KY Derby trail: Midnight Bourbon the toast of Lecomte

Saturday’s Fair Grounds stakes recaps by the track’s publicity office (Hodges Photography photos):

New Orleans (January 16, 2021) – Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon took the lead from the start in Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots’ $200,000 Lecomte (G3) for 3-year-olds and held that position to the wire en route to a 1-length win over Proxy, who headed out heavily favored Mandaloun for the place spot. The winner amassed 10 qualifying points for Churchill Downs’ May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).

Midnight Bourbon, the second-choice at 3.70-1, and Joe Talamo broke running and took the initiative immediately in the eight-horse field, while allowed to set leisurely fractions of 24.68 and 48.99 over a stalking Proxy at 8.90-1, and 3-wide Mandaloun, who was odds-on at .80-1. Little changed off the far turn, as Talamo asked Midnight Bourbon, and the pair increased their advantage to 2 lengths, and held sway to the line, with Proxy proving a game second over Mandaloun. It was a large gap of 8 ¾ lengths back to fourth-place finisher Santa Cruiser, at 7.30-1. Midnight Bourbon covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.41 while defeating seven rivals. He boosted his career record to 5-2-1-2 with earnings of $221,420.

Joe Talamo aboard Midnight Bourbon holds off challengers to win the Grade 3, $200,000 LeComte.

Midnight Bourbon was making his 3-year-old debut for trainer Steve Asmussen after an encouraging 2-year-old season that saw him hit the board in a pair of graded stakes. The son of Tiznow broke his maiden going 1 1/2 turns in his second start at Ellis Park in August, and ran a good second in Churchill’s Iroquois (G3) on Kentucky Derby Day in September before finishing his season running third in Belmont Park’s October 10 Champagne (G1). Asmussen, who won the Lecomte for the third time, was pleased with Midnight Bourbon’s freshman campaign but he was confident the best was yet to come.

“Lovely horse, he’s a beautiful individual,” Asmussen said. “Obviously he had run some solid races (at 2), but we were very much looking forward to getting him into two-turn races. His pedigree, we think that going further will help him. He’s got a beautiful stride to him. He was away nice and cleanly and Joe (jockey Talamo) gave him a nice trip.”

Midnight Bourbon began his preparation for the Lecomte in November and showed a quartet of 5-furlong works leading up to the race. The Lecomte was clearly just the starting off point to what Asmussen hopes is a big campaign, with races like the local February 13 Risen Star (G2) on Louisiana Derby Preview Day and March 20 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) on the agenda.

“He’s going to develop into an excellent 3-year-old,” Asmussen said. “Absolutely (when asked about the Risen Star). We were very excited to get him down here (to New Orleans) and get him in this series and stuff. With him being capable of what he is away from there, the ground that he covers, I think it’s a natural fit.”  

Talamo was a late replacement for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., who took off all his Saturday mounts “because his girlfriend and baby are sick and he didn’t feel comfortable leaving Louisville for various reasons,” according to his agent Ruben Munoz.

The veteran Talamo, who was born in Marrero, just 13 miles away from Fair Grounds, was ecstatic over the ultimate catch ride.

 “It felt really good (to get the mount),” Talamo said. “Just really grateful to Steve for giving me the opportunity on him. Very, very classy horse. He broke like a rocket out of there and I just tried to be a good passenger from there. He settled like a champ and when those horses came to him down the lane, he fought (them) off, and he really galloped out very, very nice.”

Godolphin’s homebred Proxy earned 4 Derby qualifying points and ran big in defeat for trainer Mike Stidham, as he was stepping up into his first stakes off a pair of local wins. The regally-bred son of Tapit broke his maiden here in November in his second career start and entered off a win in an optional-claimer December 18. Proxy won on the lead while setting slow splits in both starts, while showing some inexperience in the process, but showed a rating gear in the Lecomte, which has Stidham also looking forward to his colt’s future.

