Purses Raised Three Times During Banner Meet
New Orleans (March 29, 2021) – Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots wrapped up the 149th season of racing on Sunday, March 28, and while times were a bit more trying because of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, simulcast business was exceptionally strong due to the tremendous support from both horseman and bettors alike. The meet, which kicked off with the traditional Thanksgiving Day opener on November 26, included 76 racing days and it was highlighted, as always, by the 108th running of the $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2).
“It was a meet like no other but we are extremely proud of everyone who came together to put out a great product on a day-in, day-out basis,” Fair Grounds senior director of racing Jason Boulet said. “We are extremely grateful to the horseman and our fans and bettors for their continued support throughout the meet.”
The meet reached its zenith on March 20, when the Louisiana Derby highlighted a robust 14-race card that included eight stakes. Known as “the big three” for their accomplishments at the meet, Lecomte (G3) winner Midnight Bourbon, Risen Star (G2) victor Mandaloun, and Proxy, who was the runner-up in both of those races, would meet again in the Louisiana Derby, but it was Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, and William Strauss’ California invader Hot Rod Charlie who would post the gate to wire victory for trainer of record Leandro Mora (Doug O’Neill). The Oxbow colt earned 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in the process.
The co-featured TwinSires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) once again played out to be a key prep for the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1). Carded one race prior to the Louisiana Derby, the Fair Grounds Oaks was billed as the battle between budding rivals in OXO Equine’s Travel Column, trained by Brad Cox, and Stonestreet Stables’ homebred Clairiere, trained by Steve Asmussen. The pair had split their previous two encounters, with Travel Column taking the Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill and Clairiere turning the tables in locally run Rachel Alexandra (G2) in February. Travel Column got the jump on Clairiere to win the Fair Grounds Oaks, and the duo once again ran one-two in what was a sure precursor to the Kentucky Oaks.
In a race that brought that much more of a national scope to one of the biggest days of the year in New Orleans, Robert and Lawana Low’s Colonel Liam, arguably the best turf course in the country off his win in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), invaded to take the Muniz Memorial Classic (G2) for trainer Todd Pletcher.
The Louisiana Derby Day card also marked the return of a small number of fans to Fair Grounds for the first time in over a year as the effects of COVID-19 forced the track to conduct live racing with no patrons, as only essential employees, licensed horsemen (including owners) and credentialed media were allowed on track. A select group of tickets were sold to the general public and marked a welcome, albeit brief, return of the fans who have long supported local racing and made Fair Grounds one of the best racing venues in the country.
Trainer Ron Faucheux won his coveted first ever trainer’s title with 40 wins, while dethroning four-time defending champion and Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox (37 wins) in the process. Both 11-time local titlist Tom Amoss (35), as well as Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen (33), made runs at Faucheux, with the former holding the lead for much of the meet, while Joe Sharp completed the top-5 with 23 wins. Faucheux scored a stakes win with Monte Man in the Louisiana Champions Day Sprint in December and in the end the New Orleans native was too strong from start-to-finish to secure a title that clearly hit close to home.
“It means the world,” Faucheux said. “Being here, being from New Orleans and coming to this track since I was a child. This is what it’s all about. We have so many people that put their faith in us. I have some great owners. I have the best help. This is my track; this is the best track in the country, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s a privilege and an honor to be a part of it.”
Cox, who was in contention for a five-peat until the penultimate day of racing, left with plenty of hardware of his own. He won the Oaks with Travel Column and the Risen Star (G2) Presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln with Mandaloun, along with three other stakes. Asmussen had a strong meet as well, winning six stakes. Clairiere’s win in the Rachel Alexandra was the barn highlight, though Midnight Bourbon flashed his Kentucky Derby form when he won the Lecomte (G3) in January to kick off the local 3-year-old stakes series. Asmussen also posted his remarkable 100thcareer Fair Grounds stakes when Joy’s Rocket captured the Letellier Memorial on December 19.
