02/23/2013 5:55PM

Fair Grounds: Optimizer finds best part of turf course in Fair Grounds Handicap

Hodges Photography/Alexander Barkoff
Optimizer (right), under Jon Court, comes up the rail to overtake Willcox Inn in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap.

NEW ORLEANS – The turf course was soft Saturday for the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap, and jockey Jon Court said he moved Optimizer in and out in search of the best footing.

Optimizer found the ground and the opposition to his liking, powering to a two-length victory over late-running Bim Bam in a field of five-older horses. Two Months Rent finished third. There were seven scratches from the $150,000 race.

Court guided Optimizer to a stalking position behind pacesetter Willcox Inn as the horses moved toward the first turn. Willcox Inn set a slow pace, running the first half-mile in 51.52 seconds and six furlongs in 1:17.00 as Court kept Optimizer relaxed, a few lengths back.

“When it came down to it, I did venture down on the inside and I got back to the outside,’’ Court said. “We were trying to find the firmest spot out there, and it’s all pretty soft. But he handled it well enough to save some ground and make that move toward the lead down on the inside, and that put us in the winner’s circle.’’

A 4-year-old English Channel colt trained by D. Wayne Lukas for Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm, the 4-year-old Optimizer scored his second consecutive victory. He won the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley by 3 ½ lengths on Jan. 26 at the Fair Grounds. Court said that Optimizer ran just as well Saturday.

“His performance was as top-shelf as it could possibly have been,’’ Court said.

Richard Eramia, who rode Bim Bam, was pleased with his race.

“The only think you had to do on this grass was wait,’’ Eramia said. “My horse ran a strong race and finished even, and that was a good thing.’’