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Lovell’s Just Might repeats in FG’s Thanksgiving Classic

A Fair Grounds stakes recap by Kevin Kilroy (Photo above of Just Might winning the Thanksgiving Classic by Hodges Photography):

New Orleans, LA (November 25, 2021) – The outside draw gave jockey Colby Hernandez options, but seeing Just Might’s effort in The 97th running of the $150,000 Thanksgiving Classic, it didn’t seem to matter. There was no asking needed—only the powerful strides of a seven-time stakes winning alpha on display in the opening day feature at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

Bred and owned by Griffon Farms and Churchill Downs-based trainer Michelle Lovell, this chestnut gelding broke with alacrity and charged to the lead. Scoring an impressive 2 1/2-length victory over Greeley and Ben, Just Might proved himself against a quality field of formful horses.

On the lead from the jump, Hernandez twice looked over his shoulder to see if he needed to get into his horse—twice he saw no one threatening. He was along for the ride.

“He broke in front of the field,” Hernandez said, “and there wasn’t much left for me to do.”

It was as if two different races were running. With the victory, Just Might ($8.20) won the right to have another go against stakes company on dirt. All six foes finished gamely within three lengths of each other for the place spot.

“I thought Colby did an excellent job getting him away from the gates and then he never moved on him.” Lovell said. “Colby just let him do his thing. He shook his reins at him late in the stretch and then wrapped back up. I thought it was a great ride by Colby and a great performance by my big horse. So exciting to watch him run!”

Greeley and Ben proved his mettle in the second flight. Passing Strike Power with a furlong to go, he then held off the hard charging closer Pyron at the wire. Due to a clocking malfunctions, no time was available. That makes fourteen exactas out of fifteen races in 2021 for Broberg’s seemingly ageless seven-year-old.

Necker Island, the 1.70-1 favorite, rated off the pace and then steadied into the turn losing two lengths and momentum. Finishing fourth, the connections certainly are wondering what if he had gotten Just Might in his sights.

With the win, Just Might now sports a career mark of 31-9-7-6 with a bankroll of $783,914. A fun celebration in the winner’s circle as the family of breeder and owner Dr. Robert Griffon had come to be a part of this win and the patriarch’s birthday.

“Michelle and Colby did a great job, Griffon said after the race. “We told him today to let him have his race, and he ran a good one today.”

Just Might is 6 for 10 in 2021 after going 3 for 21 to start his career. His victories include Churchill Downs’ Louisville Thoroughbred Society and Mighty Beau Stakes.

Breeze Rider Carried Home By Connections’ Go-To Jockey E.T. Baird

In near wire-to-wire fashion in the inaugural running of Joseph Ray Peluso Memorial Stakes at Fair Ground Race Course & Slots, Mike Piazza Racing Stable’s Breeze Rider ($10.40) scored her 5th victory out of her 6 attempts at the 1 1/16 mile distance on turf. That makes twice with E.T. Baird up, a veteran rider who picks his spots and wins regularly. His specialty? Engaging and sustaining a horse’s most dangerous weapon: speed.

Anyone who has followed Chicago racing in recent years knows this much is true: ET Baird and Steve Manley don’t mess around. This year they have teamed up 24 times, winning 9 with an ROI of $4.01.

11-25-2021 Breeze Rider, with E.T. Baird aboard, wins the Joseph R. Peluso Memorial Stakes on the 150th opening of the Fair Grounds Racecourse and Slots in New Orleans, LA. Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges, Jr

Breeze Rider has shipped with success to Kentucky as well. She came into the Peluso Memorial off a third place in a Keeneland allowance race following victory in the Kentucky Downs starter allowance.

Posting fractions of 24.05, :49.20, 1:13.37, 1:37.33, 1:43.52, Breeze Rider led most of the way. Only the pace pressing Dominga put a head in front of the eventual winner on the turn for home, only to be turned away when Baird immediately asked more and put that foe to bed.

Michael Stidham’s talented stakes winning filly Alms (5.30-1)  had the winner in her sights down the stretch but she drifted out and failed to offer an accelerating kick when it counted most, settling for second. .

In a competitive field, the betting public mostly got it right. Each of the five most fancied horses, ranging from odds of 3.10-1 and 5.40-1, finished in the top 6 in the field of 11. Only the late charging 12.70-1 third place finisher Bellagamba didn’t fit that odds profile.

In scoring her tenth career win and sixth this year, the 4-year-old daughter of Paynter hiked her career earnings to $290,308.

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.