GAYLE BENSON REVELS IN HER RISING STARS
The National Football League’s season may be over, but that does not mean the Benson family of New Orleans Saints ownership are done winning. Saturday’s Grade II $400,000 Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes features two rising stars for the prominent New Orleans family’s G M B Racing, an ownership entity piloted by Gayle Benson, wife of Tom. Appropriately, the two horses’ monikers are in homage to her husband, who also owns the National Basketball Association’s Pelicans, in Mo Tom (a son of Uncle Mo) – and Tom’s Ready (a son of More Than Ready).
Both Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready are trained by locally based conditioners – Tom Amoss has Mo Tom, while Dallas Stewart has Tom’s Ready – with deep roots in the region and longtime Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots-based strings. An added bonus is that both Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready not only have a tremendous amount of promise between them, but they also displayed such locally in the Grade III $200,000 TwinSpires.com Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 16, sweeping the exacta and producing a raucous New Orleans-style Benson bash in the winner’s circle that evening.
“It’s a little overwhelming when you think about it,” Gayle Benson said. “I’m just so happy to be in the race and I try to look at it with as much humility as I can. To know that we have two very talented horses means a lot and I’m hoping one of them wins on Saturday. I don’t want to count my chickens, of course, I am just very happy that they’ve done so well.
“Usually we have basketball season, which kind of leads into football season – but now we have a racing season,” she continued. “It breaks up the (monotony) a little. It’s really great to have all these sports in New Orleans. We go to the Fair Grounds on a regular basis and we just love the energy. There’s so much excitement with betting and so much going on. We love it there.”
Mo Tom (3-1 second choice on the morning line) and Tom’s Ready (8-1 co-fourth choice) are expected to be well-supported by the local wagering public in the Kentucky Derby-qualifying event, especially with their local connections. Benson is adrenalized by the prospect of not only having a pair of prospects for the First Saturday in May, but also for its Louisiana local prep, the Grade II $1,000,000 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby on Mar. 26.
“It’s almost too much to think about in how exciting it is,” Benson said. “It would obviously mean a lot (to win the Louisiana Derby).
“I wouldn’t be able to favor one horse to another, though,” she continued diplomatically. “But I can say that it’s going to be a wonderful day. We’re hoping to win with one of them.”
DOLPHUS SCRATCHED FROM RISEN STAR
Dede McGehee’s Dolphus has been removed from the Grade II $400,000 Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes on Saturday afternoon by trainer Joe Sharp. The son of Lookin at Lucky and half-brother to the great Rachel Alexandra will reportedly be pointed elsewhere. Sharp cited the short break between his victory three weeks ago in a first-level allowance to the Risen Star as the catalyst for the scratch. A new goal has yet to be named, though Sharp emphasized that he would like to take his time with the chestnut colt.
EAGLE MORE FIGHT THAN FLIGHT
William S. Farish’s Eagle will try to turn the tables on Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s International Star on Saturday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in the Grade III $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap. After all, it cannot be a bad omen that the race’s namesake is his Horse of the Year damsire and both were Farish homebreds trained by veteran conditioner Neil Howard. The Mineshaft will be the third meeting between the two compact 4-year-olds, as they both ran in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes in 2015, where Eagle faltered as the favorite and International Star won the first of three consecutive graded stakes over the New Orleans oval.
“I really think he’s coming in good,” Howard said confidently. “I don’t think there’s much we would do differently this time. I thought he ran a winning race last time and it was a top effort, but International Star is also a very good horse.”
Returning from a slight injury and break from late winter until early fall, Eagle returned and quickly made up for lost time. The emblazoned chestnut reeled off three consecutive victories, including his first stakes tally in the $60,000 Tenacious Stakes in December. In the $75,000 Louisiana Stakes, he took the lead at the top of the stretch, but was swiftly passed by a surging International Star. In an encouraging moment of grit, Eagle fought back and re-rallied to close the gap down to 1½ lengths at the wire under Brian Hernandez, Jr.
“When International Star passed him it might have caught him a little off guard,” Howard said. “Still, no excuses, but he’s training well and has been for a while. I like that he dug back in and keeps trying. He’s a tough horse.
