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.”
4-5 Favorite Shang Cannot Get Past Stubborn Foe in Long Stretch Drive
New Orleans (December 12, 2020) – Winless from six starts this year and seemingly hopeless at 52.50-1 on the toteboard, Gerrard Perron’s Grand Luwegee made the lead early and held off the 4-5 favorite Shang by a head to score a stunning upset in the $150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic, one of ten restricted stakes run at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on Saturday afternoon.
Never further than 3 ½ lengths back while well positioned in third, Shang drew even in the stretch but could not punch past the stubborn front runner. It was 3 ¼ lengths back to Jus Lively in third. The final time for nine furlongs over a muddy track was 1:52.03.
“The plan was to break, and if we could make the lead great and that’s the way it worked out,” winning rider Colby Hernandez said. “When that horse came up to us (runner-up Shang) he just kept fighting more and more. He was not going to let that horse pass him.”
With the victory, the 5-year-old son of El Corredor boosted his career record to 21-6-5-2 with earnings of $349,250.
“I have been with this horse from the time he was a baby and my grandson named him,” said Perron, who bred and also trains Grand Luwegee. “We won the race at Delta Downs (Premier Night Championship on Feb. 9, 2019) the same way. He got ahead and didn’t look back. Our horse has a lot of fight. We’ve been training him hard and he came through. We had been running him short. We knew he could do better over a distance of ground.”
Buoyed by the 52-1 Classic winner, the traditional Late Pick Five, which entered the day with a $13,191 carryover, returned $18,233.25 on a 50-cent wager.
Big Time Stays Remains Perfect with Lassie Score
Lightly Raced Filly Dominates State-Bred Foes
Valene Farm’s Big Time took advantage of a rail-skimming ride by Brian Hernandez Jr. and pulled clear late for a convincing 3 ½-length win over Taylor Avenue in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Lassie, which was the first of seven Thoroughbred stakes on the card.
Big Time, a 2-year-old daughter of Astrology trained by Dallas Stewart, settled in fourth early while longshot Twin Sisters set the early fractions in the 6-furlong Lassie before moving towards the lead entering the far turn. She was able to sneak through along the rail off the far turn while 7-5 favorite Rue Lala took aim from the outside, with Taylor Avenue following that move. Big Time surged to the front outside the eighth-pole and looked good extending her margin to the wire, while getting the 6 furlongs in 1:11.97 over a muddy and sealed main track. Tecate Time was up late for third, while Rue Lala faded and finished fourth.
Hernandez Jr., aboard Big Time for the first time, was confident throughout.
“She was just there for me the whole way,” Hernandez Jr. said. “She broke just a tad bit slow then she got squeezed from both sides but she recovered quickly, put us in a good spot, and traveled like a winner the whole way and when the hole opened on the rail, she went about her business.”
Big Time entered off an almost six-month layoff, as she had not run since winning on debut June 18 over open MSW runners at Churchill Downs, when she dueled throughout and won by a head in a shocker at 38-1. The public was well aware in the Lassie, as Big Time paid $7.20 to win, while raising her lifetime earnings to $92,704. Always precocious, she built off her early success in Louisville, and kept a good thing going in the Lassie.
“This is a beautiful filly,” Stewart said. “She showed up at Churchill and kicked all their butts. She’s won every workout and after today, she’s still undefeated. It’s a great day for Big Time.”
Taylor Avenue, making her first start against state breds, ran well to be second for trainer Bret Calhoun, and jockey Adam Beschizza thinks the best is yet to come for the daughter of Mshawish, who excelled going longer in his career.
“She’s very honest and she’s shown obviously she’s got a lot of ability, so I think once they stretch her out, they’ll see more improvement out of her,” Beschizza said. “I was surprised she laid that close but she’s now running against her own kind, so I think things will naturally fall into place for her going forward.”
Our Last Love Wires Ladies Sprint
Speedster Holds Off Late Charge of Favored Mr. Al’s Gal
Tri-Star Racing LLC’s homebred Our Lost Love broke running and never looked back, holding off a frantic late rally from favored Mr. Al’s Gal by a nose in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Ladies Sprint.
