Track Reports

Fair Grounds Barn Notes: Mo Tom, Airoforce Lead Risen Star Field

Airoforce Wins Kentucky Jockey Club (finish) - Photo Credit: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography

G M B Racing’s Mo Tom has a full plate on Saturday afternoon. The Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots-based charge will attempt to refute his detractors, exact some revenge on a previous conqueror and do his part to keep the winner’s circle celebration local when the New Orleans-owned and -trained son of Uncle Mo takes to the track for the Grade II $400,000 Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes.

A driving winner last out in the local Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 16, the $150,000 Keeneland September Sale purchase will look to do what Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s International Star did in 2015 – sweep the first two of the local Kentucky Derby prep series. Said son of Fusaichi Pegasus, who returns to race earlier in the card, would go on to win the Grade II Louisiana Derby five weeks later – a race that is, especially with his connections, the first major goal in Mo Tom’s sophomore agenda.

“I think the most interesting thing about what we’ve seen with ’Tom over the last few weeks is that he looks like he’s finally filling out,” Amoss beamed. “That’s exciting because he’s a May foal and we were hoping for that development. It looks like we’re starting to see it.”

Owned by Gayle Benson, wife of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, Mo Tom is on a calculated campaign that appears to be three-fold: win the $1 million Louisiana Derby for his locally iconic owners, prepare him for a tilt at the Grade I $2 million Kentucky Derby and give him enough bottom to overcome being a late foal who has shown – even in his victories – a degree of immaturity. In addition, he has to face John Oxley’s Mark Casse-trained Risen Star favorite Airoforce, who beat him into third two starts ago in the Grade II $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club – a race in which Mo Tom did not have the most ideal trip.

A half-brother to Peter Callaghan’s Kenny McPeek-trained Beautician, a talented daughter of Dehere who was second in two Grade I races – including the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita – Mo Tom is out of the Rubiano mare Caroni. Many skeptics have brought to mind that the immediate presence Uncle Mo, who raced only eight times and lost in both of his attempts beyond 1 1/16 miles – and champion sprinter Rubiano may limit Mo Tom’s stamina ceiling.

“I disagree with (pedigree-based detractors),” Amoss said. “When I bought him I was paying a lot of attention to horses I thought could get a distance and I feel very comfortable that he can. I say that after a lot of years of having horses I was very skeptical of them doing that, so I’m very comfortable with the whole thing.”

The betting public and racing fans will find out in due time how much mo’ Mo Tom can travel, but in the meantime it may be worth noting that his second dam, Douce Carotte, is a daughter of Caro – the sire of Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors and turf marathon superstars With Approval, Grand Flotilla and Golden Pheasant. His third dam, Kshesinskaya, is a daughter of the great Nijinsky II, who has the unique notch in his girth of siring Kentucky Derby (Ferdinand) and Epsom Derby (Shahrastani) winners in the same year (1986). Lastly, his third dam, stakes-placed Royal Kin, is a daughter of Sir Gaylord, the older half-brother to Secretariat who was favored for the Kentucky Derby (injured and retired just prior) and possessed enough speed to set a seven-furlong track record and ample stamina to beget Epsom Derby winner Sir Ivor.

Needless to say, there is a chance that by Saturday evening, reports of Mo Tom’s endurance shortcomings may be slightly exaggerated.

The three-time winner from five starts, earner of $211,526 and holder of the highest two-turn Beyer Speed Figure (88) in the field breaks from post two under regular rider Corey Lanerie.

Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Uncle Walter has developed nicely so far for trainer Mike Maker. The son of Uncle Mo was a visibly appealing winner on debut at Keeneland in October – closing stoutly to get up by a neck. Next out, in an allowance/optional claiming event going 7½ furlongs at Churchill Downs on Nov. 14, he raced closer to the pace and just missed by a head to Pin Oak Stud’s highly regarded Synchrony – a race that set him up well for his sophomore campaign.

Such unveiling occurred on Jan. 16 in the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes and the bay colt was well-respected at the windows, going off as the 5-2 second choice. After an ideal trip from the two-hole under Miguel Mena, he put in a smart bid at the top of the stretch, but could not hold off the more-seasoned G M B Racing-owned duo of Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready. While this time around in the Grade II $400,000 Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes it stands that he will likely improve, the $85,000 Keeneland September purchase must do so from post 11 of 12 (with the scratch of Laoban in post nine).

