11/23/2011 3:14PM

Fair Grounds: Suntracer can emerge in Woodchopper

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Suntracer was scratched from the Commonwealth Stakes at Churchill Downs after rain soaked the turf course there.

NEW ORLEANS – Suntracer has raced in the shadow of top 3-year-old grass horses like Treasure Beach and, especially, Willcox Inn much of this season, and the $75,000 Woodchopper Stakes on Friday at Fair Grounds might let the light shine on Suntracer.

Second to Willcox Inn in three six-figure 3-year-old turf stakes this year, and eighth behind winning Treasure Beach in the Grade 1 Secretariat, Suntracer gets class relief and looks like a top contender in Friday’s feature at Fair Grounds.

Suntracer, turned over to Neil Pessin by trainer Chris Block upon shipping to New Orleans, was to have contested the Commonwealth Stakes on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs but was scratched when persistent rain soaked the turf course there. Instead, he winds up at Fair Grounds, where Suntracer won a maiden race and finished a tough-trip third in an entry-level allowance last meet. Unable to keep pace with the top-end 3-year-old grass horses this year, Suntracer has consistently performed at a level high enough to win a race like the Woodchopper, and Pessin said a campaign that began in February doesn’t seem to have taken a toll. Suntracer worked five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.60 here Nov. 13.

“He did that easy,” Pessin said. “Good horses work like that. He’s a good horse.”

While Suntracer has raced 1 1/8 miles or farther his last four starts, he has 2 wins and a third from 4 starts at Friday’s one-mile trip.

“Sometimes you get more pace and those shorter races set up better,” said Pessin.

And that could be the case Friday. J Isle, Cactus Son, and Greek Warrior look like early pace players, and others, like J.B.’s Thunder, may ratchet up pressure during the race’s middle section. J. B.’s Thunder hasn’t won since capturing the 2010 Breeders’ Futurity over Keeneland Polytrack, but his two post-layoff races, second-level allowances, produced a close fourth and a closer third-place finish.

“The timing’s perfect for him,” said trainer Al Stall. “He’s ready to roll. I think it’s his race to lose.”

Friendly Banter came within a neck of Suntracer in the Hawthorne Derby at 54-1, and could benefit from racing a furlong shorter Friday. Adirondack Summer, in from Florida for trainer Christophe Clement, beat Brilliant Speed in a turf race last winter, but hasn’t progressed since. Lightly raced Mr. Woodrow was fifth last out in the Super Derby and won his only grass start.

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