James Graham not only repeated to win the jockey’s title for the third time, but he obliterated his total of 63 wins last year, posting a seismic 88 on the board to hold off Adam Beschizza (85), with Mitchell Murrill (73) nabbing a podium finish as well. Colby Hernandez (69) bested his brother Brian (56) to round out the top-5.
“It means everything,” Graham said. “We kept digging away and plowing through and doing what we had to do. My stock ran really good this year and everything ran accordingly. It’s been a fantastic meet. You can’t race anywhere better in the wintertime; Fair Grounds is the best. I’m over the moon and ecstatic.”
Beschizza, buoyed by eight stakes wins, led all jockeys in purses earned with $3,115,764, edging Graham, who checked in with $2,996,153. Brian Hernandez Jr. and Florent Geroux also enjoyed strong meets with seven stakes wins apiece.
The owners’ race went down to the wire as well, with Godolphin edging Chester Thomas’ Allied Racing Stable 13-12, with End Zone Athletics checking in third with 11. Maggi Moss (9) was fourth, with Evelyn Benoit’s Brittlyn Stable, Wayne T. Davis (8), Whispering Oaks Farm, and Winalot Racing rounding out the top-5 with eight wins apiece.
Godolphin led in purses won with $767,440, with the heavy lifting coming from Maxfield, who scored stakes wins in the Tenacious in December and Louisiana (G3) in January for trainer Brendan Walsh. In addition, their Proxy was second in the in the Lecomte and Risen Star, and fourth in the Derby, for trainer Mike Stidham.
Twelve horses won at least three races at the meet, with All Fact and Treys Midnight Moon leading the way with four each. Big Time, Dalika (Ger), Elle Z, Logical Myth, Maxfield all won two stakes at the meet.
On Saturday, February 27, Fair Grounds hosted “New Vocations Day at the Races”. Hosted on the simulcast show by retired jockey Rosie Napravnik, a four-time local champion, and Fair Grounds personality Joe Kristufek, the event was created in order to raise the awareness of all aspects of racehorse aftercare. In addition to on-line donations, several jockeys, trainers and owners contributed a percentage of that day’s earnings, and over $8,000 was raised to help support the Louisiana division of New Vocations.
Both Handle and betting support were strong from Opening Day to Closing Day, no doubt helped by the elimination of the Black Gold 5, a jackpot Pk5 bet which was replaced by a traditional early and late Pk5, which were welcomed by handicappers. As a result, from the strong simulcast handle, management was able to raise purses 10% across the board three separate times at the meet, which only strengthened an already sterling local product. And while the often-unpredictable local weather made turf racing a challenge, racing secretary Scott Jones was more than happy with the end result, while eagerly looking ahead to a milestone 150th season next November.
“We would like to thank all the horsemen for their continued support which makes Fair Grounds one of the premier winter destinations and I’m looking forward to our 150th season,” Jones said. “Considering it was one of the wettest winters in New Orleans and all the other challenges, handle was very strong and we were able to raise purses three times at the meet.”
Landry Star Wins Third Stakes in Last Five Starts
As they like to say, ‘The waiting is the hardest part.’ Loaded entering the far turn with nowhere to go in the $75,000 Shantel Lanerie Memorial for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares, Mitchell Murrill and Rodney Verret’s Saints N Muskets bided their time, found a seam in midstretch, and kicked clear for a convincing 2-length win over Snowball in the penultimate 2020-21 stakes race at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Saints N Muskets ($10.20) alternated between third and fourth while on the rail early in the Lanerie, as longshot Crescentcitypretty set an honest pace of 24.71 and 48.19, in what was a tight-knit field of six. The field bunched that much more entering the far turn as Murrill and Saint N Muskets drafted into contention while behind a wall of horses, with little to do but wait and hope for an opening. Said opening emerged in midstretch between a tiring Crescentcitypretty and Quikfast N Ahurry and Murrill produced Saints N Muskets, who burst through and pulled clear over a wide rallying Snowball. She’s Gone d’Wild finished a nose behind Snowball for the place, while 1.80-1 favorite Net a Bear, stablemate to the winner, finished fourth. Saints N Muskets covered the 1-mile and 70 yards over a fast main track in 1:42.81.
