NEW ORLEANS -- For all the rain that was predicted this afternoon in the Big Easy, the skies only opened up again through the final three races. However, the rain remained a theme: storms through the morning had left the track wet all day long, and the turf soft.
The day's anchor was the pair of three-year-old prep races, each of which began the Fair Grounds spur of that long road to the first weekend in May. In the Grade III Lecomte Stakes, it was Neil Howard trainee GUEST SUITE who ran to the public's expectation, handling the mud well and posting a well-measured victory. In the fillies' complement, the listed Silverbulletday Stakes, the wagering favourite also obliged. FARRELL, a wire-to-wire winner in the Golden Rod (GII) last fall, stalked the pace and splashed home to a daylight victory.
In addition to the three-year-old races, a focal point for local horse racing fans was the Marie G. Krantz Memorial Stakes. The only Illinois-bred to race at Fair Grounds today entered that race: PRADO'S SWEET RIDE. A homebred for Darrell and Sadie Brommer, she is trained by Richie Scherer and was ridden today by Francisco Torres. The second-longest shot in a field of five, PRADO'S SWEET RIDE rallied furiously on the outside in the late stages of the Krantz Memorial, hitting the wire with KITTEN'S ROAR in a tight photo finish. Though she fell just a nose short, she brought another bright spot for her state's breeding program, and continues to bear the standard for her Illinois-bred sire Fort Prado.
Lecomte Stakes: GUEST SUITE Returns a Winner
The Lecomte Stakes (GIII) drew a field of twelve to compete for ten Road to the Kentucky Derby points and a share of a $200,000 purse. Though SAINT'S FAN bowed out on Thursday, all eleven other entrants made it to the starting gate. The field looked tightly matched on paper, but the wagering public consistently gravitated toward GUEST SUITE. Last seen in an allowance romp at Churchill Downs on November 26, GUEST SUITE went off the 5/2 favourite.
The early initiative belonged to longshot PHAT MAN and second betting choice RUNNING MATE, who dueled through early fractions of 23.42 for the quarter, 46.47 for the half. TAKEOFF tracked outside them in the early stages, with UNTRAPPED and PAT ON THE BACK a few more lengths back. GUEST SUITE bided his time early, galloping midpack as the speed duel unfolded in front of them.
Into the far turn, PHAT MAN was the first to relent. RUNNING MATE poked his head in front, but the cavalry was coming. TAKEOFF and UNTRAPPED both gained ground on the leader. GUEST SUITE also found room, and he was loaded. He gobbled up racetrack as he angled out through the turn and swung wide into the stretch. TAKEOFF tried to go with, but GUEST SUITE had his measure. He splashed home a measured length and a quarter clear of UNTRAPPED, who had passed TAKEOFF by half a length come the wire. ARKLOW, SHAREHOLDER VALUE, PHAT MAN, TIP TAP TAPIZAR, MARCO MISCHIEF, RUNNING MATE, TOTALITY, and PAT ON THE BACK completed the order of finish. SAINT'S FAN was a trainer's scratch.
GUEST SUITE paid his backers $7.60 to win, after stopping the clock in 1:43.20 for a mile and seventy yards over dirt rated by the Equibase chart caller as muddy and sealed. The exacta over UNTRAPPED (8-5) returned $23.60 for a $1 wager. A trifecta with TAKEOFF third (8-5-10) came back with $74.95 for each $0.50 bet. The dime superfecta with ARKLOW fourth (8-5-10-2) rewarded players with $73.43.
GUEST SUITE is a three-year-old gelding by Quality Road out of the Ghostzapper mare Guest House. Trained by Neil Howard, GUEST SUITE was ridden by Robby Albarado, just as he had been in three of his previous four starts. Bred by W. S. Farish and Kilroy Thoroughbred Partnership, he bears the silks of Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy. The race was GUEST SUITE's first stakes-level win, and the ten Road to the Kentucky Derby points place him behind Classic Empire (30), Gormley (20), Practical Joke (14), and Uncontested (11) on the Derby points tally.
Trainer Neil Howard meticulously planned for this race, having planned to point GUEST SUITE here after his victory at Churchill Downs. "I was thrilled," Howard said of GUEST SUITE's performance, "especially, trying to give a little break early in the year, trying to not do too much, and then having him run on an off track." Still, Howard has been around horse racing long enough to know that a sharp victory in January is no guarantee that things will continue to go well through May. "It's just the first step in a long road," he reflected. "We'll see what happens."
Going forward, Howard did indicate that the Risen Star (GII) is being considered for a next race, pending how GUEST SUITE comes out of Lecomte, and pending discussion with owners Farish and Kilroy.
Second-place UNTRAPPED's connections also see a bright future with him. Trainer Steve Asmussen was pleased with his effort, noting, "I love how he fought on late, for his first two-turn race." Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. also emphasized his mount's upside in the future. "He ran big and we tried to teach him something," he said. "He finished really good."
Silverbulletday Stakes: FARRELL's Asserts Her Class
In a compact Silverbulletday, 2016 Golden Rod Stakes (GII) winner FARRELL entered the race as the only stakes winner of the group. However, attention turned to UNTAPPED as well. UNTAPPED was making her stakes debut in the Silverbulletday, but had two straight daylight wins and some flashy breeding (she is a full sister to champion Untapable). Most of the wagering action saw the Silverbulletday as a two-horse race. UNTAPPED took most of the early action, though by post time it was FARRELL who broke from the gate as the 4/5 favourite.
