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Jockey James Graham on a roll at Fair Grounds

Irish-born jockey James Graham, a wintertime resident of New Orleans, has been on a roll of late and he’s off to a fast start once again this season during the 140th meeting at Fair Grounds.

 

The ebullient 32-year-old native of Finglas, Dublin, won the opening race of Fair Grounds’ 2011-2012 84-day meeting on Thanksgiving Day aboard Robert and Lawana Low’s Southern Rocket for trainer Steve Margolis. Later that day he captured the holiday’s $60,000 Mr. Sulu Stakes on Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence’s Populist Politics for New Orleans-born conditioner Tom Amoss

 

On the first Saturday of the session, Graham won the grassy $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes astride James Miller’s Daisy Devine, the versatile daughter of Kafwain who won last spring’s Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks on the main track for Irish-born trainer Andrew McKeever. Earlier in the afternoon Graham used his considerable strength to get Andrews T & S Racing’s tiring Mr. Vegas home in front for trainer Richie Scherer.

 

However, it was last summer in Chicago that Graham won his first riding title in the United States at Arlington Park after finishing second twice previously at Arlington and three times at Fair Grounds.

 

“A riding title is nice to have,” said Graham Sunday morning during Fair Grounds training hours. “It’s like you’ve accomplished something after finishing second or third so many times, but I couldn’t have done it without my agent (Britt McGehee) or my wife (the former Lisa Caverley, also born on the Emerald Isle) and all the trainers that have helped me out. I suppose it’s kind of nice to have a title on your resume, but I don’t think very much about riding crowns.

 

“This job we (jockeys) have is hard enough, but I enjoy it,” said Graham. “This is a great game. Everyone is busy doing what they have to do to make a living and I’ve been fortunate enough to carve out one for myself. (Multiple Kentucky Derby winning jockey) Calvin Borel told me a long time ago to just keep doing what I do and to work as hard as I can, but to me it doesn’t really seem like work.”

 

Typically, Graham, who also finished a very good second at Keeneland’s prestigious October meeting, refuses to speculate on his chances for his first Fair Grounds riding crown after finishing second three times.

 

“It’s only the fourth day of the season and a lot of things can happen.” Graham said. “This has already been a good day for me. I got up this morning and put my feet on the floor, so from there, there’s only one way you can go – and that’s forward.”

 

FG’S INAUGURAL ‘LEGENDS PURSE’ PERMEATES PAST OF CRESCENT CITY RACING – Hall of Fame Thoroughbreds like Black Gold, Pan Zareta, and Whirlaway – all of whom raced in New Orleans – were represented, but it was the locally-owned Risen Star whose silks flew home first in Fair Grounds’ inaugural Legends Purse, run as the sixth race Saturday at the nation’s third-oldest Thoroughbred race course.

 

In that race, Louisiana-bred Deelightful Angel – playing the part of the 1988 Louisiana Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Risen Star owned by Louie Roussel III and Ronnie Lamarque – won by 6 1/4-lengths in a one-mile-and-70-yard $10,000 claiming contest for Louisiana-breds. Every entrant in the 12-horse field was dressed in the silks of a different legendary horse from Fair Grounds’ 140-year history. 

 

Louisiana Derby, Preakness and New Orleans Handicap winner Master Derby, played by Kasos Pride, finished second and the favored Whirlaway, the 1941 Triple Crown winner, represented by Gold Soul, came in third.

 

That meant, at least in symbolic terms, that the Legends Purse resulted in an all-Louisiana Derby-Preakness-winner exacta as well as an all-Preakness-winner trifecta.

 

Track announcer John G. Dooley and Fair Grounds racing analyst Katie Mikolay were quick to embrace the spirit of the Legends Purse, with Dooley threading his live-race call with historic anecdotes from the various legends’ history and Mikolay specifically noting the original racing colors of Louie Roussel and the famous devil’s-red-and-blue of Calumet Farm during her pre-race comments from the paddock.

 

However, perhaps the defining moment of the Legends Purse came during the post parade, when Cajun Louisiana-born jockey Kerwin Clark, 52, – aboard “Whirlaway” on Saturday – pumped his fist in the air as Dooley described the stellar career of the Calumet color-bearer over the public address system.

 

“It was hard not to be impressed when the announcer recited all of Whirlaway’s history,” Clark said Sunday morning. “I guess I just got into the spirit of the whole thing.”

 

Clark, it should be noted, rode Just for Fun Stable’s Decisive Moment in last spring’s Kentucky Derby, enjoying the first Kentucky Derby mount of his 36-year career in the saddle.

 

 

 

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