“It worked out perfect,” Murrill said. “The horse broke sharp, I was able to save ground in the pocket and wait for my time to go. Things opened up for me at the head of the lane and I was able to squeeze though.”
Saints N Muskets has morphed from an allowance/fringe stakes contender early in her career to a proven Louisiana-bred star over the past several for trainer Allen Landry. The 6-year-old daughter of Musket Man ended 2020 with a win in the Lookout at Delta Downs in November and started 2021 with a win there in January in the Magnolia. After running second to Quikfast N Ahurry at Delta in the Premier Distaff in February Landry brought her to Fair Grounds where she tuned up for the Lanerie running seventh in her turf debut in the March 6 Red Camelia. Needless to say, Saints N Muskets, who is now 6-for-19 lifetime, won’t be heading back to the lawn any time soon.
“She’s a much better horse on the dirt, she didn’t seem to like the turf at all,” Landry said. “I expected Saints N Muskets would be a little closer but Mitchell said he just sat there and waited for his time until it opened up.”
The Shantel Lanerie is named for the late wife of longtime jockey Corey Lanerie, who passed away in June of 2018 due to complications from breast cancer. Information on her foundation can be found here https://shantellaneriefoundation.com.
Veteran Gamely Holds Off Favored Jus Lively in a Thriller
New Orleans (March 27, 2021) – Bruised foot be damned, Aubrie Green wasn’t going to miss a chance to ride Pound for Pound. Shaking off a Friday afternoon trip to the hospital after her foot was stepped on, Green climbed aboard her beloved Pound for Perfect and delivered a perfectly timed ride to hold off a hard-charging Jus Lively by a length in the $75,000 Star Guitar for Louisiana breds, which closed down the stakes action at the 2020-21 Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots meet.
Green won for the fourth time in a row on Israel Flores Horses’ Pound for Pound, a 6-year-old son of Redding Colliery, though the streak was in serious jeopardy some 24 hours before. Green was tossed from a mount on the Friday card and had her foot stepped on, which prompted her to take off her remaining mounts. X-rays proved negative, the bandages went on, and Green pronounced herself fit to ride. Not that there was ever any doubt in her mind.
“I said if it’s broken, we are just going to wrap that thing up and I’m going to ride this race,” Green said. “This horse is my whole world. I love him. He is my best friend. I’ve never been so in sync with a horse before. He just does everything for me. He gives me all of his heart every single time. It doesn’t matter what the odds are.”
Pound for Pound ($16.40) has done his best running setting or pressing the early pace but Green got him to settle a bit more in the Star Guitar, as they tracked loose leader Maga Man in second through pedestrian fractions of 25.12 and 49.95, which 3-2 favorite Just Lively was just a length back in third. The cadence, if not the order, quickened entering the far turn and Pound for Pound wrestled a short lead from Maga Man approaching midstretch, with Jus Lively in hot pursuit. Pound for Pound drifted off his line slightly while Jus Lively took second but had plenty left in reserve to score for the eighth time in 25 career starts for trainer Andrea Ali.
Pound for Pound won for the fourth straight time with Green aboard, dating back to a Delta Downs allowance in December 2019, along with the Louisiana Champions Day Classic here in December 2019 and an optional-claiming win here in January. The Star Guitar played out exactly as Green had it mapped out in her mind.
“I knew Maga Man was going to try to go,” Green said. “I figured if I get the lead easy, I’ll take it, but if he goes, I’m going to sit right off of him. We were going pretty slow right off the bat so I just held him right on his hip. Down the backstretch I asked him just a little bit just to make sure he knew we were still in the race because he gets a little lackadaisical.”
