12/19/2011 4:16PM

Fair Grounds: Firehouse Red has tough opponent in Cloud Scapes

Lou Hodges Jr.
Firehouse Red, with Gabriel Saez riding, wins his maiden race on the Fair Grounds turf.

When asked why he had decided to winter his stable at Fair Grounds rather than Oaklawn Park this season, trainer Larry Jones cited two reasons related to racing surface. First, Jones thinks his horses thrive on the Fair Grounds main track, and secondly, Fair Grounds – unlike Oaklawn – has a grass course.

It’s on grass, in fact, that Jones has done his best work early this Fair Grounds meeting, with two of his three wins having come in turf races. One of those winners, Firehouse Red, starts in the featured sixth race on Wednesday, but Firehouse Red must handle impressive Woodbine debut winner Cloud Scapes in a first-level, one-mile allowance also open to $50,000 claimers.

Firehouse Red and Cloud Scapes comprise two-sevenths of a short field, among which there are no easy toss-outs. Firehouse Red herself is no standout, but she does possess something no other horse in the race has: a win over the Fair Grounds grass course. That came Dec. 2, when Firehouse Red, Gabe Saez up, rallied late to win by a half-length, besting 11 foes despite being thrown out of prerace routine by having her shoe repaired in the paddock. An Arch filly bred and owned by Hinkle Farms, Firehouse Red has what appears to be a decent late kick, and worked back a solid five furlongs since her maiden victory.

Cloud Scapes is set to make her turf debut while facing winners for the first time, but her pedigree – by Smart Strike and out of a Storm Cat mare – leans decidedly toward grass racing. Cloud Scapes debuted Nov. 6 in a Woodbine Polytrack race, rallying from ninth in the early going to post a going-away four-length win, a very sharp performance from a first-timer in a route race. Trainer Malcolm Pierce entered her in a recent Fair Grounds race at this class level but scratched when rain forced a move onto the main track. The way Pierce’s luck has been going (his only first-place finisher of the meet was disqualified) don’t be surprised if there’s more rain Wednesday, though the forecast calls for less than a 50-50 chance of precipitation.

If race 6 does get moved to dirt, Annaclone might be the one. She was claimed or $50,000 out of her most recent race, a two-turn Churchill maiden contested over a sloppy track.