Alex and JoAnn Lieblong’s Telling, winner of the last two renewals of Saratoga’s prestigious Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap, will journey to New Orleans later this week from his winter home in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to shoulder the top impost of 122 pounds in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap over the Stall-Wilson turf course this Saturday.
The Fair Grounds Handicap is designed as the final major prep for the Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap March 26 as the top grass race of the New Orleans oval’s winter Thoroughbred racing season contested on Louisiana Derby Day.
“We didn’t decide to send him there until yesterday,” said trainer Steve Hobby while speaking over the phone from Oaklawn Sunday morning during training hours. “We’ll blow him out once more here tomorrow and send him over there later in the week. We’ve had a horrible winter up here, but he’s been doing super and we’re anxious to get a race into him.”
Telling, a 7-year-old son of A.P. Indy out of a Deputy Minister mare, has not run since finishing sixth in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs Nov. 6. His most recent work was five furlongs in 1:04.20 in the mud at Oaklawn Feb. 7 but he also had two five furlong moves in January at the central Arkansas oval.
Following his Sword Dancer score last Aug. 14 when dismissed at 10-1 in the wagering, Telling ran fifth in Belmont’s Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational when compromised by yielding ground seven weeks later on Oct. 2.
Telling also captured the 2009 Sword Dancer Invitational when overlooked at 33-1 by the upstate New York fans.
“This race Saturday (at about nine furlongs) is a little shorter than he’s used to,” said Hobby, “but he hasn’t run in awhile so he’s fresh. If there was ever a time to run him short this is it.”
Expected to face Telling in the Fair Grounds Handicap as of Sunday morning were David Holloway Racing’s Dubious Miss (117), Millennium Farms and Mike McCarty’s Expansion (118), W. S. Farish’s Hidden Glance (115), Henry Pabst’s Joinem (115), Michael Stinson’s Le Grand Cru (116), Wildenstein Stable’s Loup Breton (120), Rose Mary Chandler’s Skip a Smile (113), and Estrorace’s Workin for Hops (118).
Feel The Thunder Stable’s Argentine-bred Gran Estreno (120), winner of Fair Grounds’ Grade III E. R. Bradley Handicap Jan. 22 as the first leg of Fair Grounds three-race grass series for older horses, was still a possibility for the Fair Grounds Handicap as of Sunday morning.
LANERIE LEAPFROGS TO FIFTH IN LOCAL STANDINGS WITH 4-WIN SATURDAY
Veteran Louisiana native reinsman Corey Lanerie, who passed the 3,000-career win milestone earlier this month, rode four winner’s Saturday at Fair Grounds to leapfrog from seventh to fifth in the local standings entering Sunday’s race day.
Lanerie won Saturday’s third race on Gallant Stable’s Majestic Harbor for trainer Paul McGee, the eighth aboard Richard, Bertram and Elaine Klein’s Eye Opener for conditioner Steve Margolis, the featured $60,000 Pelleteri Stakes astride Mrs. Yoshio Fujita’s Ravi’s Song for trainer Carl Bowman and the finale on Robert Rockwell’s Tide Rising for conditioner Donald Hecker.