Ali, based primarily at Delta, shipped in Pound for Pound earlier in the meet and his stable star continued his affinity for the Fair Grounds oval, as that made it 8-3-3-0 locally. One of those second-place finishes was by a neck in the 2019 Star Guitar, when Green and Pound for Pound led every step but the last few. The pair made amends Saturday, in what was undoubtedly a team effort.
“This is the best horse Mr. Flores has had so far,” Ali said. “The whole team, from the grooms to the riders, have done a good job with this horse. Aubrie wins with him all the time. I don’t give her any instructions. She knows the horse.”
The Star Guitar is named in honor of the richest Louisiana-bred ever, a Brittlyn Stable homebred who earned $1.749 million in a distinguished 30-24-0-2 career that included 22 stakes wins for trainer Al Stall Jr.
State-bred Star Gets Loose Pre-Race, Still Holds Off Stablemate
To say trainer Bret Calhoun had some anxious moments prior to the $100,000 Crescent City Derby would be like saying Saints fans won’t miss Drew Brees.
Allied Racing Stable’s homebred Who Took the Money, the overwhelming .40-1 favorite, decided to give his 11 3-year-old rivals a fighting chance when he flipped over in the post parade, tossed jockey Gabe Saez, and briefly ran off. Once corralled and deemed fit to run by a state veterinarian, he was all business, rallying along the rail and holding off his game stablemate Highland Creek by a nose.
“He’s a big strong horse and he’s still learning is lessons,” Calhoun said. “Both the horse and jockey were very game in their performances.”
Who Took the Money settled in sixth early on behind longshot leaders Wise Verdict and Wrongwayhighway, while Highland Creek settled in third. The field bunched entering the far turn when Adam Beschizza and Highland Creek opted to tip out wide, while Saez and Who Took the Money held the rail, and scooted through the large opening inside when the leaders fanned off the turn. Who Took the Money kicked clear but Highland Creek was resolute, though he ultimate came up short, with the winner traveling the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.73. It was a length back to Unanimously in third.
Saez was been aboard Who Took the Money in both of his prior two starts and chalked up the pre-race incident to bad luck. But once the gates opened, it was business as usual.
“It was just one of those things that happens every so often,” Saez said. “I was able to save ground on the inside and got through and he kicked on from there.”
Who Took the Money has come a long way in a short period of time for Calhoun, as he was an unraced maiden on the morning of February 5 and is now 3-for-3 and a stakes winner. Wild and hard to handle early on, Calhoun opted to geld the son of Street Boss prior to his career debut and Who Took the Money won by 4 ½ lengths. He entered off another easy win in a March 6 two-turn state-bred allowance, and is now 3-for-3.
Calhoun and Allied’s owner Chester Thomas teamed to win the Louisiana Derby (G2) in 2019 with By My Standards, and while Who Took the Money isn’t in that class, the latter still had plenty of reason to celebrate.
“We’re having a lot of fun with these Louisiana breds,” Thomas said. “You’ve got to give it to Gabe, what a heart, he rode a wonderful race. What can you say, Bret and everyone has done a great job.”
Former State-Bred Champion Pulls Off Shocker
Grade 1 winner No Parole may have garnered all the pre-race headlines but Valene Farms’ Classy John got the money as he pulled off a shocker by a head over X Clown in the $100,000 Costa Rising. Run at 5 ½ furlongs over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course, the costa Rising was the second of three state-bred stakes on the Louisiana Derby (G2) undercard, and while the other two went to a pair of heavy favorites, Classy John blew up the board at $61.
Colby Hernandez and Classy John pressed X Clown for the majority of the first 5 furlongs, as the duo ran in tandem and were never more than a head apart, while carving out fractions of 22.59 and 45.54. Meanwhile, No Parole, the .40-1 favorite making his turf debut, broke slowly from the inside and wasn’t allowed to show his customary blazing early speed, as he was bottled up on the backside. Classy John took charge in midstretch and opened a 1 ½-length lead, only to see X Clown re-break and rally again, only to fall a whisker short. Monte Man, who won the Costa Risa the past two years, rallied late to finish a half-length over No Parole in third. Classy John stopped the timer in 1:03.17 over a turf course listed as “good.”