“He’s training great,” Maker said. “I’m happy with him. His last race was his first start at two turns and was against graded stakes horses who had an experience edge over him. I expect improvement this time.

“The post is one thing I’m not too pleased about,” Maker continued. “However the race shapes up, he should be okay. The jockey will have to make those kinds of decisions once the gates open.”

Reigning Eclipse Award champion jockey Javier Castellano picks up the mount. The Venezuela native was aboard for Uncle Walter’s second-place finish at Churchill Downs.

One of the big contender question marks in the Grade II $400,000 Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes comes in the four-legged form of Lloyd Madison IV’s homebred Zapperini. Specifically, how much will the good-looking son of Ghostzapper improve from his professional local two-turn maiden victory and how high is his talent ceiling at this point in his career.

On Jan. 21, the dark bay colt made his second career start following a tough loss on debut in which he closed from last to lose by a neck going a one-turn mile on Nov. 14 at Churchill Downs. Breaking well in his Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots and sophomore bow, he overcame a wide trip and a few bump exchanges to collar and overpower well-regarded Virtual Machine, while sprinting away from third-place finisher and next-out winner Call the Colonel. What may have been most appealing about his performance was his gratuitous gallop-out.

“He really finished up good that day,” said trainer Greg Foley. “His gallop-out was great and he can run all day and doesn’t seem to get tired. I’ve always liked the horse and he should have won his first race.

“He’s coming in great and that’s a big part of running here,” Foley continued. “He has raced two times and he’s a sound horse – knock on wood. My (owners) wanted to take a shot, so as long as he’s doing well, I said let’s do it. He’s a nice horse and I hope he runs well. We’ll see how good he is.”

While some contenders may have stamina questions circling above their soon to be exhausted pedigrees, there are no such buzzards for Zapperini. With extensive European classic blood in his veins, he shares the same female family as two-time Group I Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Treve through Trevilla – Zapperini’s fourth dam and Treve’s third. Also in this family is classic-winning six-time European champion Triptych, a 10-furlong specializing half-sister to Trevilla who was the first filly to ever compete in the Breeders’ Cup Classic when placing sixth.

Frank Mancari’s Candy My Boy has the unenviable position of being both a figurative and literal outsider in Saturday’s Grade II $400,000 Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes. The son of top sire Candy Ride out of multiple stakes winner Runway Rosie drew post 13 – moved to 12 after the scratch of Laoban – and will be stepping up in class after a pair of victories over the local surface.

“Everything’s good with him,” said trainer Roger Brueggemann. “A couple more days to sweat it out, obviously, but he’s good.

“I don’t like the post, but there isn’t much I can do about it,” Brueggemann continued. “I know he likes to run on or near the lead, but he doesn’t have to have the lead. We’ll just have to see what happens. He’s doing better all he time and starting to mature. His actual training is getting much better.  Before you couldn’t get him to work very fast at all, but now he’s starting to get the hang of it.”

Candy My Boy, a $40,000 Fasig-Tipton March graduate, has improved in speed figures and performance while concurrently ascending in class in his previous four starts. Last out, in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming event, he outran his 10-1 odds to wire a field of seven, including fellow Risen Star competitor Forevamo. One race prior, he wired a mile and 70-yard maiden special weight at the New Orleans oval at odds of 16-1 on New Year’s Eve. In his four starts since being turned over to Brueggemann, who is currently striking at 27% on the meet, he has not finished out of the exacta.

Shaun Bridgmohan rides and will be the fourth different pilot in as many starts for the bay colt.

While much of the attention later in the card will be on Dallas Stewart trainee Tom’s Ready in the Grade II $400,000 Veterans Ford Risen Star – as the G M B Racing-owned colt is expected to be one of the favorites – two races prior the McComb, Mississippi, native flies under the radar in the Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes with a lightly raced daughter of Lemon Drop Kid named Lemon Drop Belle.

Twice raced, the smallish chestnut filly debuted in November while trained by Micheala Neubauer at Woodbine in Canada. Victorious in said seven-furlong trial, while closing from last, the Charles Fipke homebred was turned over to Stewart for a sophomore campaign. She made her Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots debut in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming event where she vied for the lead throughout and then lost on the wire after switching leads in the final yards under Brian Hernandez, Jr. Junior Alvarado will ride from post five in the Rachel Alexandra.

“We got her when we first came to Fair Grounds,” Stewart said. “She went to Florida after her first race and was pretty light when we got her. We only worked her a couple times and then ran her and she ran well. She uses her whole body when she runs and is a very healthy filly.