Our Lost Love broke alertly under Mitchell Murrill and secured the early lead, with longshot Southern Beauty chasing in second early but unable to put any serious pressure on. As a result, the winner was able to scoot clear off the far turn, open up a 2 ½-length lead in midstretch, and got her nose on the line over an unlucky Mr. Al’s Gal, who lost ground on the far turn and came up just short. Our Lost Love completed the 6 furlongs in 1:11.93 over a muddy and sealed main track. Vacherie Girl led a brigade of closers across the line to be third.
Our Lost Love has broken first or second in her last seven starts, so Murrill expected to be in front early, though he wasn’t quite sure about late.
“She broke well as always,” Murrill said. “The plan was to let her have her own way and give her a little breather in the turn and it worked. When she kicked on, she moved away from those horses pretty well but the last 16th (of a mile) she was really tired. At first, I didn’t think I won it, but I came back and looked at the toteboard and saw us up on top.”
Our Lost Love, a 3-year-old daughter of Half Ours, won her third stakes for trainer Joseph M. Foster, as she won the local Louisiana Futurity last December and beat open foes in the Take Charge Brandi at Delta Downs in February. She’s now won 6-of-12 lifetime, with earnings of $272,003, and Foster was happy to be on the right side of the photo.
“We’ve had a lot of them (photo finishes) go the other way,” Foster said. “He (Murrill) never moved on her until the last eighth of a mile. We got lucky and got there first.”
Mr. Al’s Gal ran second for the third straight time for trainer Jose Camejo but lost nothing in defeat over a track that has been catering to early speed. The 6-year-old daughter of Salute the Sarge closed stoutly under Adam Beschizza, who thought he finished one better.
“It was slow-motion stuff through the stretch and I thought I got it by a whisker but obviously her head was down and mine was up,” Beschizza said. “She came running at the end though.”
Room to Finish Mows Them Down in Ladies Turf
Stretch Runner One Betters Last Year’s Second
West Point Thoroughbreds, Forge Ahead Stables, and Jerry Caroom’s Room to Finish settled off a contested pace, kicked into high gear in mid-stretch, and pulled clear late for a 1 ½-length win over defending champion Net a Bear in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Turf.
Room to Finish took her usual position towards the back of the field under Adam Beschizza while Marywood carved out solid fractions while being chased by Is Too and 2-1 favorite Offspring over a turf course listed as “good.” The race changed complexion off the far turn, as Florent Geroux made the first move with Net a Bear, while Beschizza sat back, tipped out Room to Finish late and she leveled nicely for the win, while completing the about 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.11.
Beschizza, who had ridden Room to Finish just once before, when she was second in a Keeneland allowance in April 2018, knew she’d be there for him in the stretch.
“She’s a very consistent mare,” Beschizza said. “There haven’t been many times when she’s out of the top three placings. We know she’s got a good turn of speed, so even if there is a sedate pace going on up front, you can still rely on a good eighth of a mile kick.”
Room to Finish has been long overdue to net a state-bred turf stakes win the past two years for trainer Wayne Catalano, as she was second in the Ladies Turf last year as a 6-5 favorite and was third in the Louisiana Cup Distaff in her last start September 19 at Louisiana Downs. The 5-year-old daughter of Giant Oak made it 5-for-9 lifetime over the local Stall-Wilson Turf Course, is now 7-for-20 lifetime, and has earned $289,605. Catalano expected the pace to be honest and was confident going in.
“She did just what we thought she might do,” Catalano said. “There was enough speed in the race; just get her in the clear and let her go.”
Net a Bear ran well in defeat and nosed out Offspring for second. The 4-year-old daughter of Awesome Bet has been at the top of the state-bred turf ranks the past few years for trainer Allen Landry, as she also won the Elge Raspberry at Louisiana Downs in 2019 and the Red Camelia here in March. Net a Bear closed from last-of-10 to win the Ladies Turf last year, but with Room to Finish behind her this year, Geroux was forced into slightly different tactics.”
