The Fair Grounds …to any little kids those words mean fun filled days, brimming with excitement, laughter, and adventure. They get to go on rides like roller coasters, they get to ride ponies, or eat cotton candy or funnel cake. For a racing fan, it means fun filled days, brimming with excitement as well. It too, entails getting to see horses, but in a whole new way. When a horseman hears the words “Fair Grounds” they think, “Time to get ready for Kentucky.” Let's take a look at the 2012 Kentucky Derby Trail through New Orleans
Once again this year the New Orleans oval will offer three key preps on the Road to the Roses. They will kick things off with the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes on January 17th. The mile and 70 yards was won this year by Wilkinson. Four weeks later will be the Risen Star. The 1 1/16 mile test is a Grade 2, and was won in 2011 by Mucho Macho Man. Last and certainly not least will be the Grade 2, 1 1/8 mile, Louisiana Derby on April 1. With a purse of $1 million, Fair Grounds signature race is sure to attract a quality field similar to this year's race that saw Pants on Fire best Nehro, and Mucho Macho Man.
This year there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of top juveniles other than Exfactor, ready to embark on their sophomore season, waiting at the Fair Grounds, however in the last few years colts who were no names as juveniles, that return with a new found ability to run, have been doing quite well in the Kentucky Derby. Take Nehro for instance. Last year, he was virtually an unknown before running second a narrow second in the Louisiana Derby. He then followed that effort up with another close second in the Arkansas Derby, and another placing in the Kentucky Derby. Curlin, third in the Kentucky Derby, didn’t even race as a juvenile. Big Brown raced once at two, before gaining notice in an allowance race. Perhaps another juvenile no name will emerge again this year, and it would seem that with all the top two year olds racing elsewhere, that the Fair Grounds would be the prime place for them to gain some notice.
However, while there may be a lack of big name colts, there is a filly residing at the Fair Grounds and her name is Applauding. Unbeaten in two starts, the flashy chestnut filly ran the hands of the clocks, when she set a track record in her first outing at Keeneland, before moving to the Fair Grounds dirt, looking just as dominant in her first start against winners. Her breeding is a unique mix of stamina with speed, the latter has already been show. She is the daughter of Congrats, who is by the distance loving AP Indy, but she is out of a Forestry mare. Forestry is known for siring sprinter/miler types.
As of now the Al Stall trainee is pointing to the Silverbulletday Stakes, a race run at a mile and seventy yards. To date, Applauding has yet to run beyond six furlongs. At that distance she has turned in two scintillating performances, so we know that she has speed to spare, but in the Silverbulletday she will be asked to stretch that speed out farther than she has ever had to run. If the AP Indy in her shows up, the distance will be no problem and she will be a danger, not only to her own sex, but possibly even colts.
Also make sure to keep an eye out for any Steve Asmussen trainees. As of now, it looks like he has sent his best horses to Santa Anita, however, he has two big guns in Sabercat and Hierro, and typically trainers do not like running two of their best pupils against each other. So, with that in mind, I would expect to see Asmussen, potentially, send one of the two to the Fair Grounds, like he did with Pyro and Nehro.
The Fair Grounds are not known for producing the top Derby horses, however, with so much taking place elsewhere, it is just the place for an unknown colt to rise up and take over. It is quite possible that this year might just be Louisiana’s year to put out a Derby winner.