GRIS GRIS came sharply out of the gate, and dictated terms along the rail. Though FARRELL broke awkwardly, she recovered to stalk GRIS GRIS her outside flank through fractions of 23.80 for the quarter, 47.67 for the half. SUMMERTIME SKY and UNTAPPED tracked in the next flight, with WICKED LICK and SEEKING BULL paired in the rear. So they remained until the field came into the far turn. FARRELL began her advance on GRIS GRIS, with UNTAPPED joining her on the outside.
Turning into the stretch, it was FARRELL who could sustain her rally. Asked along by rider Channing Hill, FARRELL cleared GRIS GRIS and sailed home to cross the wire 2 3/4 lengths in front. WICKED LICK, who mustered an outside rally during the stretch run, took second by a head over GRIS GRIS. SUMMERTIME SKY, UNTAPPED, and SEEKING BULL completed the order of finish. HARKNESS was a stewards' scratch.
FARRELL paid $3.60 to win after stopping the clock in 1:44.01 for a mile and seventy yards over a sealed track that Equibase chart callers rated muddy. The exacta with WICKED LICK second (3-1) returned $8.00 for a $1 wager. The $0.50 trifecta with GRIS GRIS slotted third (3-1-2) came back with $17.25. A superfecta with SUMMERTIME SKY fourth paid $10.15 for each dime base wager.
FARRELL is a three-year-old filly by Malibu Moon out of the Unbridled's Song filly Rebridled Dreams. Notably, Rebridled Dreams is the dam of two other stakes winners: Grade I winners J. B.'s Thunder and Carpe Diem. A homebred for Coffee Pot Stables, she is trained by Wayne Catalano and and was ridden by Channing Hill. The race was Farrell's second career stakes win; last out, in the Golden Rod (GII) on November 26, she won gate to wire. After those two stakes victories, Farrell currently sit in a tie for second on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard, with 20 points: equal to Pocahontas Stakes (GII) winner Daddy's Lil Darling, and just one point behind Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) winner Champagne Room.
Catalano and Hill learned two things about FARRELL today. For one, she can run in the mud, a skill that may come in handy along the road. "Sometimes the first Saturday in May comes up muddy," Catalano quipped, "so sometimes it comes up the first Friday in May, too."
And, they learned she had tactical pace. "It's nice to see she'll rate, not be a run-off horse. That was the key," Catalano noted. Recounted Hill, "This filly is such a classy thing that there is an option to take her back. She doesn't need the lead, like she showed today. She took a little outside pressure, which was good. And, she just showed her class from there."
According to trainer Wayne Catalano, running in the Silverbulletday was not the original plan, but the recent Fair Grounds quarantine led to a change of plans. After discussing with FARRELL's owners, they decided, "let's enter, and see what happens". As for a next race, the Rachel Alexandra (GII) next month is a possibility, but not definite. "We'll see what the filly says to us," declared Catalano.
In other stakes action:
- HOLY BOSS ($2.80) gunned to the front and never looked back in the Duncan F. Kenner Stakes. On the shelf since being beaten a head by Illinois-bred Recount in the Bet On Sunshine Stakes Nov. 19 at Churchill, Holy Boss returned ready. Pressed early by CHIEF ISTAN, HOLY BOSS drew off down the stretch to win by 5 3/4 lengths over that rival for trainer Steve Asmussen, rider Ricardo Santana, and owner Jerry Durant. His final time was 1:10.14 for six furlongs over a sealed track that Equibase chart callers rated muddy.
- HAWAAKOM ($9.40), dropping in company after trying the Clark Handicap (GI) last time out, proved his class in the Louisiana Stakes. Bringing up the rear early in the field of seven, he rode the rail for much of the race. Angling out as the field approached the furlong pole, HAWAAKOM kicked past DAZZLING GEM to win by 3/4 length for trainer Wesley Hawley, rider Miguel Mena, and owners Stephan Smoot and Wesley Hawley. HAWAAKOM's final time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:44.01, over a sealed track that Equibase chart callers rated muddy.
- In the Colonel E. R. Bradley Handicap (GIII), GRANNY'S KITTEN ($10.40) was the first of two stakes winners today for trainer Mike Maker and owner/breeder Ramsey Farm. He was also the second stakes winner today for rider Miguel Mena. Tracking off the early pace set by WESTERN RESERVE and his odds-on stablemate CHOCOLATE RIDE, GRANNY'S KITTEN kicked on in shallow stretch. WESTERN RESERVE battled all the way to the wire, but GRANNY'S KITTEN found the wire a neck in front. His final time was 1:43.61 for a mile and a sixteenth over soft turf.
- KITTEN'S ROAR ($5.80) made it two stakes victories today for trainer Mike Maker, owner/breeder Ramsey Farm, and their flagship stallion Kitten's Joy -- and three for rider Miguel Mena -- as she held by a whisker in the Marie G. Krantz Memorial Stakes. KITTEN'S ROAR stalked just off the pace of longshot DYNAZAR, and took over the lead turning for home. PRADO'S SWEET RIDE rushed at her on the outside, but KITTEN'S ROAR and Mena just lasted. Her final time was 1:44.92 for a mile and a sixteenth over soft turf.