Trainer Ralph Nicks, a man of limited words but
unlimited ability as a horseman, will saddle James Spence’s El Caballo
in Saturday’s 2011 New Orleans Handicap following a one-year layoff
since the horse’s sixth-place finish in Fair Grounds’ 2010 Mervin Muniz
Memorial Handicap on last year’s Louisiana Derby Day.
The New Orleans Handicap is Fair Grounds’ main event for
older horses on the main track, while the Muniz Memorial, slated for the
Stall-Wilson turf course, is the Crescent
City oval’s top grass
test for older horses.
Why the switch in surfaces? El Caballo finished second –
beaten only a nose in the last jump by the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby
Frankel-conditioned Proudinsky, owned by Johanna Glen-Taven, in the
2009 Mervin Muniz.
“He’s also won a race over the main track here,” said Nicks
Wednesday morning, “and he’s been working really well over the main track here
this winter. His feet and everything are in good shape now so we’ll go in here
and see where it takes us. He’s such a talented individual, I hope to get a
good race out of him on Saturday and have a very nice horse to keep going for
the rest of the year.
“I admit I’m throwing him to the wolves right off the bat
here,” said Nicks, “but the best races he has ever run have come off a long
layoff. I guess that’s because his races take so much out of him. But now he’s
had a long vacation and I hope that turns out to be real beneficial.”