By Michael Adolphson —-
• Guest Suite May Be More Handy This Time Around
• Mo Tom More Aggressive Leading into New Orleans Handicap
• Improving Corporate Queen Adds Depth to Fair Grounds Oaks
• Unproven Pletcher Pair, Patch and Monaco, Primed for Louisiana Derby
• Bridgmohan to Ride Hollywood Handsome in Louisiana Derby
• Majestic Quality out of Fair Grounds Oaks
• Albarado Riding High into Big Weekend
FARRELL READY TO FIRE IN FAIR GROUNDS OAKS
As much as Brad Grady’s Girvin could become the star of the show with another big performance in the day’s main event, the Grade II $1,000,000 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby, the brightest established star on the card is arguably Coffeepot Stables’ homebred 3-year-old filly Farrell. A beautifully bred daughter of Malibu Moon and half-sister to two Grade I winners — Carpe Diem and J. B.’s Thunder — the Wayne Catalano trainee is riding a three-stakes winning streak, including a pair of Grade II events.
Farrell is the standout favorite in the Grade II $400,000 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks, a race that has been key to preparation for the Grade I Longines Kentucky Oaks, producing six winners since the turn of the century. Last out, Farrell wired a field of seven in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra by a geared-down 3½ lengths under Channing Hill.
Since said effort, the four-time winner from six starts has three works, including a bullet-of-54 five-furlong breeze in 1:00 flat on Mar. 18. The majority of her works in 2017 have come under jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr.
“She’s been working very well and been working very easily,” Catalano said. “Valdivia has been very happy with her, especially with her last couple works. We’re confident going into the race.
“Once you get them like we have them now you try to maintain them all the way through and keep them happy and going forward,” Catalano continued. “There’s no question she’ll be forwardly placed.”
Catalano is hopeful that a good performance, preferably a third Grade II triumph, sets his charge up to ideally peak in the Kentucky Oaks on May 5.
GUEST SUITE MAY BE MORE HANDY THIS TIME AROUND
William S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy’s homebred gelding Guest Suite appears primed for a return to form in the Grade II $1,000,000 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby. The Neil Howard trainee won the Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 21 before finishing a respectable fourth last out in Girvin’s Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 25. Racing a little farther off the pace in the latter, his conditioner hinted that you may possibly see him a little more handy this time when journeyman Robby Albarado takes the reins.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing him maybe a little bit closer, but I think the mile and an eighth will be enough of a benefit that if he does wind up back where he was that may not be too bad,” Howard said. “I wouldn’t mind being closer, but it doesn’t always play out like you want it to. You have to see what happens with the speed and whether or not the speed softens Local Hero on the front end.
“He’s training well and we’re very happy with him,” Howard concluded. “I expect him to run well and we hope he takes us forward (to the Grade I Kentucky Derby on May 6).”
Overall, Guest Suite has been admirably consistent in just six starts. His three victories include a one-mile allowance at Churchill Downs on Nov. 26 and a 1 1/16-miles Keeneland maiden victory over last week’s Grade III Sunland Park Derby winner Hence. He was also third to Kentucky Derby future book favorite McCraken in October’s Street Sense Stakes. Overall, he has yet to finish worse than fourth from a sextet of attempts.
MO TOM MORE AGGRESSIVE LEADING INTO NEW ORLEANS HANDICAP
When G M B Racing’s Mo Tom returned for his 4-year-old bow in the Grade II Mineshaft Handicap five weeks ago, the local favorite was well-supported at the windows, going off at 3-1. Making a far-turn rally from the tail end of the field, he flattened out and finished sixth of seven, beaten seven lengths. The three-time stakes winner and victor in last year’s Grade III Lecomte Stakes will try to reverse that form in the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap on Saturday, with a shift in workout tactics being utilized in hopes of catalyzing such.
“I think the most important thing to take note about Mo Tom is that he was a late foal as a 3-year-old and was behind the class in development,” Amoss said. “He was skinny and tall and I was always careful with what I did with him and it worked. This year, he came in bigger and stronger and I really didn’t change up my training techniques on him and I should have. In the end, he wound up being a horse who wasn’t as prepared in his first race back.
“Looking at his work pattern now, you can see that he’s really thriving in what he’s doing out there,” Amoss continued. “We’re hopeful that he’s going to run a big race this time.”
In a surprise move, the son of Uncle Mo was wheeled back to the work tab just one week after the Mineshaft on Mar. 5 and worked a smooth half-mile in 48.80. He then blitzed five furlongs six days later in 58.80, which was the best of 47 moves. His next two works leading up to Saturday were also quite strong, including a 48.20 half-mile on Mar. 18 and another in 47.80 one week later.
IMPROVING CORPORATE QUEEN ADDS DEPTH TO FAIR GROUNDS OAKS
Dismiss Hall of Fame nominee trainer Mark Casse at your own risk in any graded stakes The affable conditioner sends out Gary Barber and Bobby Flay’s attractive gray filly and recent private purchase Corporate Queen up against heavyweight Farrell in Saturday’s Grade II $400,000 TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks. The daughter of Colonel John will be ridden by meet-leading jockey Florent Geroux.
“The thing I like about her is that she was so impressive in her first start and her trainer then, Tim Keefe said that she was only about 80% ready at that point,” Casse said. “When we got her we saw room for improvement from a fitness standpoint. She trains extremely well and I really liked her race last time.”