 “Very, very happy with that (run),” Stidham said. “He was a little green last time and both of his wins were on the lead so he didn’t really learn a lot. But the way he dug in and held off the favorite (Mandaloun) in the end, and was getting to the winner, I couldn’t have been happier. I think the farther the better; the mile and an eighth, and the mile and 3/16ths of the Louisiana Derby is only going to help him. We needed him to do what he did today (to keep going on) and he did it.”

Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Mandaloun, who earned 2 Derby qualifying points, was a strong favorite off a pair of sprint wins in Kentucky to start his career for trainer Brad Cox. The son of Into Mischief won on debut at Keeneland in October then won an optional-claimer at Churchill November 28, but he didn’t finish as strongly while stretching out to two turns for the first time. Mandaloun sat an outside trip from a wide post under Florent Geroux but didn’t kick in as expected through the stretch.

 “I was in a good stalking position, 2 or 3-wide,” Geroux said. “My options were limited. The winner just kept going. It was very close for second. The way we started, that’s the way we finished. Maybe it was the slow pace, but the horses in front of me had a better kick at the end.”

Calumet Farm’s homebred Santa Cruiser, who dueled through hot fractions when breaking his maiden in his last start November 19 at Churchill, surprisingly lagged far behind in last but did run on nicely late for trainer Keith Desormeaux. The son of Dialed In earned 1 Derby qualifying point for his effort and is another who figures to move on to the Risen Star.

Charlie’s Penny pulls Silverbulletday upset

New Orleans (January 16, 2021) – In what was her first try around two turns, Lothenbach Stables’ Charlie’s Penny sat a clear, stalking trip behind pacesetter Littlestitious, rallied on the turn for home, and darted away to an authoritative 3 ¼-length win in Saturday’s $150,000 Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, while earning ten points on the Road to the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) for trainer Chris Block. Souper Sensational closed from last to be second (4 Oaks points), another 3/4 of a length back to longshot Moon Swag (2 Oaks points) in third. Sun Path, the .70-1 favorite, checked in a disappointing fourth (1 Oaks point).  

Charlie’s Penny captured the Silverbulletday.

Dismissed at odds of 9.20-1 under Brian Hernandez Jr., Charlie’s Penny stopped the timer in 1:43.80 for 1 mile & 70 yards over a fast track. The early fractions of 25.66 and 49.96 were super soft, and the entire field was separated by just 3 ½ lengths past the opening half-mile.  

“She was able to get herself in a nice position quickly,” Hernandez said. “Going around the first turn and then once she got outside (Sun Path) she just traveled nicely with her ears up the whole way. I could always tell that she was going to respond when I needed her to and that was the whole key today. She was there for me. I just had to be a good passenger. She finished off the race really nicely and she’s done that in her races in the past. You go back and watch her race at Churchill (allowance win on November 28) and her last race as well (third in the Letellier), she finishes off running. Today was the first time around two turns but there was no question for her, she was the best horse.” 

A two-time winner from four starts coming in, Charlie’s Penny had never traveled further than 7 furlongs, and her pedigree (by Race Day out of the Warrior’s Reward mare Sweet Lorraine) might suggest that she should stick to one turn. 

“That’s kind of what we thought too, that she might just strictly be a sprinter, but this (race) was here (at Fair Grounds) and we thought we’d give the two turns a shot,” Block admitted. “Brian did a fantastic job around the first turn getting her out and settled in there behind what was a slow pace, which I think benefitted us to a degree. In the middle of the turn, I could see that he had a ton of horse. She ranged up there on the outside turning for home, and I’ve seen her level off really well going short. I thought if she could do that going long, we’re going to be ok.” 

With the win, Charlie’s Penny enhanced her career record to 5-3-0-1 with earnings of $173,890.  

“We will see how she comes out of this and I would guess that (the Rachel Alexandra on February 13) would be what we would think next,” Block said. “We are here (stabled at Fair Grounds) and she’s run well over this surface and around two turns, which was the test today, and that seems like the most logical next spot.” 

Off a pair of easy wins around one-turn over Woodbine’s synthetic Tapeta surface, Live Oak Plantation’s Souper Sensational had questions of her own to answer. Sent off as the 1.80-1 second-choice, she found herself in a claustrophobic position down along rail early and was shuffled back to last. Swung wide off the turn for home by jockey Declan Carroll, she stayed on nicely to earn the place spot.