“It was either waiting or making my move first and I was kind of obligated to move first,” Geroux said. “She ran big for me but I just got run down in the end.”
Monte Man Adds to His Legend in Sprint
Veteran Wins his Eighth State-Bred Stakes
Ivery Sisters Racing LLC’s Monte Man bided his time off a torrid early pace and exploded late to beat Win Ya Win going away by 2 ½ lengths in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Sprint.
Monte Man was always traveling comfortably under Adam Beschizza, as he settled in fourth early while covered up as 3-2 favorite Bertie’s Galaxy set blazing fractions of 21.93 and 45.51 while chased in earnest by X Clown and Yankee Seven. Beschizza needed only to steer Monte Man in the clear off the far turn and when he did it was over in an instant, as the veteran easily drew off for a comfortable win. Silver Galaxy rallied from last in the field of eight, while Bertie’s Galaxy tired from his early efforts and finished fifth.
Beschizza, aboard for a local state-bred optional-claiming win in January 2019, knew Monte Man would be ready to roll once produced after getting out of a potentially sticky situation when behind horses.
“He’s a horse that thrives off a bit of trouble,” Beschizza said. “I’ve ridden him in similar situations before; the more he gets locked in, the more he comes on the bridle. He’s just waiting to give that little punch he’s got, so you don’t want to get there (to the front) too soon. At the quarter-pole, getting locked isn’t that much of an issue. And the eighth-pole, maybe it’s another story. He likes a target.”
Monte Man, a 7-year-old son of Custom for Carlos, has been a revelation since being claimed by trainer Gary Sciacca for $25,000 at Belmont Park in October 2017. Ivery Sisters Racing turned him over to trainer Ron Faucheux for his next start and he won a local optional-claimer in December 2017, which was the start of a seven-race winning streak. All told, Monte Man is 16-for-44, which includes eight stakes wins, though Saturday was his first win in the Sprint, after running third in the race in 2018 and fourth in last year’s renewal. To Faucheux, Monte Man has been more than just an eight-time stakes winner.
“He means more to us than any horse I’ve ever trained,” Faucheux said. “He’s just such a cool horse. It’s just been such a pleasure to train this horse. When you think he might have lost a step, he just shows you in his training that he hasn’t.”
Faucheux also trained Bertie’s Galaxy, who entered off a close second in the September 19 Louisiana Cup Sprint at Louisiana Downs. The 4-year-old son of Greeley’s Galaxy never got a breather early under Erica Murray, which ultimately cost him late.
“I was having a lot of pressure from the outside horse the whole way and I think he got a little tired since he hasn’t run in quite a while,” Murray said. “He’s a really classy horse and can handle times like that, so he should build off this run.”
Class Prevails for Sir Wellington
Well-Traveled Runner Rules Over State Breds
Xtreme Racing Stables LCC’s Sir Wellington, making his first start against Louisiana breds, relished the class relief as he dominated nine 2-year-old rivals, posting a 2-length win over Standing Perfect.
Marcelino Pedroza had Sir Wellington involved throughout, as they set up 3-wide in third outside 3-1 second-choice and two-time state-bred stakes winner Chu Chu’s Legacy, with fellow invader No Pedigree chasing in between in second. Never looking a loser, Sir Wellington took charge off the far turn, opened up, and had plenty in reserve to hold the strong late charge of Standing Perfect. No Pedigree was another half-length back in third, while Chu Chu’s Legacy tired to be fifth.
Pedroza, aboard Sir Wellington for the first time, had the race handicapped on paper exactly as it played out on the track.
“I knew the four (Chu Chu’s Legacy) and the six (No Pedigree) had some speed, so the plan was to put my horse in a good stalking position behind them,” Pedroza said. “When I asked him to run, he just took off.”
Trainer Hugh Robertson took over for his son Mac, who saddled Sir Wellington to a debut win at Delaware Park in August, a second-place finish in an optional-claimer at Laurel Park in October, and a fifth in the Nyquist November 6 at Keeneland. The son of Palace was a $55,000 2-year-old in training purchase out of the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale 2020 earlier this year and has proven a quick return on investment, as he’s now earned $96,570.
