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Louisiana Derby Day: Pletcher to have horses in four stakes
NEW ORLEANS – It’s not surprising that trainer Todd Pletcher will be well represented in the four Grade 2 stakes on Louisiana Derby Day.
Those races – the Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds Oaks, New Orleans Handicap, and Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap – have been good to Pletcher. He and the late Bobby Frankel are the only trainers who have won all four.
Pletcher, who has won the Louisiana Derby twice, the New Orleans Handicap three times, and the Oaks and Muniz once apiece, will have a chance to add to his totals with a strong, five-horse contingent coming from Palm Meadows in Florida for the Fair Grounds’s showcase card next Saturday.
Revolutionary, who won the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct, and Palace Malice, who finished a close third in the Grade 2 Risen Star, give Pletcher two Louisiana Derby contenders likely to be among the favorites in an expected full field of 14 3-year-olds. Unlimited Budget, who ran away with the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra for Pletcher, likely will be the favorite in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Graydar, coming off a three-length victory over Bourbon Courage in the Grade 1 Donn at Gulfstream Park, likely will be the favorite in a deep New Orleans Handicap. The graded stakes-winning turf horse Doubles Partner, coming for the Muniz, completes the Pletcher group.
Revolutionary was jammed along the inside much of the way in the Withers and was last at the top of the stretch before barging through tight traffic late to win by a neck. Pletcher, who then shipped Revolutionary from New York to Palm Meadows to train, considered several options for him.
“The Louisiana Derby made the most sense,” Pletcher said. “I liked the fact that it’s five weeks before the Derby.”
Another factor, he said, is that Revolutionary has “a tendency not to break real sharply,” and the long stretch at the Fair Grounds might be beneficial for him.
In the Risen Star, Palace Malice was making his fourth start and trying two turns for the first time. He made a solid late run, finishing a half-length behind winner Ive Struck a Nerve and runner-up Code West.
“He’s a horse we always liked a lot,” Pletcher said. “He’s done little wrong in his career. He took a little farther back than we anticipated in his first two-turn race.”
An indication of the race’s quality was the performance of Oxbow in the Rebel, Pletcher said. Oxbow, who finished fourth in the Risen Star, lost by a nose to stablemate Will Take Charge in the Rebel.
Entry day for the Louisiana Derby Day card is Wednesday. Three-year-olds expected by the racing office to be entered for the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby, as of Friday, are Revolutionary, Code West (trainer Bob Baffert), Palace Malice, Golden Soul (Dallas Stewart), Mylute (Tom Amoss), Proud Strike (Steve Asmussen), Departing (Al Stall Jr.), Sunbean (Stall), Ground Transport (Mike Stidham), Nina’s Dragon (Lloyd Mason), Titletown Five (D. Wayne Lukas), Hip Four Sixtynine (Bobby Barnett), Whiskey Bravo (Keith Desormeaux), and Brazilian Court (Mike Maker).
The Fair Grounds Oaks is expected to attract at least six 3-year-olds fillies, including graded stakes winners Unlimited Budget, Seaneen Girl, and So Many Ways.
In the Rachel Alexandra, run at the Oaks distance, a mile and a sixteenth, Unlimited Budget rallied from off a fast pace and pulled way to a 3 3/4-length victory.
“She ran really well,” Pletcher said. “She has in all three of her starts. The thing that impressed me, she seems to have improved since that race.”
So Many Ways, who won the Grade 1 Spinaway and Grade 3 Schuylerville last year at Saratoga for trainer Tony Dutrow, will be trying two turns for the first time. Seaneen Girl, trained by Bernie Flint, hasn’t raced since winning the Grade 2 Golden Rod in November at Churchill Downs.
Promise Me More, trained by Wes Hawley, and Blue Violet, who finished third in the Rachel Alexandra for trainer Larry Jones, are expected back for the Fair Grounds Oaks. Ante Up Annie, a stakes winner in Louisiana-bred company for trainer Dallas Stewart, also is expected to run.
Trainer Bill Mott nominated Close Hatches, Emollient, Flashy Gray, and Watrugonnadorosie to the race. Mott said Friday that a decision on which filly might run will come after he watches workouts this weekend.
As of Friday, the seven expected New Orleans Handicap horses include five graded stakes winners – Graydar, Bourbon Courage (trainer Kellyn Gorder), Flat Out (Mott), Mark Valeski (Jones), and Macho Macho (Asmussen). Cool Street (Flint), who finished second to Mark Valeski in the Grade 3 Mineshaft, and Majestic Harbor (Paul McGee), a recent winner in optional claiming company, also are expected for the 1 1/8-mile race.
“It’s a very strong race,” Pletcher said. “It could be the race of the day.”
Amira’s Prince, who won the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park for Mott, and Opimizer who won the Grade 3 Col. E.R. Bradley and Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap at this meet for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, appear to be likely favorites among nine older horses expected for the Muniz.
Besides Doubles Partner, other graded winners in the group are Willcox Inn (Mike Stidham) and Two Months Rent (Jimmy Toner). The rest of the horses, all graded-placed, are Bim Bam (Asmussen), String King (Charles Smith), Tiz Sardonic Joe (Eddie Kenneally), and Fast Track (Melody Conlon).
Macho Macho to return in New Orleans Handicap
Macho Macho, who hasn’t raced since finishing second to Handsome Mike in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby last September, has been preparing at Santa Anita for the New Orleans Handicap.
“Bourbon Courage belongs in the race; he has been competitive with Bourbon Courage in the past,” Asmussen, the trainer of Macho Macho, said Monday at Fair Grounds.
Macho Macho and Bourbon Courage have faced each other three times.
Macho Macho’s only out-of-the-money finish in eight starts came in his debut, a six-furlong maiden race won by debuting Bourbon Courage in February 2012 at Fair Grounds. Macho Macho defeated maidens in his second start, then finished second to Bourbon Courage in an optional claiming sprint last March at Fair Grounds. But in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby last August, Macho Macho prevailed, holding off runner-up Bourbon Courage by a half-length.
On Tuesday, Macho Macho worked six furlongs in 1:11.80, his seventh work since February at Santa Anita.
“He’s a good horse,” Asmussen said. “A mile and an eighth off the bench. He’s a stayer. Tall task off the bench, quality horse.”
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