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Fair Grounds roundup
Bridgmohan enters the final three days of the Fair Grounds meet with a realistic chance to capture his first Fair Grounds riding title, though indefatigable James Graham is nipping at Bridgmohan's heels, trailing 71 wins to 68 entering Friday's action. Graham has gotten 171 more Fair Grounds mounts than Bridgmohan.
You say, "Well, yeah. Bridgmohan rides almost all of Steve Asmussen's Fair Grounds starters. He should be leading rider."
I say, "Umm - you have a point."
But seriously, while Bridgmohan has ridden 55 Asmussen-trained Fair Grounds winners, he is working at a higher level this meeting than ever before. In February, he rode 23 winners from 77 mounts. Many an Asmussen-trained, low-level Louisiana-bred conditioned claimer has been helped to victory this Fair Grounds season by Bridgmohan. Some win because they simply don't run as far as their foes. Want to find Bridgmohan's silks during a race? Look at the rail. Bridgmohan has fully grasped a fundamental fact that eludes so many riders: The inside path offers the shortest way home. As his Fair Grounds familiarity has deepened, Bridgmohan has learned that the track's extra-long stretch run gives him time to find a seam, to wait for the horses in front of him to drift off the fence, or to wheel his mount to the outside for a clear run.
An unfortunate fact: One of Asmussen's main owners, Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables, rarely employs Bridgmohan. With the poise and confidence he has been showing, it's hard to believe Bridgmohan isn't good enough for any horse.
Out of the blue, Margolis sent out five winners from eight starters during November racing at Fair Grounds. That was no blip. After a 5-of-21 December and a 4-of-23 January, Margolis won five more from just 15 February starters. In March, he is 2 of 9, but in the last week, three Margolis-trained horses put up a win and two seconds. For the meet, his in-the-money rate stands at a towering 64 percent.
Margolis also has won four stakes this winter, two at Fair Grounds and two more at Oaklawn. Do note he has two stakes runners Saturday.
The Louisiana Derby has been Stay Put's goal since he won an allowance race Jan. 3. A late-running colt, he had no chance closing into a false pace in the Risen Star. With more early speed and nine furlongs in the Louisiana Derby, he does have a chance.
Margolis's other is Duncan Kenner favorite Cash Refund, who would not be out of place going 440 yards at Los Alamitos. In his last start, a win in the Gaudin Stakes, Cash Refund went an opening quarter-mile in a meet's-fastest 21.20 seconds - that after breaking flat-footed.
Fair Grounds 3-year-olds
The "wow" factor has been set to mute most of the meet in terms of locally based 3-year-olds of 2010. Siente El Trueno flashed as much debut talent as anyone this winter, but hasn't been seen since his first-out win Jan. 23. Fast Alex never ran especially fast but was progressing nicely in two-turn races before going out with a recent injury. Nothing like Pyro or Friesan Fire, the last two Louisiana Derby winners, seen here this meeting.
The faltering national economy has taken its toll on the racing industry most everywhere, but Fair Grounds got hit particularly hard this season. Average daily handle declined 31 percent from November 2008 to November 2009, and a December-to-December comparison was only slightly better, with the daily average dropping 28 percent. Through the end of January, total average daily handle was down more than 26 percent. (As a Churchill Downs Inc. policy, Fair Grounds does not supply business figures. All handle figures - meet finals are due out in early April - come courtesy of the Louisiana State Racing Commission.) Purses were reduced across the board early in 2010. Some stakes took not one but two trims. When it wasn't raining, it was freezing. Rachel Alexandra lost. Tough season.
A RIDER WORTHY OF BETTER
Trainer Spanky Broussard once called Martin Brown the hardest working man on the backstretch. Brown, the only African-American jockey at Fair Grounds, is 65. He puts on his boots every morning to gallop and work horses, often for Broussard, with whom Brown has been connected for decades. It was Brown who breezed the Broussard-trained Stonehouse into his victory over Friesan Fire, General Quarters, and Giant Oak in the Mineshaft Handicap, maybe the most notable stakes upset of the meet. And it was unfortunate that no one was able to find Brown a winning mount before he went down with a broken collarbone March 7, an injury that could end his race-riding career. If you took note of the performance level of the 92 horses Brown rode this meet, it's no surprise he failed to find the winner's circle.