“She ran a superb race,” Carroll said. “It got very tight into the first turn and I got squeezed out of there. They crawled around out there today, for these kinds of horses. She ran a huge race once I got out and she came with a really nice run. Unfortunately, the winner was already too far in front of us, but my filly is a very accomplished filly going forward. She took the dirt like a pro and I think she’s a serious filly.” 

 Given everything that was thrown at her, Mark Casse’s assistant trainer David Carroll was pleased with Souper Sensational’s effort.  

“She broke just OK and then she was kind of in a bad spot,” David Carroll said. “There was no pace, and so you kind of have to ride the race as it comes to you, but she finished up really nicely. Obviously, she handles the dirt no problem, and she should improve off this. She’s a very talented filly and I think she’ll have a big year.” 

As the 3-5 favorite, Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Sun Path, a full sister to last year’s Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) winner Bonny South, finished a disappointing fourth. With Florent Geroux in tow, she sat second while chasing the slow fractions set by Littlestitious, but lacked the needed punch in the stretch.  

“I got my a** kicked,” Geroux said. “Perfect trip, she was traveling great and when I cut her loose, she just didn’t go any faster. I was very surprised. She has been training great.” 

The three fillies who scratched from the Silverbulletday – Divine Comedy, Minute Waltz and Princess Theorem – were all entered back in a Monday allowance race.  

Title Ready takes advantage of class drop

A non-factor in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and Clark (G1) in his last two starts, Charles Fipke’s homebred Title Ready woke up with a drop in class Saturday to take the $125,000 Louisiana (G3) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, one of four stakes for older horses on the “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day” card.

Title Ready and Brian Hernandez take the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes.

A clear fourth in the early going under Brian Hernandez, Jr. while chasing pedestrian fractions of 25.28 and 49.53 set by Blackberry Wine (5.50-1), the Dallas Stewart-trained Title Ready commenced his rally on the turn for home, closed strongly to take the lead outside the sixteenth pole, and drew away in the end to win by 1 ¼ lengths at odds of 5.50-1, with a final time of 1:44.27 for 1 1/16 miles. Blackberry Wine held firmly for second, 2 lengths in front of the 2.10-1 favorite Wells Bayou in third.

“You know, coming out of two grade 1’s, he’s not chasing Authentic and those horses around there today,” Hernandez, Jr. explained. “We thought that if he broke good and got himself in the race, it would benefit him. With them going 25 and 49, that put us into the race, and made his running kick a whole lot stronger. Like I said, it was just a different class level today. He’s run against the best in the country his last two starts, so to kind of take a step back today, he showed he was the best horse.”

With the win, Title Ready boosted his career mark to 25-5-6-4 with earnings of $656,680. It was his first graded stakes win, although he’s now hit the board five times in such events.

“He’s a beautiful More Than Ready colt that Mr. (Charles) Fipke bred and he shows up and runs hard all the time,” Stewart said. “We know he’s been running against the best. These are some very nice horses that he ran with today, but he showed that he loves the Fair Grounds.”

In what was his first graded stakes appearance since finishing seventh in last year’s local Risen Star (G2), Calumet Farm’s homebred Blackberry Wine was valiant in defeat for trainer Joe Sharp.

“Probably I was a little bit lucky because Wells Bayou was coming off an eight-month layoff and I’m sure their team tactics weren’t to be too forceful,” jockey Adam Beschizza said of Blackberry Wine’s uncontested early pace. “He had everything his own way and we sprinted off the turn and we just got outrun in the end. He stepped up in class today and that was probably his toughest task to date.”

The winner of last year’s Twin Spires Louisiana Derby (G2), Wells Bayou hadn’t been seen since finishing a tired sixth in the May 2 Arkansas Derby (G1). The Brad Cox-trainee spied the speed to the top of the stretch but failed to make a dent late, holding off Sonneman by a head for third.

