Fans were treated to a thrilling 2023 edition of the $75,000 Edward J. Johnston Memorial as Big Chopper held off a fast-charging Who Took the Money for a nose victory. The versatile colt won the Louisiana Champions Day Sprint on dirt earlier in the meet.
Trained by Scott Gelner and ridden by Corey Lanerie, Big Chopper completed about one mile 1:42.18 over the “firm” Stall Wilson Turf Course with the rail remaining 34 feet out.
“There are not many like that that can change their style and run well at any distance,” Lanerie said. “Going into the race I really thought I would be the pace. But he broke within himself today and he relaxed. If he would have gotten any bit rank on the backside, someone would have run him down.”
The stretch battle began around the far turn when Big Chopper split front-running foes Maga Man and Mangelsen, who tallied early quarter-mile fractions of :25.78 and :52.05. Lanerie began to ask Big Chopper for his best run as Budro Talking came flying into the mix and Who took the Money gathered his run down the center of the course. Big Chopper gamely fought to stay in front of Budro Talking and as the wire neared, Who Took the Money surged forward in the photo’s flash, which showed only a nose difference between Big Chopper in first and the 1-2 favorite Who Took the Money in second. It was another nose back to Budro Talking in third.
“He got overlooked again today,” Gleaner said. “Every time I’ve run him here, people always say turf, and I’ve never had a chance to run him many times on the turf. Today he showed up and got it done. He can sprint or go long, dirt, or turf. He represents himself well. I didn’t know Eddie (Johnston) that well, but I knew him, and I was glad just to be in this race and honored to win it in his name.”
At 15-1 Big Chopper rewarded his backers with payouts of$33.60, $8.00, and $5.00.
After a mid-pack stalking trip, Smarty Alex finished fourth followed in order by Wicker Rose, Maga Man, Mangelsen, and Highland Creek.
Big Chopper improved his overall mark to 17-5-4-1 with earnings of $260,333. The 4-year-old son of Shackleford out of the Unusual Heat mare Miss Well Molded was bred in Louisiana by Kendel Standlee.
Patricia and Steve Roe’s Fort Polk overcame the field of eight fillies and mares in the stretch to win the 47th running of the $75,000 Red Camelia Stakes. Finishing less than a length shy of winning last year’s edition, this is the first turf stakes victory for Fort Polk, whose only other stake victory came in the Louisiana Champions Day Distaff on the dirt in 2021. The 7-year-old Louisiana-bred beat seven older fillies and mares by 1/2 length.
Piloted by Emanuel Nieves and trained by Pat Mouton, Fort Polk completed about one mile in 1:42.31 over the “firm” Stall Wilson Turf Course with the rail remaining 34 feet out.
“Everything worked out how we wanted it,” Nieves said. “I got in a good position, avoided traffic, and when I asked her, she was ready to go.”
Flashing speed from her outside draw, Cheapskate Diva fought for the lead in the early going and held it while setting opening fractions of :24.79 and :49.92. While three others chased the front-runner, Fort Polk found midpack position going three-wide, A G’s Charlotte saved ground on the rail behind her, and Wholelottamo kept her eyes on the field from the back. Fort Polk dug in eyeball-to-eyeball with Cheapskate Diva, bid past, and then had to fend off 9-5 favorite A G’s Charlotte’s bid from the rail. Wholelottamo came flying from the back but too late as Fort Polk got the best of the late-runners. A G’s Charlotte finished second, Wholelottamo in third, and Cheapskate Diva held on for fourth.
“It’s easier to win tough races like these when you’ve got the horse,” Mouton said. “She’s easy to train, responds well to it, and gives you her best all the time.”
Blessed Anna, Free Like a Girl, and Eve’s Delight completed the order of finish. Winning Romance was scratched after flipping in the paddock prior to the race.
Fort Polk was sent off at 9-2 and returned $11.60, $5.80, and $3.60. She boosted her career record to 41-10-7-11 and earnings to $384,460.
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