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Populist Politics Takes Swing at Champ

Fair Grounds Race Course
Photo: CDI
He’s half the Champ’s age – aided by his youth when facing the credentialed “Cajun” veteran – but is he up to this challenge? Can the improving sophomore Populist Politics, owned by Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence, give the reigning Louisiana-bred champ Star Guitar, hero of state-bred racing here who competes in the Brittlyn silks of Evelyn Benoit, a run for his money on Louisiana Champions Day this Saturday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots?


Guests at Fair Grounds and fans of the New Orleans oval’s simulcast signal will find out Saturday when last year’s Louisiana Futurity winner Populist Politics meets Star Guitar – hero of the last two Louisiana Champions Day Classics – in this year’s 20th renewal of the $150,000 Classic?


The Louisiana Champions Day Classic, for accredited Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds and up, has always been the main event for Louisiana-breds at Fair Grounds, but Champions Day also showcases five other six-figure stakes for Thoroughbreds as well as an additional three for American Quarter Horses accredited in the Pelican State.


Nevertheless, Saturday’s Classic is the race that could easily live up to its name. In addition to his last two Classic wins, Star Guitar won the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Sprint in 2008 and the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile the year before that. He’s already the only horse to have won four Champions Day races and will be favored to win his unprecedented fifth later this week. But is he a cinch?


Star Guitar’s trainer Al Stall, Jr., while grateful for his Thanksgiving Day quartet of victories on Fair Grounds’ opening day this season, offered one caveat when reflecting on his banner day – recognizing that Populist Politics also captured Fair Grounds’ $60,000 Mr. Sulu Stakes by 6 1/2-lengths that same afternoon. 


“The way Populist Politics ran yesterday,” Stall said on Black Friday morning, “the Classic may turn out to be a real ‘Rumble in the Jungle.’”


However, during training hours on Sunday of this week Stall radiated confidence in his 6-year-old son of Quiet American, who is already second on the list of all-time Louisiana-bred money earners.


“Everything seems to be on track for us,” Stall said. “(Star Guitar) is undefeated this year, and he worked a fine five-eighths the other day (a bullet 1:00.80 on Nov. 28.). But Populist Politics is a nice looking horse, too. The Classic has been kind of a ‘ho-hum’ affair for Star Guitar the last two years (which he won by a total of almost 12 lengths.) Maybe with Populist Politics in there, we’ll bring a little more excitement to it on Saturday.”


Over at the barn adjacent to Stall’s Sunday morning, nine-time Fair Grounds trainer champion Tom Amoss, conditioner of Populist Politics and Stall’s classmate at Newman High School and roommate during their years at LSU, was downplaying his horse’s chances as the challenger in Saturday’s Classic.


“Star Guitar is the champ,” Amoss said, “but Populist Politics had a very good work yesterday (a bullet half-mile in 47.80 Dec. 3.) Also, I can tell you my horse is a much better horse now than he was when he raced here last spring because he’s a much more mature horse mentally than he was at that time. But is his best effort good enough to match up with that old veteran over there? I don’t really know that it is, but it will be fun to see.”



Teenage apprentice jockey C. J. McMahon, who made the first two visits of his young career to the Fair Grounds’ winner’s circle during the local oval’s Thanksgiving Day Opening Day program, earned some nationally-televised recognition Saturday during HRTV’s telecast of Fair Grounds’ initial foray as the host of Claiming Crown Day.


McMahon, born in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the son of a Quarter Horse rider, enjoyed a four-win afternoon on Claiming Crown Day, highlighted by his win on Atthebuzzer, owned and trained by Jackie Thacker, in the $50,000 Claiming Crown Express. That Arkansas-bred paid $95.40 to win – the second highest straight price recorded during the 2011-2012 meeting at Fair Grounds.


The young rising star also won the last three races of the day, respectively, aboard Murphy, Levy, and Young’s Sunrise Star for trainer Robert Young, Sure Profit Racing Stable’s Redhotrush for conditioner Earl Angelle as well as the finale astride Danny Ray Butler’s Laflo for trainer Tony Richey.


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