By Michael Adolphson —-
• Scuba Takes Back Baton from Honorable Duty for Walsh
• One Last Shot Looks Ready to Fire
• Floroplus Could Add Up to Be a Good One
• Burma Road Brings Back Class into Scherer
• Stidham High on Well-Bred Larkin
SCUBA TAKES BACK BATON FROM HONORABLE DUTY FOR WALSH
While a trainer would always prefer all of his horses to be running well concurrently, it is never a bad thing for one to come to form just as another falls out of it. Such is exactly what has happened with DARRS, Inc.’s two Brendan Walsh-trained handicapping stars Honorable Duty and Scuba.
Within roughly 24 hours, Walsh went from watching his number-one older horse and reigning top Fair Grounds handicapper Honorable Duty get eased to last in the Grade I Clark Handicap to seeing recently off-form Scuba resurface with a big splash, stylishly taking the Grade III Hawthorne Gold Cup.
“It was definitely interesting,” Walsh said. “Honorable Duty is okay for the most part. It’s nothing we can’t get him through, I don’t think, and he will get a break, but will likely be back to training before too long. I wouldn’t even rule him out of (a defense of) the (Grade II $400,000) New Orleans Handicap in March. I was hoping he would be a Dubai World Cup horse, but we will take care of him and Corey did the right thing with him. He’ll be out for two months or so and we’ll focus on getting him back to his very best.
“Scuba really put his head down,” Walsh continued. “It was nice to see and the race set up good for him. All credit to the horse. He was so dominant last year, but this year it was the first time he put in a really good effort. He ran in a couple races this year that he had won easily last year, but he wasn’t the same horse. It was good to see him back. He’s now at the Fair Grounds and I wouldn’t rule him out of races like the (Grade III $150,000) Mineshaft (Handicap). There was a time when I believed he could run with any of the top handicap horses in the country at those (slightly shorter, two-turn) distances, not just at the longer ones he was winning.”
Before Saturday’s effort pumped oxygen back into Scuba’s career, he was 0-for-6 on the year with a mere runner-up effort to his credit, in almost perfect contrast to the renaissance of Honorable Duty’s career last past winter and spring that saw him win multiple graded stakes and finish a quality second to Gun Runner in the Grade I Stephen Foster. When Honorable Duty was struggling to find his way in the middle-to-end of his 4-year-old season (2016) for Walsh, Scuba was making short work of his competition and proving to be the top dirt marathoner in the land. His wins included the 12-furlong Grade III Greenwood Cup, 13-furlong $200,000 Temperance Hill Stkes and 14-furlong Grade II Marathon Stakes in succession amid a season that earned him $448,366. Saturday’s 107 Equibase Speed Figure in his half-length victory was only four points lower than his best run of the previous season.
Walsh hopes that he can finally calibrate their collective good form by the end of the Fair Grounds meet. “I hope to have them both back to their best,” he concluded. “That would be nice.”
ONE LAST SHOT LOOKS READY TO FIRE
Mike Stidham has a hot hand going into Saturday’s $50,000 Richie Scherer Memorial at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The 2015-16 meet champion trainer always seems to be extra-tough in turf sprints and such appears no different in the two divisions of said event honoring the memory of Stidham’s longtime friend and contemporary Richie Scherer, who fell victim to cancer earlier this year.
While much of Stidham’s confidence lies naturally in Rapid Rhythm in the day’s second division — mostly due to the three-time stakes-winning mare’s 5-for-5 record over the Stall-Wilson turf course — the multiple Grade I-winning conditioner lacks no confidence in the condition of Speedway Stable’s One Last Shot, who runs in the day’s first division.
“She’s doing really well and we’ve always thought a lot of her,” Stidham said. “We believe that five and a half furlongs on the grass is her best distance, but we tried to stretch her past that after we left the Fair Grounds earlier this year. She didn’t run well, but we think that she can compete here. If she runs to her better races, she’s more than good enough to compete in this spot.”