STAKES BY SATURDAY STAKES
Duncan F. Kenner: Euroears melted away from Cash Refund in the Gaudin Memorial on Jan. 23. I am not saying Euroears is going to win the Duncan Kenner. I am saying the fight will be fairer.
Before the Gaudin, everything was wrong for Euroears. He won the Thanksgiving Handicap with aplomb, a return to his glory days of the 2007-08 Fair Grounds meet. But not long after, Euroears left the track for some oxygen treatment at owner James Helzer's farm in Texas. He missed a scheduled start in Florida in January, might have been a little rushed to make the Gaudin, and backed meekly off the pace that day.
Now? Euroears has been lighting up the worktab. In February, after a swift morning move, jockey Jamie Theriot told trainer Bret Calhoun, "I don't know what you guys did to this horse, but he's doing better right now than he ever has."
Comebacking Kensei, off since the Jerome last Oct. 11, looked like a million bucks when seen in person last month. Is he ready enough to win?
New Orleans Handicap: Hope owner-trainer Tom McCarthy, he of the one-horse stable named General Quarters, dug the local ambience and cuisine, because he hasn't exactly been handed a healthy portion of luck this winter in NOLA. Here's General Quarters's season blow by blow:
Six-furlong comeback race Dec. 26: Sent up by jock Jose Riquelme to challenge a hot early pace and finished second to late-running Tempo Five. Mr. McCarthy not a strong candidate to sign Mr. Riquelme's yearbook.
Lousiana Handicap on Jan. 23: Held up in third as Friesan Fire waltzed through an opening quarter-mile in about 24.60 seconds. Second again, as loose-on-lead Friesan Fire gallops all the way round.
Mineshaft Handicap on Feb. 20: Drawn in post 1 for second straight race. Stop-and-go rail trip hounding Friesan Fire, moves to lead in final three-sixteenths, nipped late by 16-1 Stonehouse, who runs the race of his life.
It gets worse. General Quarters rapped himself coming off the track last week, and missed several days of training before getting in a Sunday work that stamped his ticket to the New Orleans Handicap - and promptly drew post 10.
Hard to say whether Quarters and McCarthy are overdue for a break or just destined for Fair Grounds disappointment.
Mervin Muniz: El Caballo had just crushed six rivals in the Jan. 23 Colonel Bradley Handicap, the turf horse's first start since June 7. His trainer, Ralph Nicks, was already saying in the winner's circle that he expected to hold El Caballo out of the Feb. 20 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup and go directly into the Mervin Muniz.
"So I guess you think he does well with some time between races?" an intrepid Daily Racing Form reporter asked Nicks.
Failing to fully beat back a smirk, Nicks said, "Did you just watch the race? I'd say he runs well fresh."
The Muniz is upon us. El Caballo has hit his marks in the morning, with works of five furlongs, six furlongs, and five furlongs during March. The horse finished second by a nose to Proudinsky in the 2009 Muniz, and the Proudinsky of spring 2009 would be favored in this Muniz.
Another question with the most obvious of answers: "You think El Caballo can win Saturday?"
Louisiana Derby: Drossel-who-er?
It has become racing's foremost province of punditry in the winter: The Derby top-10 list. And after his Jan. 31 nine-furlong allowance-race win at Gulfstream, Drosselmeyer climbed into rankings published by a profusion of pundits.
For all the mention Drosselmeyer has gotten the last few weeks, you might think observers had misread the race's chart, thinking he had finished 14th by 13 1/4 lengths in the Feb. 20 Risen Star. He did not. It was fourth by 1 3/4 after he had tried to rally into Discreetly Mine's slow pace while bottled up inside. He also was coming back on a mere 20 days' rest while shipping from Florida.
I still have the stuff Mott said on the phone the Monday before the Risen Star. Mr. Mott's seventh consecutive short, declarative sentence reads, "We'd like another week."
Drosselmeyer might not have beaten much at Gulfstream, but he did a lot of things well that day. Now he has had five weeks between starts, time for three works at Payson Park. Post 13 is no bargain here, but going nine furlongs at Fair Grounds, you get a lot of stretch run before the clubhouse turn.
All together now, pundits: Can you say, "Forward move?"
STAT WORTH PONDERING
Todd Pletcher in Fair Grounds graded stakes races since the 2004-05 meet: 25-8-4-2. Pletcher has starters in races 8, 9, 10.