a creditable race himself, holding down third despite starting poorly and racing inside on a pressured pace.

Delaunay, a 5-year-old Smoke Glacken gelding bred in Maryland by Fitzhugh LLC, paid $4.80 while winning for the 11th time in 36 starts. Amoss said he was likely to come back in the next Fair Grounds dirt-sprint stakes, the Jan. 26 Gaudin.

String King wins Mr. Sulu

String King got a perfect trip under James Graham and won the $60,000 Mr. Sulu Stakes for Louisiana-bred turf horses in the Thursday nightcap.

Bred, owned, and trained by Charlie Smith, String King ($5.40) won for the seventh time in 18 starts and cemented his position as one of the best statebred-restricted turf performers in training. With main rival Kissimmee Kyle getting embroiled in pace battle, String King sat patiently in fourth, bidding for and making the lead not long after turning for home. Heavenville loomed a brief threat at the eighth pole but String King held him at bay, winning by two lengths.

Blackntansatlarrys rallied for third, with Kissimmee Kyle holding fourth. Winning time for one mile on firm turf was 1:37.82.