03/28/2012 4:27PM

Fair Grounds: Finnegans Wake starts to focus for Louisiana Derby

Barbara D. Livingston
Finnegans Wake will try to put himself into the Triple Crown mix with a strong performance in Sunday's Louisiana Derby.

NEW ORLEANS – Finnegans Wake likes to gawk. The rawboned 3-year-old shipped from trainer Dale Romans’s base at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida to Fair Grounds on March 21. It was not until Wednesday morning during a routine gallop that he seemed to have really gotten used to the place.

“He’s a horse that really needs to get acclimated into his surroundings,” said Tammy Fox, the former jockey who is Romans’s longtime partner and a regular work rider for the stable. “He looks around a lot. He’s like a kid. Today was the first day he was really focused out there.”

Finnegans Wake won’t be among the favorites in Sunday’s Louisiana Derby, but he does appear to reside among a bulky group of developing sophomores who have a chance to step forward and move fully onto the Triple Crown trail. Finnegans Wake’s first two starts of the year came on turf, and in his stakes debut and second dirt race, he rallied from 13th to finish third, beaten nine lengths by Hansen, in the March 3 Gotham Stakes.

“He seemed to be the only one making up ground at the end,” said Fox, who is a native of Metairie, a New Orleans suburb.

Part of the plan with sending Finnegans Wake here early involved getting a work over the track, which Finnegans Wake did this past Saturday. And while the Powerscourt colt can be slow into stride, he’s fast enough to have worked five furlongs in a near-bullet 59.80 seconds.

“He just gradually picks it up, picks it up,” said Fox, who was here to work Finnegans Wake. “At the eighth pole that day, he saw some horses and he went on with it himself.”

A career-peak effort will be required from Finnegans Wake, if he’s to dent the upper echelon of the Louisiana Derby, but the race’s $1 million purse made the trip seem worthwhile.

“With all that money, you’ve got to give them a shot,” Fox said.

Shared Property gets blinkers for track bias

Trainer Tom Amoss said a main motivation for adding blinkers to Shared Property’s equipment package for the Louisiana Derby is the nature of the Fair Grounds main track this season.

“This year, the track has developed a speed bias like I’ve never seen here before,” Amoss said Wednesday morning. “The track is fine, it’s safe, but I’m talking about how it’s played in the afternoon.”

Shared Property has attempted – and failed – to rally into front-end biases in both his starts this season. Breaking from post 13 in the Lecomte Stakes, he closed from eighth to finish third, beaten a half-length, and after leaving from post 10 and racing four wide on both turns, Shared Property could only finish fifth, beaten 10 lengths, in the Feb. 25 Risen Star. Amoss hopes the addition of blinkers will help Shared Property position himself closer to the leaders Sunday.

“Based on the way the track has played every big day we’ve had this year, you’re not going to win the Louisiana Derby from way back, even at a mile and an eighth,” Amoss said.

Shared Property has been fitted with blinkers in his last two works, five furlongs in a bullet 59.60 on March 19 and a half-mile in a near-bullet 47.20 on March 26. But Amoss said the effect of the blinkers was more noticeable in regular daily training than fast work.

“His works have been the same, but his gallops have been a lot more focused,” he said.

Planned break on hold for Mr. Vegas

Trainer Richie Scherer has been through the series of turf stakes races in New Orleans before, but the horse that took him there eight years ago, Mystery Giver, was a much different animal than this year’s model, Mr. Vegas.

Mystery Giver, who won the 2004 Muniz, was a big closer with a meager appetite. Scherer spent no small amount of time fretting over Mystery Giver’s indifference to his feed tub. Mr. Vegas is no heavyweight, but he eats with gusto and possesses a forward running style that is the antithesis of Mystery Giver’s. And despite racing this winter on a course known for gobbling up speed horses, Mr. Vegas has won two allowance races and the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley Handicap, and he came within a head of holding off Smart Bid last month in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap.

Mr. Vegas has held his form so stoutly that a planned break from racing has twice been delayed. Mr. Vegas is a New York-bred, and there are statebred-restricted turf stakes for him later in the spring and summer. With those spots in mind, Mr. Vegas’s owner, Paul Andrews, considered turning Mr. Vegas out following his win in the Bradley. But the horse bounced back from that win so stoutly that it was difficult to pass up the Fair Grounds Handicap, and the same thing has happened in the weeks leading into the Grade 2, $400,000 Muniz.

“He’s a head away from being undefeated on this course, and I don’t see him being more than 6 or 8-1 in a Grade 2 for $400,000,” Scherer said. “You don’t get too many opportunities like that.”

Arm Force passes on Louisiana Derby

Arm Force will not be shipped from Florida for the Louisiana Derby, trainer Eoin Harty said Wednesday. A Gulfstream sprint maiden winner on Feb. 26, Arm Force would have been making his stakes and two-turn debut in a big field at an unfamiliar track.

“He’s a very inexperienced horse, and it might be biting off more than he can chew,” Harty said.

Arm Force will be considered for the Illinois Derby, one of a couple stakes at Keeneland, or a first-level allowance race, Harty said.

◗ Travelin Man and Soaring Stocks are part of a Todd Pletcher-trained entry in Sunday’s Duncan Kenner Stakes, but Pletcher said Tuesday that Soaring Stocks is the more likely of the pair to be shipped for the race. Pletcher’s several horses for the weekend stakes were to arrive here Thursday.