Trainer Mark Casse is hoping enigmatic Noble Bird
has another big effort waiting for him when the son of Birdstone starts in the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap on Saturday. Owned by Mack Oxley and Broman Fostock, the Grade I-winning earner of more than $1.3 million will likely be the betting choice in the nine-furlong event and may be unbeatable if his sporadic optimal performance is presented.
“When he’s on his A-game, he can throw a smasher at you,” Casse said. “He’s no Arrogate, but he’s great when he’s right. He’s just one of those horses who some days is a different horse and others he’s just great. It’s difficult to understand why, but his big efforts have been huge.”
A winner of the 2015 Grade I Stephen Foster, the seven-time winner from 21 starts won three stakes in 2016, including one of the most dominating graded stakes performances of the year when taking the Grade III Pimlico Special by 11¼ lengths. He picks up a new rider in Florent Geroux, who subs for Julien Leparoux when they break from post nine of 10.
“I think he will like the Fair Grounds,” Casse said. “If he can make an easy lead, he’s dangerous, but he’s proven before, like in the Foster, that he can rate a little. I’ll leave that up to Florent. I do like the post position.”
Kasaqui (Arg) in Top Form for Muniz
As often does happen in the Grade II $300,000 Muniz Memorial, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots’ premier Stall-Wilson turf course event of the season, a horse with impressive credentials ships in and appears to be the class over a field of local warriors taking turns beating one another. That role was cast in 2017 in the form of a nearly white son of Lasting Approval named Kasaqui (Arg), who entered the nine-furlong event for trainer Ignacio Correas IV with comparably admirable class lines and speed figures.
“He’s doing very well,” Correas said. “I think that he just came back from his last race and was in good shape. He ran a big race and should be a little sharper than he was last time. At this point of the year, I don’t want him better than this, because it’s a long year and we have other races.
“I don’t see many places to go other than this race and the distance was the most attractive thing,” Correas continued. “I always had it in the back of my mind to run a horse in this race, but for some reason or another, I’ve never had one run in it. It’s a good prep for Churchill (Downs’ Grade I Turf Classic on May 6) and is great timing for his campaign. I didn’t want to run him a mile in the (Grade I) Makers (46 Mile at Keeneland) because I have learned that that’s too short for him. This race will tell us more about where he is. Fair Grounds is a nice place to bring a horse for the race and I think he’ll like the turf course.”
After taking November through January off, the 7-year-old relatively lightly raced — with an impressive record of 23-5-9-1 — horse returned in the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes on Feb. 11, losing by a diminishing half-length to the talented Inspector Linley. Last year, he was repeatedly unlucky when the money was on the line. In the Turf Classic, he fell on the final turn, but luckily emerged unscathed. In the Grade I Arlington Million, he had traffic issues that likely cost him the race when a flying neck second. One race later, in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile, he was wide and dealt with traffic again when fifth by two lengths.
“I really think he’s improved with each race, going back five or so races,” Correas said. “He’s training very well right now and is very solid. Hopefully we will have him at the level he needs to be. He’s a top horse and has run very big against some very good horses. He shipped good, so hopefully he can do it.”
Robby Albarado, who has been aboard in all six starts since his the Argentine-bred’s Kentucky Derby Day spill, including a win in the 10-furlong Grade III Arlington Handicap, has the mount from post eight in the 11-horse field.
“If everything goes well, our first goal is the Turf Classic and then we will look at the Arlington Million again with him,” Correas concluded. “It will be a similar campaign with him and we’ll let him tell us race by race what to do.”
QUEEN BERNARDINA SEEKS RETURN TO FORM IN FAIR GROUNDS OAKS
A surprise entrant in the Grade II $400,000 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks is Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s Queen Bernardina, who makes her first start for trainer Bret Calhoun. Previously conditioned by Donnie K. Von Hemel, the daughter of Bernardini has a solo victory from six starts, but that race was super-impressive when taking a one-mile maiden over future Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Valadorna in September at Churchill Downs.
“This filly is one the owners thought a lot of since the beginning,” Calhoun said. “She beat some nice horses in that maiden and since has not run too well. I’ve had her a couple months and she’s trained very well for me. Apparently she was training well at Oaklawn before coming to me, but for some reason she wasn’t performing in the afternoons.
“We entered her a few times in allowance races that didn’t go, so we wound up in this race,” Calhoun continued. “Our hope is that maybe a change of scenery and surface will help her hopefully go back to her best form.”
A $170,000 Keeneland September 2015 purchase, Queen Bernardina has shown little in her previous three starts, including an eighth in the Grade I Alcibiades Stakes in October and a seventh in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn in January. She is one of two entered in the Fair Grounds Oaks, joining impressive maiden winner Daria’s Angel, from her connections.
Miguel Mena picks up the mount from the outside post eight on Saturday in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks-qualifying event.
SUMMER LUCK OPTS OUT OF FAIR GROUNDS OAKS
Trainer Mark Casse confirmed on Wednesday that Gary Barber’s Summer Luck, one of his two entrants in the Grade II $400,000 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks, will run elsewhere. The Grade II-placed daughter of Looking At Lucky joins the Keeneland string of her Hall of Fame-nominated conditioner.
Source: Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots