03/19/2007 11:00PM

As purses increase, so do entries

Email

Fair Grounds, which shuts the door on a successful return to racing in New Orleans after Sunday's card, has five stakes races carded Saturday. But the effect of a multi-stakes day has gotten somewhat lost in a sea of purse money being thrown around in the final days of the meet.

Fair Grounds boosted purses on all non-stakes races by $12,000 beginning last Thursday, and now the lowest purse at the track is worth more than $30,000. Louisiana-bred maidens are running for an astronomical $61,000 pot, which somewhat diminishes the value of the four $100,000 stakes races on Saturday. The Duncan Kenner, Saturday's feature, has a $150,000 purse.

Horsemen have responded by stuffing full the entry box at Fair Grounds: 126 horses were entered to run in 10 races on Thursday's card, and Saturday's program, even with half the card run under stakes conditions, also boasts vast numbers. The stakes sequence is: the Crescent City Oaks for Louisana-breds; the Grindstone Stakes for 3-year-old grass horses, which will have unbeaten Corrupt as a favorite; the Lagniappe Classic and he Red Camelia, two more Louisiana-bred stakes; and finally the Duncan Kenner, headed by Gaff, a winner of consecutive sprint stakes at the meet.

Claimers help Fahey climb the ladder

The 16th-ranked trainer in terms of Fair Grounds wins this meet is a guy you've probably never heard of. John Fahey III, 29, has been out on his own for little more than two years after serving time in the Steve Asmussen and Wayne Lukas operations, but what a meet Fahey has put together in his first Fair Grounds season.

Fahey has won with 10 of 31 starters, and has played the claiming game to perfection, winning several races with horses recently taken via claims. And the chief financial beneficiary of Fahey's apt purchases has been - Fahey.

Claiming mostly for himself, Fahey has hit paydirt with horses like Que Candy, whom Fahey claimed for $8,000. Que Candy won for $10,000, won for $16,000, and even finished second in a third-level allowance race, earning more than $40,000 in purses. Last Friday, Fahey won race 3 with Gentlemen's Club and race 5 with Lady Hartwood, two more recent acquisitions.

Struggling to hang on as a head trainer last fall, Fahey will return to the Kentucky circuit with plenty of cash, 12 horses, and more wins in one meet than he accumulated in all of 2006.

"Some people don't mind being assistant coaches, other people want to be head coaches," Fahey said of his decision to go out on his own. "I at least wanted to give it a shot. If it didn't work out, I could always go back to what I was doing."

In a way, Fahey's whole Fair Grounds meet pivoted on a 6-year-old low-level claimer named Yankee Vice, given to him by an owner who repaid his debt to Fahey with a horse instead of cash.

"He won a couple races early in the meet, which gave me the money to claim some more," Fahey said.

"It's all about momentum. Last year we had a bunch lined up in good spots at Churchill, and just had a bunch of bad luck. Down here, it's just kind of been flowing from the beginning."

Ceasers March may try Derby Trial

Ceasers March, who had finished third behind Kentucky Derby hopeful Ketchikan in his most recent start and second career race, set a sprint pace in a route race but still won a Louisiana-bred entry-level allowance Sunday by 11 1/2 lengths.

Trainer Bret Calhoun isn't certain where Ceasers March will next start, but said the Derby Trial at Churchill was under consideration. And if Ceasers March doesn't pan out in open stakes races, he surely will be a major factor in Louisiana-bred company.

Ceasers March set a blistering half-mile pace of 45.80 seconds in a mile and 40-yard race Sunday, and though he slowed in the final quarter-mile, he never was challenged.

"He's going extremely relaxed, but he's just going really fast," Calhoun said. "But if you're going to run that far, you're going to have to slow down at some point. We'd like to get him covered up, but so far, they just haven't been fast enough for him to get behind."