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2023 Menard Memorial Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Astute Returns, Now With Cox & Back On Turf
Astute (Ernie Belmonte)

2023 Menard Memorial Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Astute Returns, Now With Cox & Back On Turf

Mike previews the 2023 Nelson J. Menard Memorial Stakes from Fair Grounds, then gives his top picks & long shots. Astute, a multiple dirt sprint stakes winner in California earlier in her career, returns to the races with new trainer Brad Cox after over 20 months away. Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The track press release:

Winner of the Pan Zareta Stakes in December, Oeuvre returns to face an oversubscribed field of 13 in Saturday’s $100,000 Nelson J. Menard for 4-year-old and up fillies and mares going 5 1/2 furlongs at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Whereas the Pan Zareta was moved to the dirt course, the Menard will be run over the Stall-Wilson turf course. Scheduled as Race 8 with a 4:45 p.m. CT post time, the portable rail will remain set at 34 feet on the turf course and starters will be limited to eight.

Richard Perkins’ 4-year-old Oeuvre has put in three local workouts since her impressive stakes score in the Pan Zareta, including a fastest of 89 bullet on Jan. 8 when breezing 4 furlongs in 48.00 seconds. The Illinois-bred is trained by Chris Block, who guided her to a nearly flawless (7 for 8) sophomore campaign, with two of those wins coming over firm turf courses.

“Her recent workouts have been really good,” assistant trainer on the grounds Martin Martinez said. “She’ll be dangerous if she moves as well on the turf (course) as she has (on the dirt).”

With Jareth Loveberry aboard, the 2-1 morning line favorite Oeuvre will break from post No. 7.

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Installed as the highest price in the morning line at 15-1, NBS Stable’s Aboukir Bay has been overlooked by bettors before. Winner of her last two for trainer Jason Barkley at double digit odds, she’s proven herself going 6 1/2 furlongs across the challenging Kentucky Downs turf course (paying $27.66 to win) and traveling 5 1/2 furlongs across the more traditional turf run at Keeneland ($44.50).

“We’ve been waiting for the turf course to open back up for her to run,” Barkley said. “She’s basically been sitting on go, so we’ve made sure not to overdue it in the mornings with her but still keep her sharp (pointing to this race).”

The Lord Nelson 4-year-old progressed nicely in terms of speed figures this past fall, and if she can run back to those numbers, she fits against the Menard field. Drawing post No. 8, Aboukir Bay will be piloted by her partner-in-longshot-crime, James Graham, who guided her home at high odds in her last two.

Here’s the complete field for the Nelson Menard Stakes from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, and morning line):

  1. New Boss (David Cohen, Bret Calhoun, 8-1)
  2. Touch of Class (Brian Hernandez Jr., Bernard Flint, 8-1)
  3. Astute (Florent Geroux, Brad Cox, 3-1)
  4. Violenza (Corey Lanerie, Brendan Walsh, 7-2)
  5. Charlie T. (Mitchell Murrill, Lee Thomas, 10-1)
  6. Eve’s Delight (Alex Castillo, Garland Goins, 10-1)
  7. Oeuvre (Jareth Loveberry, Chris Block, 2-1)
  8. Aboukir Bay (James Graham, Jason Barkley, 15-1)
  9. AE Tizplenty (James Graham, Steve Asmussen, 6-1)
  10. AE Charlie’s Penny (Rey Gutierrez, Chris Block, 3-1)
  11. AE Perfect Happiness (Mitchell Murrill, Chris Hartman, 4-1)
  12. AE Minute Waltz (David Cohen, Philip Bauer, 6-1)
  13. AE Hazy Command (Edgar Morales, Tom Amoss, 6-1)