By Michael Adolphson —-
• Wilkes Gets a Feel for Fair Grounds
• Rapid Rhythm Back on Her Beat
• Wicked Lick Working Well for Walsh
• Pessin Under the Radar in Richie Scherer
WILKES GETS A FEEL FOR FAIR GROUNDS
Multiple Grade I-winning trainer Ian Wilkes has expanded his potent stable to New Orleans this winter and will have a small string running at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The 52-year-old native of New South Wales, Australia, will have at least 10 horses at any given time on the premises, including Burma Road in Saturday’s Richie Scherer Stakes on the Stall-Wilson turf course.
“I wanted to try something new and the racing is good down here,” Wilkes said. “I have the rest of my horses at Palm Meadows (Training Center in South Florida) and I wanted to put the rest somewhere else and have those options. It’s another avenue for my stable.
“I might change a few here and there from Florida to the Fair Grounds,” he continued. “I talk to the owners beforehand and see who fits, but it’s good to have options, especially if you are lucky enough to have a couple (stakes-level) 3-year-olds and need to split them up. You hope you can get into that position.”
The former assistant to Carl Nafzger in America and Aussie conditioners Paul Sutherland, Vic Thompson Jr. and Colin Hayes has had an illustrious career since venturing out on his own. The former exercise rider for the great Unbridled won the 2012 Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic with Fort Larned and last year had one of the top 3-year-olds in the land in multiple Grade II winner McCraken. The five-time Grade I winner’s promising 2-year-olds are currently led by Street Sense Stakes winner Gotta Go.
“He’s currently with my Florida string, but as I said, things could change,” Wilkes concluded.
RAPID RHYTHM BACK ON HER BEAT
Last year when Rapid Rhythm was a rousing victor in last February’s $75,000 Mardi Gras Stakes and became a perfect 5-for-5 over Fair Grounds’ Stall-Wilson turf course it seemed like the perfect ending to an illustrious New Orleans tenure for the 5-year-old Mike Stidham trainee. The daughter of Successful Appeal had recently been purchased by Robert S. Evans with motherhood in mind and was poised to make one more start at Keeneland before retirement.
Fast-forward nine months later and plans have changed. After a sixth in the Giant’s Causeway to multiple Group I winner Lady Aurelia, fertility proved futile for the time being and she was put back in training and raced two more times this past summer. After a pair of seventh-place finishes in stakes company, the bay mare was pointed back to the bayou for its steady female turf sprint stakes program that she had dominated before. Her Fair Grounds resurfacing commences in a division of Saturday’s Richie Scherer Memorial Stakes.
“We gave her a break after she tailed off this summer,” Stidham said. “She didn’t get in foal, so Shell Evans, the owner, decided to put her back in training before then She’s really come back well and has had a lot of works. She’s very ready and is 5-for-5 on this course, obviously, so she’s very happy when she’s here
“We may keep her around in January then try to go back and be bred again,” Stidham continued. “She looks great, her coat looks great and her weight is back. She’s back into that rhythm and that’s what’s important. She’s trained well and come out of her works well, so there’s no reason to believe she won’t run well.”
In 22 lifetime starts, Rapid Rhythm has eight wins, including three stakes wins at the Scherer’s 5½-furlong grass distance. Overall, she is just shy of a quarter-million dollars in earnings.
WICKED LICK WORKING WELL FOR WALSH
One of the top 3-year-old fillies of the last Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots season, Lee Mauberret’s Wicked Lick, is back at her favorite track and training well for conditioner Brendan Walsh. Though only a winner of a sole event, the Kentucky homebred is multiple stakes-placed, including a fine second last April to Farrell in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks.
After a disastrous run in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks, the daughter of Maclean’s Music returned to finish second in June Churchill Downs allowance company, sixth in the Grade III Indiana Oaks in July and then did not take well to the undulating landscape of a Kentucky Downs allowance race in September.
Since returning to New Orleans, she has put in a pair of solid works, including a five-furlong drill on Nov. 25 in 1:01.60, good for fifth-best of 31.
“She worked well so far and she’s going to run in an allowance spot,” Walsh said. “She’s just about ready, but I’ll be able to get one more work into her on (Dec. 2) before she races. She’s not one who needs a ton of work and we gave her a break and I think she’s ready to come back. We’ll see. I think she’s a stakes filly we’ll try to get her back to those races. She loves the Fair Grounds and has proven to run there better than anywhere, which is nice because Lee (Mauberret) is a New Orleans man.”
In addition to her runner-up effort in the Fair Grounds Oaks, Wicked Lick was also second to Farrell in the Listed Silverbulletday Stakes in January, one of five runner-up efforts from her dozen races.
PESSIN UNDER THE RADAR IN RICHIE SCHERER
Trainer Neil Pessin arguably has what race-going regulars call a ‘sneaky-good’ chance of sweeping Saturday’s two divisions of the $50,000 Richie Scherer Memorial Stakes going 5½ furlongs on the Stall-Wilson turf course for fillies and mares. In the day’s first division, the fourth race, he has barn favorite Scatter Gun (8-1) breaking from post nine of 10. In the second division, the eighth race, he has well-bred Nobody’s Fault (4-1) breaking from post eight of 11. Both Lothenbach Stables-owned charges will be ridden by Jose Valdivia, Jr.
“I’m hoping Scatter Gun can lay a little closer this time,” Pessin said. “She’s always been a very talented filly and in her last couple races she’s been too far back. She should have enough speed to be in contention early and I’ve been working with her to do that. Nobody’s Fault will come from behind and should run very well, I think. I think they’ll both be tough and should both be right there.
“In these turf sprints going five and a half at the Fair Grounds, good trips win the races, so hopefully we have those,” he continued. “I think four horses in each race can actually win and my fillies are among those.”
Five-year-old mare Scatter Gun has only raced 13 times, but has often proven brilliant, while also holding salty company. Second last year to subsequent multiple Grade II winner and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf-placed Cambodia in a local allowance, the daughter of Scat Daddy exits a troubled ninth in the Grade III Buffalo Trace at Keeneland.
Nobody’s Fault, a half-sister to Grade I winner Vacare, has four wins from 13 tries, including a turf dash stakes score in Churchill Downs’ Unbridled Sidney Stakes in May. The daughter of Blame also owns a course and distance victory over the Scherer’s trip in allowance company in February.