11/28/2012 2:58PM

Fair Grounds: Mena arrives from Kentucky in peak form


He and his wife April just had their first child, a girl named Naelah, two months ago.

He won four graded stakes at Churchill Downs, including a sweep of the last three of the fall meet that ended Sunday.

And he has been clean of drugs and alcohol for more than two years.

Life is pretty good for 26-year-old Miguel Mena, no?

“Life is great,” Mena said.

Mena and his family arrived Tuesday night in New Orleans, where he will ride the next four months at Fair Grounds. Mena said in a brief phone interview the following morning that he is hopeful of sustaining his momentum – and that includes a ride aboard a chestnut mare named Palazzo Babe in the Friday feature, a $51,000 optional claimer scheduled for 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf.

Palazzo Babe, the only one of seven in for the $62,500 claiming option, comes off a sharp third in a similar race at Churchill.

“She’s a nice sprinter on the turf,” Mena said. “She ran some nice races at Arlington Park and she just ran a big race at Churchill. I think she will be very live on Friday. She breaks good. I will hope for a nice trip and try to get the money.”

Mena has been getting plenty of money since he decided to battle his self-destructive tendencies in the aftermath of an embarrassing incident in August 2009, when he missed his flight to ride the eventual winner of the $750,000 West Virginia Derby, Soul Warrior. Mena, a native of Peru, said he has been clean since undergoing treatment for alcoholism and that he is extremely happy with his new lifestyle.

His recent binge sure was a winning one as he swept the Saturday 2-year-old stakes at Churchill – the Golden Rod and the Kentucky Jockey Club – with Seaneen Girl and Uncaptured before capping a 19-win meet with longshot Keep Up in the River City on Sunday. His running totals for 2012 are 150 wins and more than $5.6 million in mount earnings.

“Everything could not be better,” he said.

Palazzo Babe, trained by Michelle Lovell, will break from post 2 in the eighth of nine Friday races. The Kentucky-bred mare was claimed for $40,000 in March at Fair Grounds, where she has racked up a solid 1-3-2 record from 8 starts over the local grass course.

Her main opposition could come from a pair of comebacking fillies from high-profile stables: Sunday’s Child (post 6, Richard Eramia), a 3-year-old with a 3-for-7 record for Al Stall Jr.; and Anniversary Girl (post 7, Jimmy Graham), who came to Bret Calhoun in September after earning nearly $200,000 in California for Jerry Hollendorfer.

Completing the lineup are Always Here Too, Vera Belle, Queenie Vic, and Cho Cho Cat.

First post Friday is 12:40 p.m. Central, with the feature set for 4:13. One other allowance, a $47,000, first-level sprint on the main track, directly follows as the program finale (post 4:45).

The next stakes at Fair Grounds are the 11 Louisiana Champions Day races on Dec. 8.