Team Block’s Suntracer and Louie Roussel III and Ronnie Lamarque’s Friendly Banter, second and third respectively when a neck apart in Chicago’s Grade III Hawthorne Derby Oct. 15, match strides once again when they top a field of nine in Friday’s Fair Grounds feature to highlight the second day of racing at the historic New Orleans oval’s 140th season.
The nation’s third-oldest Thoroughbred racing facility opens Thanksgiving Day in support of a tradition dating back to 1898, but Friday’s headliner is the 25th anniversary edition of the Woodchopper Stakes, restricted to sophomores and to be run at about one-mile over Fair Grounds’ Stall-Wilson turf course.
Suntracer, conditioned by Neil Pessin, was forced to race eight-wide when second by 4 1/2-lengths to All In Stable’s highly regarded Willcox Inn in the Hawthorne Derby, but continued with good determination to gain the place position. In his start before that he was fourth in a $100,000 optional claiming test when kept wide.
Last summer, the Illinois-homebred Kitten’s Joy colt finished second to Willcox Inn in the Arlington Classic and the subsequent American Derby as the first two legs of Arlington Park’s grassy Mid-America Triple. Defending Fair Grounds riding champion Rosie Napravnik will be astride in the Woodchopper.
Friendly Banter, trained by part-owner Roussel, weakened in the late stages of the nine-furlong Hawthorne Derby and should appreciate the shorter distance of Friday’s run. The son of Distorted Humor made the pace in his only previous turf test in allowance company at Arlington Sept. 5 and was only beaten a length and a half for all the money. Jockey Tim Thornton, a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, will be in the irons aboard the Kentucky-bred.
Completing the field for the Woodchopper is Columbine Stable’s J. B.’s Thunder, to be ridden by Robby Albarado; Equi-Par Inc’s Mr. Woodrow, Richard Eramia aboard; David Schwartz’s J Isle, Kerwin Clark; Dwight Sprague’s Cactus Son, Shane Sellers; Peter Deutsch’s Adirondack Summer, James Graham; Marathon Farms Inc.’s Greek Warrior, Jamie Theriot; and Charles Fletcher’s Beachcombing, Miguel Mena in the saddle.
Of these, J.B.’s Thunder, trained by native New Orleanian Al Stall Jr., could provide stiff competition for the top two. The entire son of Thunder Gulch won the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity over Polytrack at Keeneland by four lengths in 2010, failed in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile later that fall, but has shown improvement since being introduced to turf competition in two starts this year.