02/23/2012 3:06PM

Fair Grounds Handicap: Mr. Vegas will try to carry speed nine furlongs

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Alexander Barkoff/Hodges Photography
Mr. Vegas, leading the field home in the Colonel E.R. Bradley, seeks his fourth straight victory in the Fair Grounds Handicap.

NEW ORLEANS – Before he got here last fall, Mr. Vegas had won just 4 times in 18 starts, and was pretty much stuck at the second allowance level when facing open company. His early speed figured to be compromised over a Fair Grounds grass course that traditionally devours front-runners.

“I thought he’d be in trouble at this track,” said his trainer, Richie Scherer. “I thought I’d run him once and turn him out. He’s won three in a row. What do I know?”

Mr. Vegas has turned into the best middle-distance grass horse at this meet. His hat trick of victories this season includes, most recently, the Grade 3 Col. Bradley Handicap, which gave him his first win in a graded stakes. Mr. Vegas will try to run that streak to four straight on Saturday, but he will have to stretch his speed to nearly 1 1/8 miles and turn back the classy invader Smart Bid in the Grade 3, $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap for older grass horses.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Scherer said. “He’s learning to rate a little better, which is helping him finish. The question is going to be a mile and an eighth, but I’ve got to try since he’s good right now. I’ve got to give him a shot at it.”

[MORE: PPs and video previews for the Saturday card at Fair Grounds]

Mr. Vegas’s previous victories this meet were at the about distances of one mile and 1 1/16 miles. He finished out of the money in his two prior tries at 1 1/8 miles.

Smart Bid ships in from south Florida, where he has been in steady training for Graham Motion for his first start since September. A soft course at Gulfstream forced him out of his originally planned comeback spot, but the Fair Grounds Handicap is an appropriate substitute, since Smart Bid won the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz here last year.

“I didn’t want to run him on a soft course at Gulfstream. The last time he was on a soft course,” Motion said, referring to a race at Parx in September, “he didn’t run well. I didn’t want to do that to him. Having this race helped me make that decision. This was a good back-up.”

Motion said Smart Bid got a vacation after that Parx race simply because he needed a rest. He had an aggressive 2011 campaign that found him shipping all over the continent.

Eight others are entered in the Fair Grounds Handicap, though Mister Marti Gras is expected to scratch in favor of the Mineshaft.

Dubious Miss comes off a second-place finish to Mr. Vegas in the Col. Bradley.

“He’s always loved this grass course,” said Paul J. McGee, who trains Dubious Miss.

Fair Grounds H. (G3), Post Time: 2:28 CT Saturday

Purse: $125,000; 1 1/8 miles

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

ML Odds

1

Derby Kitten

M. Maker

R. Napravnik

12-1

1

Achaemenes

D. Matthew

R. Zimmerman

12-1

1

Mr. Vegas

R. Scherer

M. Mena

9-2

1

Gleam of Hope

M. Stidham

J. Graham

6-1

1

Strike Impact

M. Scherer

J. Castellano

8-1

1

Dubious Miss

P. McGee

C. Lanerie

8-1

1

Uptowncharlybrown

E. Coletti, Sr.

P. Lopez

12-1

1

Mister Marti Gras

N. Pessin

S. Bridgmohan

5-1

1

Ioya Bigtime

N. Pessin

R. Albarado

10-1

1

Smart Bid

H. Motion

E. Prado

3-1