12/06/2012 4:33PM

Fair Grounds: Populist Politics shaky favorite in Louisiana Champions Day Classic

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Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography
Populist Politics (center), winning the Mr. Sulu Stakes in October, will try to improve upon his runner-up finish in last year's Louisiana Champions Day Classic..

There’s no free square anymore on Louisiana Champions Day – at least not in the $150,000 Classic. For four years, that was Star Guitar’s race, but with Star Guitar retired to the breeding shed, this year’s Classic is up for grabs.

The Classic goes as race 11 on a 13-race program for Louisiana-breds. Three Quarter Horse stakes start the card, with a pair of maiden races mixed in with the eight Thoroughbred stakes, all of which offer $100,000 purses save the one and one-eighth mile Classic.

The general inclination for handicappers will be to turn to Populist Politics in the Classic. The 4-year-old Tom Amoss-trained Populist Politics finished second to Star Guitar in this race last year and came within a head of him last April in the Costa Rising Stakes.

The most recent start for Populist Politics came at Delta Downs, where he finished second in the $100,000 Gold Cup, and the late-running colt almost certainly prefers the larger Fair Grounds oval.

On the other hand, Populist Politics has shown no obvious improvement since September 2011, when he finished third in the Grade 2 Super Derby, and he is only two starts removed from being eased in the Aug. 4 West Virginia Governor’s Cup because of a breathing problem. Amoss has said that issue appears to be under control – but bettors might want to think hard about taking a short price on a horse who has just three wins from his last 17 starts.

Get in Da House rallied to within a neck of Populist Politics in the Costa Rising and acquitted himself admirably in open stakes competition later in 2012. But he is drawn wide in post 11, and the Classic’s 1 1/8-mile trip may push Get in Da House’s distance limitations.

Lee’s Spirit, claimed for $20,000 in September, easily handled Populist Politics in Delta’s Oct. 27 Gold Cup. Most will view the 7-year-old as a one-race improver, but trainer Eddie Johnston has a way of sustaining initial off-the-claim success, and on pedigree, Lee’s Spirit should relish the nine-furlong distance.

The pace scenario depends on where cross-entered horses wind up: Lovely Vin and Watch My Smoke, two forward types, also were entered in the Turf. If both scratch, Heavy On Themister looms the Classic’s controlling speed.

◗ Nine horses were entered in the 1 1/16-mile Turf, but four were cross-entered in other races, and the Turf could go with an unusually short field. The main contenders seem clear: String King, Sadie’s Soldier, and Kissimmee Kyle.

String King won the 2011 Turf by a nose over Kissimmee Kyle and figures to be favored. Bred, owned, and trained by part-time horseman Charlie Smith, String King has won 5 of his 12 grass races, including a convincing opening-day score in the Mr. Sulu Stakes.

Sadie’s Soldier traded decisions with String King and Kissimmee Kyle over the summer at Louisiana Downs and looked good winning a high-end Louisiana-bred allowance on the Fair Grounds course last season.

Kissimmee Kyle improved when he began rating better earlier this year, but he was eager and dueling for the lead in the Mr. Sulu. That race might have taken the edge off Kissimmee Kyle, and with a more patient approach he’s also a win threat.

◗ Amanecer de Oro won the 2011 Sprint at odds of 31-1 but might be an even-money favorite this year.

Amancer de Oro’s connections tried sprinting and routing, dirt and turf, open and statebred-restricted competition, but have figured out Amanecer de Oro can make a good living in Louisiana-bred dirt sprints. He has comfortably won the last three such races in that division and figures to be prominent throughout Saturday’s six-furlong dash.

◗ Delta Downs stakes graduates look like solid favorites in the 2-year-old stakes, the Juvenile and the Lassie.

Westernator won the $150,000 Louisiana Legacy, a two-turn Delta sprint, in his most recent start but appears to be equally effective in more traditional one-turn sprint races like the Juvenile. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he was second facing open company in the $75,000 Kip Deville Stakes this fall at Remington. Hero Force, who should have won his start on opening-day, could be tough to catch if he slips clear on the lead.

In the Lassie, Sittin At the Bar, who was third last out in the Delta Princess, figures difficult to beat as she returns to Louisiana-bred competition for the first time since a blowout debut win this past summer at Evangeline Downs.

◗ Speedacious will be an odds-on favorite probably not worth trying to beat as she tries to win the Ladies Sprint for the second straight year. The Ladies, a two-turn dirt race, drew a short field and should come down to Little Miss Protocol and Ladyzarbridge.