02/18/2011 3:41PM

New Orleans Ladies first target for Dundalk Dust

Churchill Downs/ Reed Palmer Photography
Dundalk Dust, idle since winning the Falls City in November, has set her early-season sights on the Applie Blossom at Oaklawn Park.

NEW ORLEANS – Illinois-bred Dundalk Dust won the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap on Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs in her 2010 finale. A day later, Illinois-bred Giant Oak was placed first via disqualification in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap, capping the most successful week in the career of trainer Chris Block. Giant Oak made his 2011 debut with a sharp victory in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream, and Dundalk Dust now is gearing up for her first start of the year. Block is based year-round in Illinois, though he spends some winter-time in Florida, where his family owns a farm. Dundalk Dust got her winter vacation in Florida, but early this year shipped out to Fair Grounds, where she took up residence in the shed row of trainer Neil Pessin, who often handles Block-trained horses over the winter in New Orleans.

“Dundalk Dust is doing good,” Pessin said earlier this week. “We’re pointing for the New Orleans Ladies as a prep for the Apple Blossom, as long as nothing goes awry.”

The $100,000 New Orleans Ladies is scheduled for March 12, the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom for April 15 at Oaklawn Park. Giant Oak might also wind up at Oaklawn that week, with the April 9 Oaklawn Handicap mentioned as a possible spot for the Donn winner.

Pessin said he is gearing up another Block loaner, Mister Marti Gras, for a potential start in the Mervin Muniz Handicap here March 26. Mister Marti Gras finished second in the Hawthorne Derby and a troubled fifth in the Commonwealth Turf last fall. He won his maiden last season over the Fair Grounds turf course.

McGee’s barn heating up

Paul McGee’s Fair Grounds barn entered last weekend with 2 wins from 24 starters this Fair Grounds season. In the course of three days, things brightened considerably. On Feb. 12, 3-year-old Majestic Harbor made his first start of 2011 and first race around two turns, and scored one of the more impressive maiden wins of this Fair Grounds meet, contesting the pace and drawing clear in the stretch to win by more than six lengths. Two days later, on Feb. 14, 3-year-old filly She’s Picky looked just as strong winning a two-turn maiden race by five lengths. Both horses turned in a good time for one mile 70 yards.

Majestic Harbor, a son of Rockport Harbor, sprinted twice last fall at Churchill, finishing well in both races, including a third-place finish to the promising Florida-based colt Shackleford. McGee said Majestic Harbor would have started earlier this meet but the colt got loose one morning, suffering minor injuries that set his schedule back.

“We were looking forward to stretching him out,” McGee said.

She’s Picky struggled in a pair of sprints to start her career, and finished second on Jan. 21 in her first two-turn start, but she appeared to improve considerably in her Feb. 14 victory. McGee said plans aren’t set for either horse, but a bump up to stakes competition isn’t out of the question.

“This time of year with 3-year-olds, you just don’t know if you can get an allowance race,” said McGee.

St. John’s River has minor setback

The filly who easily beat She’s Picky in her route debut, St. John’s River, was being pointed to the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, but was forced to miss that intended start because of cracked heels.

“I had to give her three days off,” said trainer Andrew Leggio. “It’s too bad, because I was really looking forward to running her.”

St. John’s River, a daughter of include, is back in regular training, and Leggio said he hopes to bring her back in allowance competition.

Trainer’s wife injured by kicking horse

Carmel Heitzmann, the wife of trainer Eric Heitzmann, suffered a lacerated intestine when she was kicked by a horse between the first and second races on Thursday. The Heitzmanns were leaving the winner’s circle following a race 1 victory with Mr. Shorty when the incident took place. Carmel Heitzmann was struck without warning by a horse acting up upon leaving the paddock following a schooling session. She was quickly taken to a hospital, where a bowel resection was performed to repair the intestinal injury.

“She’s in a lot of pain right now, but they were happy with how the surgery went,” Eric Heitzmann said Friday afternoon. “She’s not out of the woods, but it’s certainly encouraging.”