01/22/2011 6:39PM

Gran Estreno proves he's got plenty left in his tank at age 8 by taking Colonel Bradley

Lou Hodges Jr.
Anna Rose Napravnik guides Gran Estreno to victory in the Colonel E.R. Bradley earlier this season at Fair Grounds.

NEW ORLEANS - About this time last year, the Gran Estreno wave seemed to have crested. Claimed for $20,000 late in the spring of 2009, Gran Estreno earned a rich payday later that summer winning the Grade 3 Washington Park Handicap, and he held his form admirably for months. But by last March, Gran Estreno could be found finishing a distant ninth while racing for a $62,500 claiming tag in a Fair Grounds turf race.

Aging former claimers are not expected to rise up again, but Gran Estreno sparked back to life again this past summer. He won his second straight Washington Park in August, and has been on or near the top of his game ever since, following up on a Fair Grounds turf allowance win Dec. 22 with a 1 1/4-length win in the Grade 3, $99,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap here Saturday.

“His last four or five starts have been so good,” said Mike Stidham, who trains Gran Estreno for Chicago-based Feel the Thunder Stable.

Gran Estreno used to be at his best racing on the lead, but he rated beautifully for new pilot Anna Rose Napravnik - who replaced injured Robby Albarado - on Saturday, rallying from fourth with a sharp, decisive run into the long Fair Grounds stretch.

“He’s almost changed his running style as an 8-year-old,” Stidham said.

Gran Estreno had a half-length on Dubious Miss at the stretch call and increased his advantage the rest of the way, coming home his final half-furlong in just more than six seconds over a yielding course. His final time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:46.04. Joinem ran late for third, followed by Red Strike, the surprising 5-2 favorite, who set the pace and had no kick. Gran Estreno paid $8.20 to win.

Recapturetheglory wins first stakes since 2008

After easily winning the 2008 Illinois Derby, Recapturetheglory failed even to finish in the top three the next six times he raced in stakes competition, but his long stakes drought ended on Saturday at Fair Grounds with a 1 1/4-length win in the $58,200 Louisiana Handicap.

Under Jamie Theriot, Recapturetheglory raced fourth in the first turn and hugged the rail down the backstretch as Royal Express, leading Mad Flatter, set quick fractions of 23.33 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.10 for the first half. Recapturetheglory moved to third, going inside Z Humor just before the half-mile pole, was switched out three-wide on the far turn, and came after the two leaders at the top of the stretch. He made the lead before the eighth pole and coasted to victory over late-running Apart, who outfinished Country Flavor for second.Owned by Louie Roussel and Ronald Lamarque and trained by Roussel, Recapturetheglory paid $14 to win, and was timed in 1:43.41 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track.


Apart, a multiple graded-stakes winner in 2010, was slow out of the blocks in his first start of 2011. Stumbling just slightly after the start, Apart trailed the field around the first turn and raced about 10 lengths from the leader after a half-mile before rallying moderately to finish second.

“He wasn’t too helpful early on,” said jockey Garrett Gomez. “Even down the lane he never came with a solid run until the last 60 yards.”

Wild About Marie upsets A.B. Leggio

Wild About Marie was a $15,000 maiden-claimer last August in Indiana, but she has found a niche in turf sprints and led all the way winning the $59,400 A.B. Leggio Memorial Stakes by a neck.

Trained by Jeff Thornbury for owners Ike and Dawn Thrash, and ridden to victory by Richard Eramia, Wild About Marie ($22.60) was clear by a length at the stretch call, but had to fight off a late inside rally from Chantilly Nayla. That filly might have poked her head in front in the final half-furlong, but Wild About Marie battled back to narrowly prevail.

Mimi’s Bling finished third, while mild favorite Red Hot Buddha was seventh. Wild About Marie was timed in 1:05.49 for 5 1/2 furlongs on yielding turf.

Early Return sprints clear in Gaudin

With just four horses and little early speed in the $56,400 Gaudin Stakes, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan had a plan for Early Return.

“That’s why I took the initiative, so I could establish a forward position,” Bridgmohan said.

On the lead through a slow opening quarter-mile in 23.03 seconds, Early Return dashed away from favored Mambo Galliano when asked for run by Bridgmohan at the top of the stretch, winning the Gaudin by 1 1/4 lengths. Early Return, bred and owned by Bert, Elaine, and Richard Klein, was timed in a fine 1:09.51 for six furlongs, and paid $5.60 to win. Mambo Galliano easily held second, with Le Grand Cru a nose better than Sweetsouthernmoon. Hawaiian Dream was scratched, and show wagering on the Gaudin was cancelled.