Updated on 09/16/2011 6:48AM

Vahol takes Whirlaway


NEW ORLEANS - If Sunday's Whirlaway Handicap* was any measure, it's going to take some kind of horse to beat Valhol three weeks from now in the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap. Running his best race in years, Valhol decisively beat nine rivals in the $125,000 Whirlaway and established clear supremacy in the local handicap division.

Valhol was injured after finishing third in last year's New Orleans Handicap and came down with a serious case of pneumonia late last summer. He won the Tenacious Handicap here in his first start back for owner James Jackson and trainer Dallas Keen, but finished a well-beaten third in the Dec. 29 Louisiana Handicap.

Two things happened then. Keen and Jackson held Valhol out of the next Fair Grounds handicap in hopes of having a fresh horse for the New Orleans Handicap, and they made a rider switch to Robby Albarado. Keen was extremely displeased when Valhol fell far off the early pace in his last start.

"He's always had speed," Keen said, adding that Valhol had led the 1999 Kentucky Derby into the stretch. "I was sick after his last race. He was just this sharp going into that one."

Breaking from post 1, Valhol did not make the early lead Sunday, but Albarado never lost his position and he let Valhol run up to engage the pacesetting Astrologist around the first turn. The pace was quick, 23.55 seconds for the opening quarter mile and 47.17 for the half, at which point Valhol was lapped inside Astrologist.

But the pressured inside trip didn't faze Valhol, who burst into the clear coming off the far turn and widened his lead while running the stretch powerfully. He beat the late-running Parade Leader by two and one-half lengths while running one and one-sixteenth miles in 1:42.94, the fastest time of this meet by more than a second. The second choice, Valhol paid $7.20 to win, while Parade Leader beat longshot Fight For Ally by a half-length. Favored Milwaukee Brew checked in sixth.

"Absolutely," Albarado said when asked if Valhol was his New Orleans Handicap mount. "They don't go much quicker than that on this track."

* Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.