01/03/2013 1:28PM

Fair Grounds: Great claim Lovely Vin tries for stakes win in Dixie Poker Ace

Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography
Lovely Vin (right), second to String King in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf. has been tremendous since he was claimed for $20,000 in August.

New Orleans is a nice place to spend the winter with a Louisiana-bred stakes-level turf horse: This is just Week 6 of the Fair Grounds race meet, and Saturday’s feature, the $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace, already is the third turf stakes offered for older Louisiana-breds.

It’s a setup probably not lost on owner Maggi Moss when she claimed Lovely Vin for $20,000 out of a grass win Aug. 1 at Evangeline Downs. Since then, Lovely Vin has a pair of wins and seconds, including a narrow loss to String King in the $100,000 Champions Day Turf, and he’s definitely the horse to catch Saturday in the one-mile Dixie Poker Ace.

“This horse just fell into my lap,” said trainer Tom Amoss. “Maggi called me one day and said she found a horse at Evangeline that she really liked, and all they did was ship the horse up to me in Kentucky. There’s no other way to put it -– it was a great claim.”

Lovely Vin benefits from the absence of String King in the Dixie Poker Ace. Breeder-owner-trainer Charlie Smith took String King back to his training base in northwest Louisiana following String King’s Champions Day win, and is passing the Dixie Poker Ace with an eye toward open stakes races later this meet. That leaves Lovely Vin and Sadie’s Soldier, who was third in the Champions Day Turf, as the obvious contenders Saturday.

Lovely Vin, a 4-year-old son of Vindication, won a turf-allowance race Nov. 29 leading all the way, and held the Champs Day Turf lead from the start until the final half-furlong. The portable inner turf rail will be placed 25 feet out into the course Saturday, a configuration that can prove helpful to front-runners at Fair Grounds, but Amoss isn’t certain that will be the case.

“I just don’t know what to make of this turf course, where to put your horse, as well as what lane to use,” Amoss said. “It has been a puzzle to me.”

Sadie’s Soldier rallied from eight lengths back after a half-mile to finish less than two lengths behind Lovely Vin on Champions Day, and has a rally potent enough that he beat String King last August at Louisiana Downs. But to win the Dixie Poker Ace, Sadie’s Soldier might require assistance from horses such as No Rules Now and Productive Envoy who have enough pace to keep Lovely Vin from stealing off to an easy lead.

Heavenville, Blackntansatlarrys, and even the filly Sunday’s Child are not without a chance if the race stays on turf. There’s a chance of rain Saturday, and a move to dirt would benefit Lee’s Spirit, though Amoss said it was likely Lovely Vin would stay in the Dixie Poker ace in the event of a rain-off.

◗ The first five finishers from the Champions Day Ladies Sprint are matched again in an open allowance race that immediately precedes the Dixie Poker Ace. Harlie’s Dreams and Warrior Maid finished 1-2 in the Champions Day race and are difficult to separate.

◗ Prime Cut, who hasn’t raced since July 2011, heads an appealing second-level allowance carded for 1 1/8 miles on turf in race 7. The 5-year-old David Carroll-trained Prime Cut, who would be making his turf debut, finished second in the Lexington and third in the Peter Pan at 3.