In her first and only start for Casse, Corporate Queen closed from four lengths back in a seven-furlong allowance at Gulfstream Park and lost by a diminishing length at the wire to well-regarded Todd Pletcher trainee Nonna Bella. She now makes her first start at two turns and beyond said trip in the 1 1/16-miles Oaks.
“Gulfstream is never an easy place to win and it’s even tougher when you come from off the pace, Casse continued. “Todd holds his filly in high regard and I think given another 20 or 30 yards, we may have got her. I think two turns will be her forte.”
UNPROVEN PLETCHER PAIR, PATCH AND MONACO, PRIMED FOR LA. DERBY
Trainer Todd Pletcher has proven three times in the last decade that he can ship in and win the Grade II $1,000,000 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby and this year he brings in an intriguing duo of lightly raced recent graduates for powerful ownerships.
Drawing the rail, Calumet Farm’s Patch ran extremely well to win a one-turn mile maiden at Gulfstream Park maiden on Feb. 18. The homebred son of Union Rags, who lost his left eye in a track accident early in his career, has two starts and won professionally last out by 1¾ lengths. Tyler Gaffalione ships in for the mount.
Monaco, owned by the powerful Coolmore conglomerate of Derrick Smith, Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier, was a $1.3 million purchase one year ago at Ocala’s March sale and adds blinkers this time around after racing very greenly en route to a 12-length romp in a Tampa Bay Downs maiden. By Uncle Mo out of a Sky Classic mare, he may appreciate the increase in trip from a mile and 40 yards to a 1 1/8 miles.
Rajiv Maragh is slated to ride Monaco from the five-hole.
“The first day they were both a little nervous, but they have trained well. Today they have settled in beautifully and I couldn’t ask for more,” said Adele Bellinger, assistant to Pletcher. “Patch has a nice turn of foot and a lot of talent. It’s not easy to jump up into a Grade II out of a maiden race, but I feel like we have a sound, happy horse and that gives me confidence going into the race.
“I like Monaco’s post (five) and he’s training beautifully,” Bellinger continued. “This is both horses’ first time shipping far from home and they’re both doing well, especially (Friday) morning.”
BRIDGMOHAN TO RIDE HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME IN LOUISIANA DERBY
Veteran jockey Shaun Bridgmohan will ride Hollywood Handsome in the Grade II $1,000,000 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby on Saturday, according to trainer Dallas Stewart. Scheduled pilot Francisco Torres was hospitalized after a Thursday afternoon spill.
Owned by Mark H. Stanley, Hollywood Handsome will try to atone for Stanley’s Ecton Park, whose flying late rally from last place came up heartbreakingly short in the 1999 Louisiana Derby, hitting the wire two heads short in third behind Kimberlite Pipe and champion Answer Lively.
MAJESTIC QUALITY OUT OF FAIR GROUNDS OAKS
Big Chief Racing et al.’s Majestic Quality, a solid second last out in the Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes behind local 3-year-old filly divisional leader Farrell, did not make the trip to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for the Grade II $400,000 TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks. According to trainer Keith Desormeaux, the daughter of Quality Road will be pointed to the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks next weekend.
ALBARADO RIDING HIGH INTO BIG WEEKEND
Journeyman Robby Albarado has had a phenomenal year already in 2017. His business is up, his stakes rides are plentiful, he earned his 5,000th victory — becoming only the 33rd rider to reach such a milestone — and he recently was informed that he has been nominated for the National Museum of Racing’s 2017 Hall of Fame ballot. Selected by the Museum’s Hall of Fame Nominating committee, he is a finalist alongside jockeys Javier Castellano, Victor Espinoza, Craig Perret and the late Garrett Gomez.
“It’s a great feeling and I’m up against a great class of nominees, but it’s a huge honor in itself just to be recognized,” Albarado said. “I went to my first Hall of Fame induction when Calvin Borel was inducted, who is a close personal friend, and all the past Hall of Famers line up in front of the stage. I saw those guys and thought ‘I will never be in the Hall of Fame’ because of the great quality of guys there like Pincay and Cordero and on and on. So, it’s just an overwhelming honor.”
At 43, Albarado has had a long and tremendous career. Beginning in 1990, the Louisiana native has been the regular rider of two Horse of the Years — Curlin and Mineshaft — and has won seven riding titles at Fair Grounds. Additionally, he has four Keeneland riding titles, one at Arlington International Racecourse, two at Oaklawn Park and one at Churchill Downs.
In 2004, Albarado won the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, which added to a trophy case that includes three Breeders’ Cups, the 2007 Preakness Stakes with Curlin and 202 graded stakes throughout his storied career.
Albarado could possibly have a huge weekend at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The veteran rider has live mounts in all four Grade II races, including G M B Racing’s Mo Tom in the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap, Wimborne Farm’s morning-line favorite Kasaqui (Arg) in the $300,000 Muniz Memorial, Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s promising Daria’s Angel in the $400,000 TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks and William S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy’s Guest Suite in the $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby.
“I am going to have a good day tomorrow,” Albarado concluded. “I feel really good about it. I’m confident in all my mounts and I look forward to it.”
Cover Photo: Farrell; Hodges Photography/Amanda Hodges Weir