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Optimizer Headlines Fair Grounds Handicap

Calumet Farm’s Optimizer, the decisive winner of last month’s $125,0000 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap (GIII) for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, ships back from Oaklawn Park as the 120-pound high weight and 3-1 morning line favorite for Saturday’s 26th running of the $150,000 Fair Grounds Handicap (GIII) at 1 1/8 miles over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course.

 

The Fair Grounds ’Cap serves as a prep for the $400,000 Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap (GII) on Louisiana Derby Day, March 30.

 

A 4-year-old English Channel colt, Optimizer took to grass racing after starting in all three Triple Crown events last year and went on to win the Grade III Kent at Delaware Park. He tried the Breeders’ Cup Turf, finishing 11th, then managed a good third in the Hollywood Turf Cup (GII) in December. In the Col. Bradley, Optimizer controlled the pace before drawing clear to win by 3 ½ lengths under Jon Court, who has the mount again Saturday. Optimizer will break from post seven.

 

Second choice on the morning line at 4-1 went to Lael Stable & All In Stable’s Willcox Inn, a Grade II winner on turf as a 3-year-old. Now a 5-year-old, the Mike Stidham trainee comes into the Fair Grounds ’Cap off a troubled third in the John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston last month. Jose Lezcano will be aboard for the first time, breaking from post three and tacking 118 pounds.

 

A pair of South Florida invaders warrant serious consideration. AJ Suited Racing Stable’s Two Months Rent, winner of the Hawthorne Derby, makes his 4-year-old debut for trainer Jimmy Toner and gets the services of leading rider Rosie Napravnik, tacking 114 and breaking from post six. Ken & Sarah Ramsey’s Hyper makes his second start back in the United States after a summer trek to England that included off-the-board finishes at Ascot and Newbury. Before that sojourn, though, the 6-year-old by Victory Gallop had reeled off five in a row on turf in Florida and New York. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, in his first appearance at Fair Grounds since coming out of retirement last month, has the mount and will carry 114 from post nine for trainer Chad Brown.

 

Also expected to attract attention from bettors are Adele B. Dilschneider’s Unlatch, fourth in the Bradley, installed at 6-1 on the line for trainer Al Stall Jr. and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., carrying 114 and breaking from post four; Chuck & Ella Lou Hagaman’s Bim Bam, third in the Bradley, projected at 10-1 for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Richard Eramia, assigned 115 and breaking from post five; and Chester J. Miller & Patrick J. Dupuy’s Strike Impact, winner of December’s Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap, 12-1 for trainer Pat Dupuy and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan and starting from post two under a 115-pound impost.

 

The rest of the 11-horse field also includes, from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, weight, morning line odds): Major Gain (James Graham, Louie Roussel III, 112, 20-1); Quality Control (Leandro Goncalves, Tom Amoss, 112, 15-1); Cavalero (Mark Guidry, Wayne Catalano, 113, 12-1); and Macho Bull, cross-entered in the Mineshaft Handicap on the main track (Iram Diego, Gennadi Dorochenko, 111, 12-1).

 

 

 

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