02/21/2012 2:08PM

Fair Grounds: Roussel pair strongest on grass


The first order of business in handicapping grass races at Fair Grounds usually doesn’t involve class, pace, or speed figures. It’s weather. The fickle nature of the New Orleans winter can scuttle the plans of horsemen and horseplayers, and it remains to be seen whether that scenario will unfold Thursday when the richest of nine races is run.

A $51,000, second-level allowance anchors the card as the seventh race, and with a 30-percent forecast of rain for Wednesday, and a much increased chance Thursday, there is no telling in advance whether the race will stay on grass at about 5 1/2 furlongs. In case it has to be transferred, then any of the three main-track-only designees – Southern Vintage, Ide Ball, and Bergman – stand as good a chance as any staying on the program.

Otherwise, on the grass, Louie Roussel might hold the strongest hand with his stable coupling of Harvest Home and Santa. Rosie Napravnik, the leading rider again at the Fair Grounds meet, accepted the call on Harvest Home, who rallied strongly to barely miss when pitted in this same kind of race on New Year’s Day. That late-running style clearly stands to be complemented by the speed Santa is likely to show under apprentice C.J. McMahon.

Other contenders in what shape up as a well-matched feature include Bold Recruit, a winner in his only starter over the local turf course; Oaklawn shipper Live From Appollo, a six-time winner over grass; Santo Gato, already a two-time winner over the grass at this meet for veteran trainer Merrill Scherer; and Heir Joe, a last-out winner over the course.

A very intriguing returnee is Red Strike, away from the races since January 2011, A 5-year-old gelding from Sam-Son Farms, Red Strike has been favored in every career start but might run out of room, having never raced shorter than seven furlongs.

One other allowance directly follows the feature as the eighth race. It’s a $49,000, first-level dirt sprint for fillies and mares, and Amoss has the one to beat in Hidatsa, already a three-time runner-up at this level. Eight are entered.

A solid Thursday card also includes two optional claimers (races 5 and 6) and a $25,000 conditioned claiming sprint scheduled for 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf (race 2). First post is 12:40 p.m. Central.

The 10-race Friday card is part of the Starlight Racing series, with twilight first post set for 5 p.m. Central.