12/22/2011 5:05PM

Fair Grounds: Suntracer looking tireless

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Lou Hodges Jr.
Suntracer, with Rosie Napravnik riding, wins the Woodchopper.

In 2010, Suntracer raced into December, and, after a brief respite, he began his 2011 campaign in February, making one start in every month since except June. That’s quite a long time for a modern racehorse to go without a significant break from racing, but if the schedule has affected Suntracer, it has only been in a positive manner. Suntracer’s ninth race in 2011 might have been his best race of the year, and if that 2 3/4-length win over 3-year-olds in the Woodchopper Stakes on Nov. 25 is any indication, Suntracer is ready to tackle older rivals Monday in the $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap.

Suntracer was one of 10 horses entered in the Diliberto, which is carded for 1 1/16 miles on turf. The race also includes Princeville Condo – like Suntracer, an Illinois-bred – the winner of the 2009 Diliberto, while the connections of three entrants – Al Muhtasib, Pedrolino, and Worldly – appear to be hoping for a rain-off onto dirt: the trio’s combined 50 starts have produced not even a single victory in a grass race.

Suntracer spent one-third of his season chasing after Willcox Inn, behind whom he finished second in the Arlington Classic, the American Derby, and the Hawthorne Derby. And while Suntracer did not beat a strong field in the Woodchopper, he won the race with plenty to spare, moving from last to first in the length of the stretch while ridden out to victory by leading Fair Grounds jockey Rosie Napravnik. Napravnik has a return call for trainer Neil Pessin, and Suntracer, based on a snappy half-mile workout Dec. 20, appears to have a decent chance of returning to the winner’s circle.

A lack of especially strong competition should facilitate Suntracer’s step up from age-restricted to open competition. Princeville Condo exits a win in the Oct. 6 Carey Memorial at Hawthorne, but the 6-year-old does not seem to be quite the same horse who won the Diliberto two years ago. Princeville Condo was out of action for the better part of a year, and has started only three times since making his comeback in May. Mr. Vegas was all out to hold on for a second-level allowance win Nov. 26 at Fair Grounds, though at least is in good form. Ready Set won a minor Ellis Park stakes race over the summer, but was seventh in the 2010 Diliberto, while Strike Impact barely got out of a gallop while finishing last in the Bonapaw Stakes last weekend.

A move to dirt would make Worldly look good. His win in the Prairie Mile earlier this year was a performance good enough to take an off-the-turf Diliberto, though Pedrolino was especially sharp winning the Claiming Crown Iron Horse on Dec. 4 at Fair Grounds.

Brown hangs it up again

Longtime jockey Martin Brown officially retired from racing and was honored during a ceremony last Saturday at Fair Grounds. Brown, 67, broke a vertebra high in his back in a spill this past summer at Evangeline Downs, and doctors told him it would be life-threatening to continue riding races.

Brown returned to race-riding in his 60’s after an absence of more than two decades. A native of Opelousas, La., he started riding bush-track races in central Louisiana at the age of 7. In the late 1960’s he was one of the only black riders active in the upper Midwest, riding in Detroit and Chicago for trainers like Jere Smith and Spanky Broussard.