Standing Perfect ran huge in his main track debut for trainer Lee Thomas, as he entered off just a two-turn turf win in an open MSW September 16 at Louisiana Downs. The son of Half Ours was sixth early and was one of the few horses on the card to make up significant ground late, which figures to bode well when he stretches back out.
“He had just run one time on the turf so he got run off his feet a bit early with the quicker fractions at the shorter distance,” Geroux said. “He was flying late and he galloped out nicely, so the longer races for him later will be good.”
Ninety One Assault Repeats in Turf
Fair Grounds Lover Continues Affinity for Local Lawn
Paul Braverman and trainer Tom Morley’s Ninety One Assault got a confident ride from Shaun Bridgmohan and overpowered Afleet Ascent late to post a one-length win and repeat in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf
Ninety One Assault was unhurried in sixth early while Guitar Tribute and Afleet Ascent sparred on the lead through a half-mile of 50.81 over a turf course listed as “good.” Things remain unchanged off the far turn and to deep stretch, and while onlookers may have been worried, Bridgmohan knew what he had under him, as he split horses inside the furlong grounds and was up late with plenty in reserve to reel in a game Afleet Ascent, who won the pace battle by a half-length over third-place finisher Guitar Tribute.
Bridgmohan improved to 6-for-7 aboard Ninety One Assault, which is why there were no anxious moments in deep stretch once he was out in the clear.
“I just have to be a good passenger,” Bridgmohan said. “When it’s time to go, just find the best spot that I can, and he usually gets the job done. This horse has been so good for me. He broke smartly, settled nicely. The pace wasn’t overly fast but he put me in the spot I needed to be in. All I had to do was be patient.”
Ninety One Assault, a 7-year-old son of Artie Schiller, improved to 7-for-10 over the Stall-Wilson Turf course for trainer Tom Morley and 8-for-35 lifetime. He’s now earned $427,683, with well over half that coming in his 10 turf starts at Fair Grounds.
Ron Faucheux saddled Afleet Ascent for the first time and was able to find the form that saw the 5-year-old son of Northern Afleet run second here in an open optional-claimer in January for trainer Patrick Devereux. Afleet Ascent’s best effort in his last four starts for trainer Rey Hernandez was a third, which prompted Faucheux to make a potentially key equipment change.
“We noticed in his training that he was finishing better in his breezes without the blinkers compared to when we had them on originally, so I think taking the blinkers off helped,” Faucheux said. “We could tell right when we got him, he was going to be a nice horse. He’s a beautiful animal.”
Clear Creek Stud announced Thursday, October 1st the loss of first year stallion Givemeaminit to EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis).
“Anyone who has been involved in the thoroughbred breeding business is aware of the heartbreaks that often come with it. That became abundantly clear to us here at Clear Creek Stud this morning when we lost first year stallion Givemeaminit to EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis).”
The first son of Leading Louisiana Stallion Star Guitar to enter stud, Givemeaminit was second in the Hopeful Stakes (GI) as a Two-Year-Old and fourth in that year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile. As a Three-Year-Old he won the Louisiana Champions Day Sprint, was third in the Pat Day Mile (GIII) and was the Louisiana Bred Champion Colt or Gelding. The Valene Farms LLC runner was trained throughout his career by Dallas Stewart and had career earnings of $428,580.
Classy John & Dallas Stewart. Sarah K Andrew photo
The story of 2-year-old colt Classy John (Songandaprayer) looks like a pretty interesting one on paper, but is even more so than meets the eye. A $12,000 Equine Sales of Louisiana purchase in May off of just a gallop, the Valene Farms-owned Dallas Stewart trainee shipped up to Saratoga last Saturday to romp by six lengths at 12-1 odds in a typically tough GI Travers S. day maiden special weight (video replay).
The Louisiana-bred beat a pricey group in the process, defeating the likes of an $850,000 2-year-old acquisition and a $650,000 yearling as well as several fashionably pedigreed homebreds.
