Updated on 09/16/2011 7:37AM

'Northcote' back on his own turf


NEW ORLEANS - On Thursday at Fair Grounds, Northcote Road was standing outside his stall, tacked up and shaking like a leaf in the unusually cold morning air. Usually, Northcote Road shakes with excitement when he's in New Orleans.

A freshly turned 7-year-old, * has made a fine career racing on the Fair Grounds turf course alone. In 11 starts here, Northcote Road has won seven times and finished second three times, earning $343,000. His lone off-the-board finish came two seasons ago in the Explosive Bid Handicap, and he almost avenged that loss last year, when he lost by a neck in the Explosive Bid.

Saturday, Northcote Road launches his fifth season of racing over the local grass course in the $75,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap, where he starts as the 120-pound high-weight and probable favorite over 10 rivals. As usual, Northcote Road has thrived since shipping here: His half-mile work on New Year's Eve day was the fastest of 144 timed that morning.

But Northcote Road wasn't going anywhere fast Thursday morning. Training was cancelled here because of a frozen track, and all trainer Blackie Huffman could do was put a rider up on Northcote Road's back and let him parade around the barn. But Huffman, who has guided Northcote Road through a 49-start career over almost six years of racing, wasn't panicking. "Nobody else is getting ahead of me today," Huffman said.

Northcote Road lost the first six starts of his career before he found his true calling, the Fair Grounds turf course. "We didn't have any idea he had turf potential," said Huffman. "I'm not going to make out like I was a genius or anything. We just took a shot with it."

Huffman has slightly altered Northcote Road's schedule this winter. Northcote Road, a gelding, will make his first start in the Bradley, where he faces a good field that includes graded stakes winners Vergennes and Minor Wisdom; Candid Glen, winner of the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup on this course last season; and Red Mountain.

Vergennes, the likely pacesetter, was sixth in this race last year after leading into the stretch, and comes off a sharp allowance win at Sam Houston. Minor Wisdom, ninth in last year's Bradley, won the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Mile late last summer, while Candid Glen got in a useful prep for this race when second on the main track here Nov. 24.

Huffman said Northcote Road will run even if the Bradley is moved to the main track because of rain.


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