12/02/2011 5:48PM

Fair Grounds: Jones Zing back on turf in feature


NEW ORLEANS – The trainer Andrew McKeever had a 2011 Fair Grounds meet that felt almost once-in-a-lifetime good. Irish-born McKeever, a 12-percent winner for his career, never had won more than five races during a Fair Grounds meeting, but last season, he went 11-6-7 from just 33 starters. McKeever treated bettors just as well as Fair Grounds treated him, producing a $5.01 return on investment with those runners. And while McKeever’s barn stayed strong from start to finish, he was particularly hot in the early going, winning with 5 of 9 starters between opening day, Nov. 25, and Dec. 31.

Could it happen all over again? McKeever won with his only starter so far this meet, Daisy Devine, who captured the Pago Hop Stakes last weekend, and runner number two, Jones Zing, looks live in featured race 8 here Sunday, an entry-level turf allowance carded for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

Jones Zing is no Daisy Devine – the 2011 Fair Grounds Oaks winner – but neither is the Sunday feature an especially difficult spot. She set the pace – probably the wrong kind of trip for the filly – and finished third in a turf race here last season, and was a wide, rallying third over yielding going at Indiana Downs late last spring in her only other turf start. Fifth and eighth at the Keeneland meet, Jones Zing gets off Polytrack and back onto grass, which probably is a favorable development. Her half-mile work in 48.60 seconds here Monday, third-fastest of 46 at the distance, lends credence to the idea that Jones Zing is headed for a solid performance.

The hot barn from Fair Grounds 2010-2011, however, must contend with the hot Fair Grounds barn from this week. Trainer Mike Stidham won three races on Thursday (one with promising 2-year-old filly Lady Candidate) and sends out Hey Carmen in Sunday’s eighth race. Hey Carmen, a 3-year-old More Than Ready filly, has a way of bringing weather with her, having been rained off turf three times in her last four starts. And right on cue, there’s a chance of precipitation in Sunday’s forecast. Hey Carmen won her maiden when it was rained onto dirt here last season, but seems better on grass. She was second by a neck on Sept. 3 at Delaware the last time she got in a grass race, and ran well on this course last season.

The other logical contender is Broken Trust Fund, whose synthetic track form looks at least moderately superior to what she has shown on grass.