Classy John was an excellent value purchase to be sure, but as it turns out, he wasn’t an intentional one.
“We got a little confused. I was on the phone, and I thought I was bidding on 15, but it was 14,” owner Murray Valene revealed. “But it turned out to be a pretty good buy, huh? We didn’t have any idea what the horse looked like, but that’s the way it goes. You never do know. It turned out to be a really nice little horse, with some decent pedigree.”
Classy John is the third foal and first to race out of Kitty’s Got Class (Old Forester), who handily won her first three races, including two stakes, as a Woodbine-based juvenile.
After looking at the colt’s page, and him as an individual, Valene began to come around to his purchase.
“I took one look at him when he got in and said, ‘Boy, I like the looks of this colt.’ So we sent him up to Dallas because he looked like he was above average. He was just a good-looking horse.”
Hip 15, an Eskendereya filly who went for $9,000, has not yet started or been credited with an official work.
Once in Stewart’s program, Classy John gave some indication that he was a nice horse, but he really caught his trainer’s attention after blazing through five panels in a bullet :58.60 from the gate at the Churchill Downs Training Center Aug. 17.
“Two or three weeks before [the race, on Aug. 9,] he worked in [1:01 4/5], but in the last work, he worked in :58 3/5 from the gate,” Stewart noted. “So I called the clocker to make sure that was legit–I was up here [in Saratoga]. The clocker said he might have even gone a little faster than that–it was unreal. So I talked to Murray and told him there was a race on Travers Day. Murray’s always game for anything, so he said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”
Valene and Stewart already had another runner for the card in last year’s local GI Hopeful S. third Givemeaminit (Star Guitar), who checked in eighth in the GI H. Allen Jerkens.
Stewart admitted to wondering before the race if his decision to ship Classy John up to the Spa was the right one.
“I got to thinking that maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do with the crowd and everything,” he said. “We’d have to fly him up on Wednesday, gallop him Thursday and Friday and then run Saturday. So I was a little concerned about that, but it looked like it would be the first race of the day, so we went with it and he handled it great.”
A fast work doesn’t necessarily mean a fast race, but Stewart was confident in Classy John’s ability.
“He worked so good, and we had the video of the work, so I saw it,” he said. “Plus, I talked to [jockey] Jack Gilligan who worked him and he said, ‘He is really, really nice.’ So we just got him up here and that’s how it went–he just slaughtered ’em.”
Classy John shipped back to Kentucky Sunday morning, but will likely return to New York for the Oct. 6 GI Champagne S. He is not Breeders’ Cup nominated.
What made the performance even more special was that Classy John is named for Valene’s father, John Valene, who passed away last Tuesday at the age of 100.
“My father passed away on Tuesday, and I flew up on Friday to watch the races,” Valene said. “So, just given the name and the circumstances and everything else, it’s extra special and I think he’s going to be a nice little horse. Hopefully, he stays healthy, because in this game you never know, but I think he’s for real.”
John Valene, who had attended the races at Canterbury Park just a couple weeks ago, first got the family involved in racing in the early 1960s when he claimed a horse who Murray Valene says subsequently won his next seven starts.
Murray Valene’s racing interests later grew significantly, and at one point Valene Farms had around 140 horses in training. He now has about a dozen on the track. Valene is also associated with Louisiana’s Clear Creek Stud, of which he jointly owns the property that it stands on. Valene has mostly campaigned Louisiana-bred or sired horses, including champions in Minnesota and Illinois.
But this wasn’t by any means his first win up at Saratoga.
Valene Farms took the 1993 GII Adirondack S. with $7,000 purchase Astas Foxy Lady (Zuppardo’s Prince), and doubled up in the same race (via DQ) exactly 20 years later with the Stewart-trained Designer Legs (Graeme Hall). The latter was a $10,000 yearling acquisition.
“It just goes to show you–you never know based on what you paid for a horse what you’ve got,” Valene said. “It’s all about the heart and what’s on the inside. Nobody knows that until they run.”