12/02/2010 3:45PM

Gran Estreno gets another chance to show he can handle Fair Grounds turf


Gran Estreno, the $20,000 claim who keeps on giving, has run well over Polytrack at Keeneland and Arlington, and on turf courses at various venues. But so far, his mastery has not extended to Fair Grounds, where Gran Estreno will try to win the $60,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap on Saturday.

Gran Estreno was one of nine horses entered in the Diliberto, a 1 1/16-mile grass race, and he is far from the only horse unproven over the grass course in New Orleans. Among the nine, only Amazing Results has won on the Fair Grounds course, where proven success is a highly desirable quantity.

“For some reason a lot of horses don’t perform well on it,” said Richie Scherer, who has taken over Amazing Result’s training from Chris Block for the winter. “It’s really a horse-for-course kind of track.”

Amazing Results didn’t race last winter, but two seasons ago he won a pair of Fair Grounds turf races, one sprinting, the other a short route. And while Amazing Results often has contested races less than a mile in distance, he won the Grade 3 Carey going one mile at Hawthorne earlier this fall, and has trained well since coming to New Orleans, Scherer said.

Gran Estreno, meanwhile, has put together another three-win season in 2010, and won the Washington Park Handicap for the second year in a row on the Arlington main track. His connections point out that Gran Estreno’s two sub-par performances last season at Fair Grounds came on wet turf, and their hope is that course conditions, rather than the course itself, led to Gran Estreno’s losses.

But the Diliberto hardly is a two-horse race. It also includes Adriano, a Grade 2 winner making his second start back from a year-and-a-half layoff; and Ready Set, whose win Aug. 25 in the Eight Thirty Stakes at Delaware looks good enough to contend Saturday.

“He seems to be getting a little better,” said trainer Ronny Werner. “He’s not taking huge strides, but he’s taking baby steps.”

Pridham will sub for suspended Stidham

Fair Grounds stewards have granted permission for Gran Estreno to race in the Diliberto for Hilary Pridham, assistant to trainer Mike Stidham, since Stidham must begin serving a 15-day suspension for a medication violation on Saturday. Pridham will be the trainer of record at Fair Grounds until Stidham’s suspension ends.

Stidham was disappointed that his suspension began before a hearing on his medication positive is held on Dec. 13 in Chicago. The suspension stems from a positive test for the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug etodolac generated by Upperline after she won the Arlington Oaks. Stidham received two 30-day stays of the suspension from the Illinois Racing Board, but said extra time was required because of difficulty performing tests on a degraded DNA sample taken from Upperline.