“Hopefully (Alvarado) can lay off the pace with her and finish strong,” Stewart continued. “He’s a strong rider. I think she’s going to move up from that race and it’s a good time to take a shot with her (in stakes company).”

If a ‘house horse’ could ever not be based at the actual ‘house’ track, then that would be Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Mike Maker-trained International Star. In four starts at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the son of Fusaichi Pegasus is undefeated – all in stakes company – including a rousing win in last year’s meet centerpiece, the Grade II Louisiana Derby.

This year, the compact bay kicked off 4-year-old campaign at the New Orleans oval with a chic victory in the $75,000 Louisiana Stakes over 1 1/16 miles, quickly inhaling his rivals and then holding off a resurgent Eagle in the final yards by a comfortable 1½ lengths. Next on his Pelican State plan is a run in the Grade III $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap on Saturday, in which a big effort could earn him a trip to the richest race in the world, the Group I $10,000,000 Dubai World Cup on Mar. 26 at Meydan.

“I think he’s a good horse (not just a horse-for-course),” Maker said. “He obviously likes the track, so if it’s not broke, don’t fix it at this point.

“I expect the same effort, if not better this time,” Maker continued. “A duplicate of the last race would be fine to move forward with him (to Dubai).”

If there is one horse on Saturday’s stakes-packed card at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots to label a standout in its race, such could arguably be best attributed to Brittlyn Stables’ Clearly Now. An eye-opening victor last out in allowance company over the six-furlong trip he will attack once again in the $60,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes, the son of Horse Greeley brings considerable back-class and ability as a multiple graded stakes winner who seems to be once again finding his stride.

“He’s really coming in well,” said trainer Ron Faucheux. “He’s really sharp and training well. I’m just trying to keep his feet on the ground. He had an easy half-mile work going into this one. We know the distance is no question, even though he’s more of a seven-eighths horse. I just think we need to run our race and we’ll be okay. Hopefully there’s no speed bias, but I’m not too concerned.

“I’ll let (jockey) Jose (Valdivia, Jr.) decide how he’ll be placed,” Faucheux continued. “It’s better for him if he gets him out and puts him into the race and makes that middle move on his own. He’s just a horse where not too many can kick home better than him.”

Not speaking idly of his charge, Faucheux need only point to the 6-year-old bay horse’s performance in the seven-furlong Grade III Belmont Sprint in which he set a new course record with a time of 1:19.96 while winning by 6¼ lengths and earning a career-high 113 Beyer Speed Figure. Trained at that time by Brian Lynch, he was purchased privately after winning a Saratoga allowance this summer and turned over to Faucheux, for whom he has made two starts, including a third in the $60,000 Thanksgiving Handicap on Nov. 26.

Three Diamonds Farm’s Roman Approval has been nothing if not consistent for trainer Mike Maker. Since being moved into stakes company last July, the son of Roman Ruler has finished in the top four in all five added-money attempts, including three runner-up finishes. Unfortunately, the hard-trying and versatile 5-year-old has yet to earn a black-type victory for the vast Maker operation. Such could change in the Grade III $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap, which goes as the 10th of 12 races at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on Saturday, Feb. 20.

“He’s just a working man’s horse who shows up every time no matter what,” Maker said. “He’s very consistent at many distances.”

Proven effective during that time from 1 1/16 miles – like when finishing a hard-charging second last out in the local Grade III $125,000 Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap – to the marathon distance of 1½ miles, Roman Approval seems to do his best running from on or near the lead.

“I think he’ll be closer this time,” Maker continued. “He should have been last time. He broke well and probably should have been involved more in the race. I’d like to see him up there.”

Javier Castellano teams up with the dark bay horse for the first time from post three.

Trainer Brad Cox has had a huge season at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots thus far, including an enviable 37% strike rate through Monday’s card and currently ranking in second-place in the standings behind Mike Stidham with 22 wins from 60 starts. Cox will try to keep that momentum going on Saturday when he starts two of the logical players in the $60,000 Daisy Devine Stakes over the Stall-Wilson turf course in Elm Racing’s morning-line favorite Street of Gold and Richard and Bertram Klein’s current meet stakes winner Cash Control.

“I’m really super-pleased with how (Street of Gold) is doing now,” Cox said. “She will probably fall out the back door from the three-hole and do her thing and make a run late. Cash Control shouldn’t get in her way with her early speed. You hate running horses against each other, but they should complement each others’ styles.”