In three Fair Grounds starts last season, the daughter of Any Given Saturday had a win, a second and a third. Her lone victory came on the turf course and 5½-furlong distance of the Scherer on Mar. 16,
which was followed by a pair of good efforts in second-level turf sprint allowance company at Belmont Park. A win at said class level in a 7½-furlong, two-turn Delaware Park event spurred a pair of tries in minor stakes company at a mile, resulting in lackluster performances. She now returns from a two-month break and cuts back for a trainer who bats 24% in turf sprints.
FLOROPLUS COULD ADD TO BE A GOOD ONE
Trainer Bret Calhoun was quiet before Thursday’s feature race, a tough six-furlong allowance that featured some talented speedballs, but in the end he was all smiles and more than willing to chat about impressive winner Floroplus. Off since Oct. 30, 2016, the sizable son of City Zip broke with run and nearly pulled defending champion jockey Florent Geroux out of the stirrups down the backside. Once settled, the bay 3-year-old collared his front-running rivals turning for home and pushed on to a smart one-length win over the sealed track rated “good.”
“It’s his first time starting with us, so you never know,” Calhoun said immediately afterward. “We knew we had him fit and he had been training phenomenally well. He was ready, but we only knew what we saw in the mornings and needed to see it in the afternoon. We knew he would like the sloppy track because he had won on it first-time out. We just didn’t know how he would take kickback. It was a lot to overcome being off for so long, but he handled it all extremely well. He’s a pretty nice horse.”
Previously trained by Randy Morse through two starts, Tom Durant’s Floroplus is out of the unraced Stroll mare Cap’s Legacy and is a half-brother to three other winners from as many starters. Second dam, stakes-winning In My Cap, is a full-sister to Grade I winner Trumpet’s Blare and Grade III winner Passing Vice. Floroplus hails from the same female family as Grade I-winning $3-million earner Albert the Great.
“I think he could be a good turf horse,” Calhoun concluded. “That’s likely what we’ll do next.”
BURMA ROAD BRINGS BACK CLASS INTO SCHERER
Ian Wilkes, who has a string at Fair Grounds for the first time this winter, looks to make a big splash this weekend when the five-time Grade I-winning trainer starts Burma Road as one of the logical horses to beat in a division of the $50,000 Richie Scherer Stakes going 5½ furlongs on the Stall-Wilson turf course.
“I am happy with the filly,” Wilkes said. “She’s training really well. I had spoken to the owner about it and we decided that we wanted to shorten her up. If she adapts well to that, there is a good series of turf sprints for fillies down here. She has a great natural turn of foot, so I think the turn back going short could be good for her. With fillies like her, you want to get the black type and build some asset value with her.”
A bit of a patience project, the 4-year-old daughter of Street Boss took eight tries to break her maiden, doing so in Oct. 2016 going nine furlongs on the Keeneland turf. She quickly ascended through her first allowance level, but ran into subsequent Grade I winner Antonoe, running a quality second to said Chad Brown trainee next out in her 2017 bow. She went on to run respectably against the likes of Brad Cox-trained stakes winners Sassy Little Lila and Inveniam Viam and exits a nose victory going a mile on Oct. 27 at Keeneland. Consistent, the chestnut filly has hit the board in 11 of 15 lifetime tries.
STIDHAM HIGH ON WELL-BRED LARKIN
Trainer Mike Stidham expressed excitement for Godolphin Racing’s Larkin, who is entered to run on Dec. 8 in a salty non-winners of two allowance going a mile and 70 yards on the main track. Drawing the rail against a field that includes Breeders’ Cup-placed Valadorna and multiple 2017 Grade I performer Factory of Faith, the lightly raced daughter of Bernardini and Grade III winner Thunder Kitten makes only her fifth lifetime start and seeks her third consecutive victory. A half-sister to Royal Ascot Group II winner Michita and multiple graded stakes-placed runners Kiawah Cat and Thunder Mission will be ridden by Joe Bravo.
“She broke her maiden at Delaware and has proven to be a quality filly,” Stidham said. “She came back again at Suffolk and won an allowance. She’s a good-looking filly and looks to be like a late-developing type who could be something.”