“I think you just have to bring your ‘A-game’ and go over there with an open mind,” Howard concluded. “We couldn’t be happier with the way he has been. You just hope all goes well during the race.”
WIRELESS FUTURE TO SHOW EARLY FOOT
While Chocolate Ride, the morning-line favorite and defending champ in the Grade III $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap on Saturday, is going to have the proverbial ‘x’ on his back throughout the running of the nine-furlong event, one horse who may not be able to see it early on is Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence’s Wireless Future. Breaking from the rail, the Tom Amoss trainee will likely show speed under Corey Lanerie, according to his conditioner, which would put him immediately in the company of his oft-forwardly placed foe.
“I think he’s taking a big step up in the Fair Grounds,” Amoss said. “I like his draw. I think he’s going to have a chance to either dictate the pace or be somewhere close, depending on how fast they go and I think that’s a benefit for sure.”
Wireless Future and Chocolate Ride met only once prior – in a November allowance going 1 1/16 miles over the Stall-Wilson turf course. While Chocolate Ride stalked and pounced en route to a resounding victory, Wireless Future – a son of Scat Daddy – tracked him throughout en route to an even third-place finish. Both he and Chocolate Ride went on to win their next races. Chocolate Ride won the Grade III $125,000 Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap on Jan. 16, while Wireless Future was a smart winner of a rained-off allowance/optional claiming event.
Overall, Wireless Future, a $250,000 Keeneland September 2013 purchase, has raced at the New Orleans oval six times and won four of those races, displaying his versatility with two victories apiece on each course.
SHOTGUN KOWBOY MAKES SEASON DEBUT IN KENNER
Oklahoma-bred Shotgun Kowboy will look to win his first race for new trainer Bret Calhoun ‘sooner’ rather than later when the dark bay 4-year-old gelding starts in Saturday’s six-furlong $60,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes. Though he made a good living racking up stakes victories, including a popular win in the Grade III Oklahoma Derby in September at distances up to nine furlongs for his owner and previous trainer C R Trout, the son of champion sprinter Kodiak Kowboy will cut back to a sprint to kick off his campaign.
“He’s doing great.and trained very well coming into this race,” Calhoun said. “I had to make a decision between a couple races. There was the Essex at Oaklawn, the Mineshaft here on Saturday or the Kenner at a sprint and at the end of the day, coming off the layoff, I think he’s more prepared to win in this spot.
“He’s settled off the speed when he’s sprinted, so he’ll most likely do that,” Calhoun continued. “Considering where we’re going from here, he won’t be in any hurry out of the gate. I would say Clearly Now is likely the horse to beat. Obviously Cinco Charlie is a consistent horse, too. It’s going to be a tough race to win.”
Shotgun Kowboy, who has won six of nine and earned $590,044 – including four stakes – is to be ridden by Robby Albarado for the first time from the outside post seven. He was last seen finishing seventh – beaten six lengths – in the Grade I Clark Handicap on Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs, his lone off-the-board finish.
NOTTE D’ORO RETURNS TO NEW ORLEANS WITH NEW CONNECTIONS
Last season, Notte d’Oro was trained by Mike Stidham, owned by Twin Creeks Racing Stable and considered one of the best turf fillies on the grounds at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. While she may retain the last attribute after Saturday’s $60,000 Daisy Devine Stakes, she will do so for different connections.
Sold at Fasig-Tipton’s November sale to Robert S. Evans for $450,000 after a season in which she finished in the exacta in half of her 10 starts – including two stakes wins – the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro was turned over to trainer Christophe Clement. On Saturday, she will try to go 1-for-1 for her new connections as she makes her 5-year-old bow at the same 1 1/16-miles Stall-Wilson turf trip over which she annexed last season’s $60,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial.
“She’s doing very well and training very well,” Clement said. “I believe she is a mile to a mile and a sixteenth-type of filly and returning to the Fair Grounds should suit her well. She likes the track and there weren’t a lot of places to go with her here. It will be a competitive race, but it might be a little easier than some of the other spots we could have sent her.”
Notte d’Oro breaks from the outside post nine – moved in from 10 after the scratch of Faufiler – and carries Julien Leparoux.
Source: Fair Grounds Race Course