02/25/2017 8:55PM

Honorable Duty continues strong start to season for Walsh in Mineshaft

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Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography
Honorable Duty (left), with Julien Leparoux aboard, outfinishes International Star (center) and Dazzling Gem to win the Grade 3 Mineshaft.

NEW ORLEANS – With 45 winners during 2016, including eight stakes races, Brendan Walsh’s fifth full year training was his best yet. Two months into this year, and 2017 is looking at least as good. Walsh has the very good long-distance dirt horse Scuba ready to unleash. Friday at Fair Grounds, he sent the vastly talented Redesdale out to win his third race from as many starts. And on Saturday, Honorable Duty swept to the lead at the quarter pole and beat International Star by a half-length to win the Grade 3, $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap.

Julien Leparoux, in from Florida, rode the winner for Walsh and David Ross’s DARR’s Inc. Dazzling Gem finished a nose behind International Star in third, and was followed by Eagle, December Seven, Mo Tom, and pacesetting Rise Up. The four starting high weights at 118 pounds swept the top placings. Honorable Duty ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.03 and paid $12.40 to win.

Honorable Duty, a 5-year-old gelding by Distorted Humor out of Mesmeric, by A.P. Indy, won for the fifth time in 10 career starts, but on fast dirt tracks he has four wins from five races. Honorable Duty was bred by Juddmonte Farms and started his career for Juddmonte in 2015 racing on turf in the Bill Mott barn. He was sold after three starts, and really turned a corner after being gelded last fall, according to his trainer.

“He’s always had a ton of talent, and I think he’s just starting to put it all together,” said Walsh.

Honorable Duty won the Tenacious Stakes here in December but missed the Louisiana Stakes last month after a slight hiccup.

“He had a few days where he wasn’t eating well, and we just weren’t happy with him. It’s a long year,” Walsh said.

Rise Up was sent from post 1 and made a clear lead, going his first quarter-mile in 23.69 seconds and then flying down the backstretch through a second quarter-mile in 23.10. The half-mile was a fast 46.79, and Rise Up was bound to stop at some point, but December Seven and Dazzling Gem rushed early to attack the leader before the three-furlong pole as Honorable Duty and Leparoux ranged up just behind them and on the outside. Honorable Duty made the lead the top of the homestretch, briefly looking like he would draw off, but Dazzling Gem battled on as International Star, who appeared to be going nowhere much of the race, launched a bid.

“I didn’t think I was going to get anything, and then all of a sudden he just took off,” said Miguel Mena, International Star’s jockey.  

International Star split Dazzling Gem and Honorable Duty and lunged for the wire, but his rally fell short, and the winner might have been idling in any case.

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“It’s the first time he’s been left alone near the end of a race,” Walsh said.

Eagle, who was last early, made a bid into the homestretch but flattened out late making his first start since July.

 “He was a little rusty today,” said jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

Mo Tom loomed up at the quarter pole in his 4-year-old debut, but his run soon waned and he beat only Rise Up.

“I think he got tired,” jockey Florent Geroux said.

Honorable Duty didn’t appear to get tired, and Walsh said the nine furlongs of the New Orleans Handicap, his intended next start, probably will only help him. A win in that race, and Walsh would be on the way to another career year.