Hernandez was aboard for Classy John’s last two starts and knew his charge had plenty of tactical speed, but after seeing No Parole behind him, he decided to take advantage.
“Obviously I knew No Parole was the horse to beat and I knew where he was,” Hernandez said. “(When he broke slow) I took his spot and from there he just fought hard all the way for the win.”
Classy John has been a reclamation for trainer Dallas Stewart, as he was a 2-year-old Louisiana-bred champion in 2018 but went off form since and entered off 12 straight losses dating back to a win in the Louisiana Futurity here on the main track in December 2018. Stewart never lost faith with the 5-year-old son of Songandaprayer but did try a career and surface change in January, when Classy John was seventh over the Stall-Wilson. He re-emerged in his last, when second, beaten a head, behind two-time defending Costa Rising champion Monte Man and clearly moved forward Saturday, while upping his lifetime record to 4-for-17.
“We were struggling a little bit so we tried him on the grass and he ran OK the first time and the second time he ran great,” Stewart said. “Today was just an awesome performance. He beat a grade 1 winner today and a horse (Monte Man) who has won 17 races, so I think that establishes himself as a nice horse on the turf.”
No Parole had every chance when produced off the far turn after his slow break, yet flattened out a bit late to finish third. The 4-year-old son of Violence was one of the best 3-year-old dirt sprinters in the country last year for trainer Tom Amoss and won the Woody Stephens (G1) at Belmont Park in June. Luis Saez was aboard for the Woody Stephens and definitely wasn’t in the position he envisioned shortly after the start.
“He was in the right position turning from home but he didn’t break that well,” Saez said. “From there they went slow and everyone came back and we couldn’t be there (in front) in the spot we wanted to be.”
Undefeated Filly Shines in Trio of 100k State-Bred Undercard Stakes
New Orleans (March 20, 2021) – On a 14-race card that included eight stakes and culminated with Hot Rod Charlie’s win in the $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2), Hubert Guy and Magnifico’s Australasia didn’t waste any time lighting the torch in the 11:20 a.m. CT opener. Undefeated in from three starts coming in, she remained that way with a workmanlike 2 ¾-length win over Winning Romance in the $100,000 Crescent City Oaks for Louisiana-bred 3-year-old fillies.
Florent Geroux had Australasia ($2.20) in second and spying the early speed of Winning Romance, as the latter cut out fast fractions of 23.62 and 46.83 with the 1-9 favorite pressing her from the entire way. The pair came off the far turn together and began to draw away from the field, with Australasia asserting herself late and pulling clear for a popular win. Big Time, a two-time stakes state-bred stakes winner earlier in the meet, rallied for a non-threatening third.
Geroux, aboard Australasia for the first time, had as many anxious moments prior to the race as he did during it, as his filly reared up a bit, tossed her head, and crashed in to his mouth and cheek, causing a few scrapes.
“The bugler was playing the music (call to post) before the race and she got scared and backed into me but everything was good after that and I tried to keep her as quiet as I could in the post parade,” Geroux said. “She did the job again and proved she is a talented filly. We’ll see what she can do next time.”
Australasia, a daughter of Sky Kingdom, burst on to the scene here Opening Day, November 26, when she won on debut by 8 ¼ lengths at what looks like a now robust 7-2 for trainer Brad Cox. She backed that run up with similar dominant efforts at Delta Downs in the Louisiana Jewel in January and Premier Star February 10, winning by 6 lengths and 7 ¼ lengths, respectively. Australasia is obviously a queen in the state-bred ranks, which has Cox looking towards open waters.
“We may have taken some low-hanging fruit today but now she’s 4-for-4 and she deserves an opportunity against open company; we’ll do that next time but I’m not sure where,” Cox said. “I’m just proud of what she did today. They rode along pretty good up front and she finished up really well and did what she was supposed to do. Any time a horse is 4-for-4 they have to have ability and she stepped up and ran a good race today.”
