11/20/2012 2:50PM

Fair Grounds: Gantry wheels right back off BC Sprint debacle

Barbara D. Livingston
Gantry won last year's Thanksgiving Handicap and is likely to be the favorite again.

NEW ORLEANS – Tom Amoss long has been closely linked to Fair Grounds. Amoss grew up in New Orleans, first went to the races at Fair Grounds, and used to be the perennial leading trainer here. Even realizing all that, the scope of his success at this track still startles. A total of 907 Fair Grounds wins. Sixty-six wins in Fair Grounds stakes.

“I’ve won a lot of races here,” Amoss said Tuesday morning. “But I’ve never won the Thanksgiving Handicap.”

That’s a hole in the résumé Amoss might fill with Delaunay, one of the principal players in the $100,000 Thanksgiving Handicap, the traditional opening-day feature of the Fair Grounds race meeting. Delaunay, a winner of two straight stakes races, is one of seven entered in the six-furlong dash, and, along with Gantry and Cash Refund, is one of the race’s big three.

Ron Faucheux, another New Orleanian, just turned 30 last week and has only 20 lifetime Fair Grounds wins. But it took Faucheux just one try to get his first Thanksgiving Handicap. He won it last year with Gantry, the likely favorite again Thursday.

Purchased privately not long before the 2011-12 meet began, Gantry rolled through the Fair Grounds dirt-sprint stakes schedule, capturing the Gaudin and the Duncan Kenner after narrowly beating Cash Refund on opening day. Gantry exits a poor 10th-place showing in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 3, which means two things: One, he is taking a mighty class drop, and two, Gantry runs back on shorter rest than usual.

“We’ve spaced his races out to where he should be okay with this, and we haven’t worked him between starts,” said Faucheux.

Gantry broke 10th in the BC Sprint and never got much closer, throwing his head and running in place while turning in a performance far below the best form he showed winning the Grade 2, $400,000 Smile Stakes in July.

“When the kickback hit him it was like he was taking punches,” Faucheux said of the BC Sprint.

Delaunay was claimed by Amoss and owner Maggi Moss for $40,000 in May and has since won three five-figure stakes, including the Temperence Hill at Louisiana Downs, where he set a slow pace and held off Gantry.

“He’s a horse that every time he goes to the track, he puts forth total effort,” Amoss said. “That being said, I haven’t seen much difference in him since I claimed him, and why he’s run so much better in those stakes, I can’t say.”

Delaunay is well drawn in post 6, a good spot from which to employ his speed. But 6-year-old Cash Refund, the five-time Fair Grounds winner who was nipped by Gantry in this race last year, drew post 2 for his first start since June.

“His best races are when he’s close, so hopefully he’ll come out of the box running,” said trainer Steve Margolis. “He’s a year older now, but it doesn’t show in his training.”

Good matchup in Mr. Sulu

The race following the Thanksgiving, the $60,000 Mr. Sulu Stakes, is restricted to Louisiana-breds, but there are plenty of capable horses entered to go one mile on turf. Among them are the two leading Louisiana-bred grass horses of the moment, String King and Kissimmee Kyle.

String King – bred, owned, and trained by Charlie Smith – won the Louisiana Champions Day Turf here last December, beating Kissimmee Kyle by a nose. But since then, Kissimmee Kyle has switched from front-running tactics to making one run from behind the leaders, a change that has improved his performance level. There is not much separating the two best horses in the race, but give Kissimmee Kyle the narrowest edge Thursday.

Fair Grounds has a special 11 a.m. Central first post Thursday.