11/19/2012 4:51PM

Fair Grounds: Thanksgiving Day Handicap to rematch Gantry, Cash Refund

Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography
Gantry (outside) edges Cash Refund in the 2011 Thanksgiving Day Handicap at Fair Grounds. They will go at it again on Thursday.

NEW ORLEANS – The white ibis with their crazy long orange beaks were occupied in their usual routine Monday morning, pecking away at bits of food in the turf course. Murmurs of Creole French burbled from barns sitting in the distant corners of the backstretch. At 7 o’clock, the sun still low, steam swirled from the backs of just-exercised horses cooling out on walking wheels. An hour and a half later, people were shedding layers by the minute, dressing down to match the strengthening sunshine as the blue saddle towels of trainers Amoss, Asmussen, and Stall buzzed around the racing oval.

It all felt like the same old Fair Grounds, right down to the past performance pages that came out over the weekend, when the first two cards of the 2012-2013 racing season were drawn. The traditional Thanksgiving Day opener (first post at an early 11 a.m. Cental time to accommodate the turkey-and-stuffing crowd) is headlined by the traditional Thanksgiving Handicap, which in turn features what has become a traditional Fair Grounds matchup of sprinters Gantry and Cash Refund.

The pair squared off three times during the 2011-2012 meet here, including a barn-burner of a Thanksgiving Handicap, where Gantry edged Cash Refund by a nose. The margin and order of finish was the same two months later in the Gaudin Handicap before Gantry made it three straight wins in the Duncan Kenner Stakes last April while Cash Refund finally lost his form. Adding firepower to this year’s renewal is Delauney, who beat Gantry over the summer at Louisiana Downs and won the Nov. 3 Bet on Sunshine Stakes at Churchill.

Tom Amoss trains Delauney and has horses in three other races Thursday. Fellow New Orleans native Al Stall also has horses for four races while Merrill Scherer, another local trainer by birth, runs in five of the day’s 10 races.

Those 10 races attracted a robust 110 entrants while Friday’s 10-race program drew 113. But that pace figures to be difficult to maintain. There are always empty stalls at the start of the Fair Grounds season, most awaiting arrivals from the Churchill Downs fall meet, but a walk around the stables Monday revealed a larger than usual number of empties this year. That’s at least in part a result of the outbreak of equine herpesvirus at Hawthorne Race Course, where a quarantine has kept more than 100 horses from shipping to Fair Grounds.