Homebred Upends Ladies Turf 1-2 Finishers Room to Finish, Net a Bear
Oak Tree Stable’s homebred Offspring took advantage of a race flow that played to her strengths, got first run on defending champion Net a Bear, and easily held that rival at bay for a 1 ¾-length win in Saturday’s $60,000 Red Camelia for state-bred fillies at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The win helped make amends for her third-place finish as the favorite behind Room to Finish and Net a Bear in the local Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Turf in December.
Brian Hernandez Jr. kept Offspring (3.20-1) in close attendance to a dawdling early pace, as Marywood got loose and carved out tepid fractions of 25.10 and 50.65. Meanwhile, even-money favorite Room to Finish was a compromised fifth along the rail early and Net a Bear took all the worst of it, as she settled in last in the field-of-8. The tempo quickened entering the far turn. Marywood came under fire and Offspring was produced 4-wide while taking dead aim on the leader, with Room to Finish taking an inside route and Net a Bear rallying widest of all. Offspring took charge in deep stretch as Marywood relented and Net a Bear closed fastest of all to secure the place by a half-length over the game pacesetter, with Room to Finish a disappointing sixth. Offspring finished the about 1-mile distance in 1:39.80 over a firm Stall-Wilson Turf Course.
“We were able to get the perfect trip from the outside,” Hernandez Jr. said. “We were able to slide over to the 2-path and here on this grass course it makes a big difference to save all the ground as much as possible and that’s what we were able to do today. It makes it easy when you have a filly like her that was taking me there the whole way.”
Oak Tree Stable bred Offspring, a 5-year-old daughter of Into Mischief, but sold her at auction for $130,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company June 2018 Two-Year-Olds & Horses of Racing Age Sale. She went 3-for-13 for trainer Carlo Vaccarezza , which included a pair of state-bred optional-claiming wins over the Stall-Wilson in March of 2020, then struggled in a pair of off-the-board finishes in Kentucky last September and October.
Trainer Joe Sharp claimed her for her breeders for $62,500 at Keeneland in October with an eye to the state-bred grass stakes this winter in New Orleans and Offspring rewarded her old but new connections with a strong third here behind Room to Finish and Net a Bear in the Ladies Turf. She hit the board in a pair of off-the-turf races here in January and February but clearly relished getting back to the Stall-Wilson while moving her lifetime mark to 4-for-17.
“She’s really just had tough luck with the weather this meet and we obviously know grass is her preferred surface,” Sharp said. “She’s just an honest mare that’s made a living all winter off-the-turf and making he best of bad situations. I was happy for her to be able to get the stakes win that she needed for her future.”
Room to Finish couldn’t double up on her Ladies Turf win over her two biggest rivals while running for the fourth time at the meet for trainer Wayne Catalano. The 6-year-old daughter of Giant Oak was also second in the open Marie Krantz Memorial in January and entered off an eighth-place finish in the open Albert M. Stall Memorial March 6. Room to Finish hugged the rail much of the way in the Red Camelia under Adam Beschizza but couldn’t deliver her patented late run behind the slow early fractions.
“The pace didn’t help,” Beschizza said. “She’d rather be held together than having to chase her. I was happy and comfortable where I was but they just didn’t come back to me. She was beaten fair and square.”
Continued Strong Business Prompts Another Daily Bump
New Orleans (March 3, 2021) – For the third time in the 2020-21 meet, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots has announced a 10% purse increase across the board. Much like the first two, the boost was inspired by strong simulcast handle. The purse increase, which includes both open races and Louisiana-bred races, goes into effect for the final 13 days of the meet, beginning with the Thursday, March 11 card. The draw for that card is Thursday, March 4.
