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Breeders' Cup 2017

Woodard Ready to Strike in Claiming Crown

Fair Grounds Race Course
Photo: CDI
Trainer Joe Woodard holds the Churchill Downs record of saddling an unprecedented 10 consecutive winners at the Twin Spires oval and has also won multiple training titles at Turfway Park, River Downs and Beulah Park, but the Kentucky-born conditioner hadn’t been to New Orleans in at least 15 years until he stepped off a plane at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport Thursday afternoon.


The native of Louisville, who began his training career in 1992, has been attracted to the Crescent City by this weekend’s 13th running of the Claiming Crown, billed as the “Breeders’ Cup for blue collar horses,” which is being hosted by Fair Grounds for the first time in its history. Woodard has entered a total of six horses in Saturday’s five Claiming Crown races – tying stakes horse-rich trainer Mike Maker for the most horses entered in this edition of the series.


In total, Woodard’s horses – all owned by the Louisville automobile dealership family of Billy, Donna and Justin Hays – consist of Lambeau, 6-1 in the morning line for Saturday’s $50,000 Iron Horse as the fourth race; Plasma Beam, 9-2 third early choice in the $50,000 Express as the fifth event; the three-horse entry of Networking, Shesadozer and Costly, combined for wagering purposes and pegged as the 3-1 second choice in the $75,000 Glass Slipper as the seventh race; and Thabazimbi, 9-2 third choice in the morning line for Saturday’s $100,000 Emerald as the eighth race of the afternoon.  


When the Hays family hired Woodard as its trainer, the ownership was primarily interested in claiming horses that could benefit from a customized training regimen, and Woodard’s Claiming Crown entrants demonstrate the success of his program. Lambeau, Plasma Beam and Networking, for instance, all won at first asking after being haltered by Woodard and all of his Claiming Crown entrants have run good races under his care.


“I use an oxygen therapy chamber on my horses that are undergoing a layoff from competition,” Woodard said, “but I’ve had a lot of success using cold salt hydrotherapy for my horses that are in training. It helps with practically all lower leg injuries. But the main thing about the success I have enjoyed is that I have a very nice feed program and I take very good care of all my animals.”


Ironically, in spite of the claiming horse churn of Woodard’s success to date and the claiming horse nature of this weekend’s showcase, the conditioner is aiming for higher ground in his future equine endeavors.


“I’m in the process of trying to upgrade my stock right now for this winter,” said Woodard, “and I plan to keep six to 10 horses in training at Fair Grounds this season in pursuit of that goal.”


Nevertheless, Woodard still cherishes his headline moment to date: that of saddling 10 straight horses to pose in the winner’s circle at his history-heavy hometown track during its spring meeting of 2005.


“I was raised 15 minutes from Churchill Downs, and I started going to the track there with my father when I was five years old,” Woodard said. “There’s been a lot of history made there under those Twin Spires over the years, and to do what I did in front of all the people I grew up with turned out to be a very emotional moment for me.”



Guests of Fair Grounds and fans of the New Orleans oval’s simulcast signal are reminded that there will be a special early post time of 12:10 p.m. to accommodate the 13 races scheduled for Saturday’s 13th running of the Claiming Crown.



Billy, Donna and Justin Hays’ Thabazimbi, a contestant in Saturday’s $100,000 Claiming Crown Emerald, was named by Dr. John Chandler, noted South African-born breeder, who advised that “Thabazimbi” means “Mountain of Iron” in the Bantu dialect of the natives from that iron ore-rich region of South Africa.


Mark Martinez’s Tutti Buona Gente, on the other hand, who goes to the post in Saturday’s featured $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel for trainer Michelle Lovell, was bred by Haras Santa Maria de Araras SA in Kentucky despite the Argentine flavor of its founders. “Tutti Buona Gente” means “We Are All Good People” when loosely translated from Italian.


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