Turf no problem for Manny Wah in Kenner

No one would have argued with you if you thought Susan Moulton’s Manny Wah would win a stakes race in 2021, but tell them it would be on turf and you may have gotten some funny looks. That’s how the script played out on Saturday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots however, as Manny Wah inhaled a game Just Might nearing the finish line to score by 1 ¼ lengths in the $100,000 Duncan F. Kenner over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course.

Manny Wah won the Duncan F. Kenner in his turf debut with Miguel Mena aboard.

As had been his custom on dirt, Manny Wah, overlooked at 12.80-1, showed little early speed in the Kenner, settling at the back of the seven-horse field under Miguel Mena, while Readyforprimetime (3.00-1) and Just Might (5.20-1) blazed away up front, with neither giving an inch through torrid fractions of 22.19 and 44.62. The script remained unchanged to midstretch, when Just Might began to assert himself. He took a short lead over Readyforprimetime, while Manny Wah drafted up and reached contention on the inside. Mena guided him out and off the rail and took dead aim on a pair of leaders who began to wilt a bit from their demanding early fractions. Manny Wah pulled clear late, completing the 5 ½ furlongs over a firm turf course in 1:02.38. Once again Just Might and Colby Hernandez won the battle but lost the war, like in last month’s Richard R. Scherer Memorial when he finished a head in front of Hollis.

Manny Wah developed into a reliable stakes sprinter in 2020 for trainer Wayne Catalano, as he placed in such events four times, though he was never able to break through for a win. The 5-year-old son of Will Take Charge was a troubled but close fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November at Keeneland and entered the Kenner off a second in the local November 28 Thanksgiving Classic. With no local dirt stakes in the near future, Catalano opted to finally try the turf with Manny Wah, who improved to 4-for-23 lifetime.

“Steve Leving, the racing manager and adviser for Susan (Moulton) kept saying I want to put this horse on turf,” Catalano said. “I told him ‘We’ll get our day’ and today was it. We took a shot to run him on turf and he proved us good. I thought it was a very impressive effort and he just sprouted wings, as they would say.”

Mena, aboard Manny Wah for the first time, knew the playbook after competing against him on dirt, but admitted he was surprised at how easy things happened.

“He did his usual and dropped back on the backside but he was traveling great,” Mena said. “I called on him in the stretch and he was rolling. I didn’t even have to hit him. He loved the turf.”

Just Might once again ran huge in defeat for trainer Michelle Lovell after dueling on the lead early. The 5-year-old son of Justin Phillip pulled a similar trip in the December 19 Scherer, when he dueled through intense fractions, took the lead in deep stretch, and was run down nearing the line by Archidust, who finished last in the Kenner as the lukewarm 2.50-1 favorite.

“He just keeps running as hard as he can and coming up just a little short,” Lovell said. “We thought he could be the speed of the speed but I told Colby if he doesn’t make the lead, then just keep him close, and he did. He rode a great race.”

Secret Message Rolls Late in Krantz

Taking advantage of a favorable pace scenario, while making her second start for trainer Brad Cox, Spendthrift Farm’s Secret Message bided her time early and powered clear late for a 1 ¼-length win over Room to Finish in the $100,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial.

Shaun Bridgmohan guided Secret Messages victory in the Marie Krantz.

Secret Message, sent off as the second-choice at 2.40-1, settled in seventh early on the inside under Shaun Bridgmohan as Jeanie B (GB) (3.90-1) set the pace, with heavily favored 1.40-1 Dalika (Ger) glued to her outside while ensuring honest early splits of 23.57 and 48.34 over a firm Stall-Wilson Turf Course. The race began to quicken off the far turn, as Jeanie B and Dalika were sprinting, while Secret Message tipped out 6-wide and Room to Finish (9.50-1) held her position on the inside. The early pace took its toll in deep stretch while Bridgmohan produced Secret Message mid-course, and she flew home over a ground-saving Room to Finish. Jeanie B held well to be third, while the 1.40 favorite Dalika was a disappointing fifth.