“Our handle has continued to be strong, and we are pleased to be able to raise purses for the third time this meet,” Fair Grounds’ racing secretary Scott Jones said. “We’d once again like to thank the owners, trainers and fans who have been supporting our day-to-day racing product. $60,000 for a maiden special weight pot is a very competitive number to get to.”
Jones also indicated that the purses for all of the non-stakes races carded for the Saturday, March 20th Louisiana Derby Day card will be bumped up to $75,000 apiece. In addition, in order to accommodate the NBC broadcast, post time on that day has been pushed back to 11:20 a.m. CT.To make up for the weather related February 11th cancellation, Fair Grounds has also added Wednesday, March 24th, to the live racing calendar.
Asmussen Trainee Jus Lively Transfers Dirt Form to Stall-Wilson Turf
New Orleans (February 27, 2021) – Pine Knoll Farm’s homebred Jus Lively may have been perceived as a dirt specialist, but he showed he’s got some chops on turf too when he closed strongly and held off Treys Midnight Moon by a half-length in Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace.
Jus Lively, the 4-1 second-choice, settled in seventh under Adam Beschizza as Maga Man cut out slow fractions of 24.08 and 49.41 and set a measured pace over a firm Stall-Wilson Turf Course. The winner began a wide advance towards the leaders off the far turn and was followed by Treys Midnight Moon as Maga Man gamely dug in and was still clear in midstretch. The top pair looked to be on even terms in deep stretch but Jus Lively repelled the bid to pull clear over Treys Midnight Moon, who was three quarters of a lengths ahead of Maga Man. Jus Lively completed the about 1-mile distance in 1:38.87. The heavy 1.10-1 favorite Ninety One Assault never got a clear run and finished fourth.
Beschizza, who pledged 10% of his earnings on the day to New Vocations Louisiana Division in Covington, La. facility, was impressed with the tenacity of Jus Lively in the stretch.
“He dug real deep today and he’s just a solid animal that loves racing,” Beschizza said. “I had an absolute faultless trip and once we got inside the sixteenth (pole) the horse headed him and he really showed some guts today.”
Jus Lively, a 5-year-old son of Paddy O’Prado, had been stakes-placed three times over the past two years for trainer Steve Asmussen, though every one was on dirt, which made the win in the Dixie Poker Ace result a bit more surprising. Though he did break his maiden over the local turf in January 2019, Jus Lively was a well-beaten eighth to Ninety One Assault in last year’s Dixie Poker Ace, his only other go on turf. He didn’t run for the rest of the year and then resurfaced at Delta Downs in November, running second in the B-Connected. He followed up with a third in the local Louisiana Champions Day Classic, and entered Saturday’s assignment off a nose second in an off-the-turf optional-claimer here February 6.
Jus Lively is now 6-for-12 lifetime and won his first stakes in the Dixie Poker Ace. Asmussen’s longtime assistance Scott Blasi gave credit owners Dr. Jay and Ellen Addison for helping Jus Lively deliver, with a very patient approach.
“We thought his grass race last year was a just a throwout and wanted to run him back in this race,” Blasi said. “He’s got a ton of breeding for the grass. Dr. Jay and Ms. Ellen take such good care of this horse. They gave him time off in the summer, and brought him back for this meet. I’m just so happy to see it pay off for them.”
Paul Braverman and owner-trainer Tom Morley were the first to pledge 10% of Saturday’s purse earnings to New Vocations’ Louisiana division. Their defending champion Ninety One Assault, a state-bred star who had won 7-for-10 over the Stall-Wilson, never found a seam inside and couldn’t deliver his usual stretch run under Shaun Bridgmohan. The 8-year-old son of Artie Schiller entered off a title defense in the local Louisiana Champions Day Turf December 12, but never got a chance to stretch his legs in an unlucky trip.
“They slowed it down up front and he jumped in the bridle down inside and I had no other choice but to go forward with him,” Bridgmohan said. “I could never go right to get out. I was just bottled up from the poles and they were stacked up right in front of me. There was just nowhere to get out.”