While Street of Gold exits a closing win in the Marie G. Krantz Memorial of the identical course, distance and purse, Cash Control has done her running in recent starts on the dirt, including a local win in the $50,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes on Dec. 19 going a mile and 70 yards. In her turf tries, she has faced some talented foes, including out-gaming Lovely Loyree in a September Churchill Downs allowance. Lovely Loyree was last seen finishing third to champion Tepin last week in the Grade III Endeavor Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Cash Control exits a fourth – beaten 2¼ lengths – in the $100,000 Pippin Stakes on the Oaklawn dirt.

“There weren’t a lot of options for Cash Control,” Cox continued. “She came out of her last race at Oaklawn well. We initially flirted with running her in the Krantz and we jumped out last minute and decided to go to Oaklawn. She’s done really well at Fair Grounds and trained well here, so we thought we should let her run here. She’s proven on the grass and raced against nice fillies. Numbers-wise she’s about the same on the grass as opposed to the dirt, so we’re not just running her to be running her.” 

Confirmed by the racing office, Flaxman Holdings’ regally bred homebred Faufiler will not make the trip from Florida for the $60,000 Daisy Devine Stakes. By Galileo out of Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Six Perfections, the bay 5-year-old mare and Graham Motion trainee would have been one of the likely favorites based on her back-class.

Winchell Thoroughbreds could have a big day on its hands Saturday in New Orleans. The Kentucky-based outfit will not only watch in earnest as its highly touted Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner – which it co-owns with Three Chimneys Farm – starts as one of the logical choices in the Grade II $400,000 Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, but they will also unveil a full-brother to champion Untapable in the form of Taprize, who debuts in the third race.

By Tapit, Taprize is out of Fun House, a Grade II winner for trainer Ron McAnally who finished up her career with three starts for Asmussen, including a runner-up finish at the Fair Grounds in the $60,000 Fur Sail Handicap in her swan song. Like his half-brother and Grade I winner Paddy O’Prado, Taprize is a gray.

Shaun Bridgmohan rides from the rail post in the eight-horse field that also features the debuts of Lothenbach Stables’ Scarf It Down, a half-brother to Grade I winner Idiot Proof, and Charles Fipke’s Seeking the Soul, the first foal from Grade I-placed and Grade III Iowa Oaks winner Seeking the Title.

After doing much of his recent training at Sam Houston, Taprize had his first work over the local surface on Wednesday when breezing a half-mile in 49.80.

One of the queens of Fair Grounds, Untapable worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 for trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Winchell Thoroughbreds. The champion and five-time Grade I winner has impressed onlookers with her appearance since returning to training last month.

Stoneway Farm’s homebred graded stakes winner Ahh Chocolate continued working toward her 4-year-old bow with a four-furlong move in 48.80. Unraced since winning the Grade II Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 26, the Neil Howard-trained daughter of Candy Ride has had three works in as many weeks. Howard was reportedly very pleased with the work and is aiming toward a March undetermined comeback race.

Brereton C. Jones’ Albano, a graded stakes winner who has been off since last summer, continued working toward his comeback with a three-furlong move in 37 flat for trainer Larry Jones.

Multiple stakes-winning Oklahoma-bred Ibaka worked a half-mile in 49.20 for trainer Bret Calhoun and owner-breeder Doug Wall. Passing on the Grade III $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap, the 8-for-17 son of Uncle Abbie won the $60,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial two back on Dec. 19 over the Stall-Wilson turf course.

Fresh off an upset victory in the $200,000 Louisiana Premier Night Championship two weeks ago, multiple stakes-winning Louisiana-bred Stormdriver worked a sharp half-mile in 48.60 for trainer Pat Devereux, Jr. and owner Fruition Racing.

Grade II winner Just Wicked worked a half-mile in 50.20 for trainer trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Winchell Thoroughbreds.

Well-regarded Jensen, who is expected to run next week in allowance company at Fair Grounds as a possible prep for the Grade II $1 million Louisiana Derby, worked five furlongs in 1:02 flat for breeder-owner-trainer Larry Jones.

L T B, Inc. and Hillerich Racing’s recent stakes winner One Mean Man worked five furlongs in 1:00 flat. The Bernie Flint-trained full-brother to graded stakes winner Mizz Money – who runs Saturday in the $60,000 Daisy Devine Stakes – won the $60,000 Keith Gee Memorial in late January.

Source: Fair Grounds Race Course

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