Secret Message, a 6-year-old daughter of Hat Trick (Jpn), made the first 19 starts of her career for trainer Graham Motion, winning six times, including the Nassau (G2) at Woodbine in 2019 and Mint Julep at Churchill Downs in May 2020. Sent through the sales ring at the Keeneland Association November Breeding Stock Sale 2020, Secret Message was purchased for $625,000 and turned over to Cox for a 2021 campaign. She kicked things off in the local December 19 Blushing K.D., where she stalked in fourth and flattened out late to finish third, 3 lengths behind Dalika. Cox admitted he expected a bit more last time but was happy Secret Message redeemed herself in the Krantz.

“We really liked her in her last race and we were definitely disappointed with the outcome of the last race,” Cox said. “We were hoping we would get a little better trip today and setup today and we got both. Shaun (jockey Bridgmohan) did an excellent job of executing the plan and it worked out great.”

Bridgmohan was aboard Secret Message for the first time but he had done his homework on a stretch-running mare that he knew would be there late.

“The pace quicker than the last time and I watched a couple of her replays and Brad and I had discussed it and we basically came up with a good plan and tried to execute it and it worked out,” Bridgmohan said.

Room to Finish ran well in defeat while facing open stakes foes, as she entered off a win in the restricted December 12 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Turf for trainer Wayne Catalano. The 6-year-old daughter of Giant Oak saved ground early and had a bit of trouble inside, but still rallied home nicely under Adam Beschizza.

“We got a little unlucky as I rode to close to save all the ground and there was room, then there was no room,” Beschizza said. “She’s a horse that doesn’t have a huge burst and she needs to be very fluent.”

Logical Myth scores again in Colonel Bradley

JPS Racing’s Logical Myth continued his love affair for the local Stall-Wilson Turf Course, winning his second stakes of the meet with a comfortable 2 ¼-length victory over Big Agenda in the $125,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley.

Adam Beschizza guided Logical Myth to victory in the Colonel E.R. Bradley.

Logical Myth, the 3.00-1 second-choice, stalked in third early on the inside under Adam Beschizza as Big Agenda (6.00-1) and 2.20-1 favorite Spectacular Gem set an aggressive pace of 23.59 and 48.17 over a firm turf course. The leaders floated a bit off the far turn while tiring and opened up the rail, which Logical Myth surged through for a decisive score. He stopped the timer for 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.13 and moved his career record to 6-5-0-0 over the Stall-Wilson. Big Agenda gamely re-rallied late to beat his pace rival Spectacular Gem by a nose.

Beschizza has proven an integral part of the success story that is Logical Myth, as he’s been aboard for his last five starts. The pair stalked and won the Diliberto by a desperate head in a blanket finish but things weren’t quite as dicey this time around.

“The rail seemed to open up a lot earlier than the last day,” Beschizza said. “He’s really turned the page this horse and he really seems to know his job. He loves his routine in Joe’s barn and he seems to have flourished since the change.”

Logical Myth, a 5-year-old son of Data Link, has been a revelation of sorts since trainer Joe Sharp claimed him for $40,000 in May at Churchill Downs, as he’s now 6-3-2-1 for his new connections. He’s even more potent over the Stall-Wilson, and his resume heading in to the Bradley included a win last time in the December 19 Buddy Diliberto Memorial. All told, Logical Myth is now 7-for-18 lifetime and has clearly hit a new gear in Sharp’s barn.

“He’s a steadily improving horse,” Sharp said. “I thought the race was going to set up good for him today with the nice inside post and Adam has gotten a lot of confidence in the horse from riding him in the morning and in the afternoon. He’s getting better and better and it looks like the best part of the year is still ahead of him.”

Big Agenda was a surprising pacesetter, as Spectacular Gem and fifth-place finisher Sailing Solo dueled early in the Diliberto, but after breaking alertly and finding no other opposition, jockey Florent Geroux decided to take the initiative.

“Those two horses had been going out but they decided to take back today and I decided to take it,” Geroux said. “He traveled nicely and dug in late. (I thought) he was beat (for second) but tried really hard and re-rallied for second-place.”

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Jennie Rees