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Fair Grounds Oaks Preview: Clairiere, Travel Column Ready To Rumble
Clairiere (left) necks out Travel Column to win the Rachel Alexandra (Credit: Hodges Photography)

Fair Grounds Oaks Preview: Clairiere, Travel Column Ready To Rumble

NEW ORLEANS, LA – The 1-2 finishers of the local Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) last time out, Clairiere and Travel Column are ready for another rumble in Saturday’s $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) at Fair Grounds.

The Fair Grounds Oaks is a 1 1/16-mile dirt route restricted to 3-year-old fillies that awards Kentucky Oaks (G1) points to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 basis. This year’s edition is the penultimate event on a 14-race card that includes the Louisiana Derby (G2) and has a local post time of 5:14 PM.

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Here’s a look at the full field for the Fair Grounds Oaks:

1. Zaajel 8/1 – The undefeated Todd Pletcher trainee steps up and stretches out to try routing for the first time after winning a pair of 7-furlong Gulfstream Park sprints to start her career, including the Forward Gal Stakes (G3) last time out. Regular rider Luis Saez appears elsewhere, but replacement Irad Ortiz Jr., the three-time defending Eclipse Award winner as outstanding jockey, is more than capable.

“It’s not easy shipping in against some high-quality fillies who have a home court advantage as well, but we like the way she’s training and the added distance should be to her liking,” Pletcher said. “We’re excited about the opportunity and we like the spacing if she does run well, with it hopefully being good timing to come back in the Kentucky Oaks (on April 30).”

2. Moon Swag 20/1 – She won 2 straight on a smaller circuit to start her career before transferring the barn of Brendan Walsh, who’s saddled her to a pair of third-place finishes in 3 subsequent starts. Though she was closest to the top duo in the Rachel Alexandra, she was 6 3/4 lengths behind and will need a career-best effort if she hopes to turn the tables on both foes here.

“She hasn’t done anything wrong this winter and it’s another chance to get some valuable black-type,” Walsh said. “Realistically, we are looking at running for a placing, but who knows. She’ll be running at them at the end, and if there is a pace meltdown, we might get lucky. She’s tricky temperamentally, but she’s gotten better all the time. Three or four months ago, you wouldn’t have believed that she is where she is now with a live shot at a race like this. Since we’ve gotten to know her, she’s found consistency through her routine. She just needs to keep progressing in her races and I can’t see why she’d stop now.”

3. Souper Sensational 15/1 – Like each rival to her insidie, she also won 2 straight to start her career, taking a pair of 7-furlong Woodbine synthetic sprints including the Glorious Song Stakes. She finished second in the local Silverbulletday Stakes while maker her dirt debut and can be forgiven for finishing sixth in the Rachel Alexandra after making contact with a rival and clipping heels.

4. Li’l Tootsie 4/1 – She steps up the stakes ranks after breaking her maiden going 6 furlongs and repeating next time out over a sloppy (sealed) edition of this course and distance against optional claimers. The class test is not insignificant, but for the first time in her career, she’ll receive the expert riding services of Luis Saez, who wins at a 27% rate for trainer Tom Amoss since the start of 2020.

“I have a very good relationship with Saez and his agent Kiaran McLaughlin, a former trainer, and we’ve had a lot of success with them,” Amoss said. “Luis won two Grade 1s for me last year with Serengeti Empress and No Parole, and when I found out he was coming into town, I told them I would support them all I can. I think he’s one of the best riders in the entire country and I’m honored to have him on my horses.”

Watch the latest episode of “Dr. Miranda Previews” for Dr. Miranda’s BEST BETS in the Fair Grounds Oaks!

5. Obligatory 5/1 – Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott gives her the acid test a month after she broke her maiden going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park in her first start under jockey Jose Ortiz, who traveled with her to retain the mount. That was also her first time using race-day Lasix, which she won’t receive here, and while she’s bred to route, that doesn’t always mean she’ll immediately handle it well.

6. Clairiere 2/1 – She outkicked Travel Column in deep stretch to win the Rachel Alexandra 1 start after that rival pulled the same move to take last fall’s Golden Rod Stakes (G2). The first foal out of the multiple Grade 1-winning dirt router Cavorting is by Curlin, so the longer the better, and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen connects at 22% with runners making their second starts after similar layoffs.

“Rubber match with two qualities fillies,” Asmussen said. “The trip worked out perfectly for us in the Rachel Alexandra. At a mile and 1/16, I think the fillies are competitive. It’s the same distance on Saturday. We feel really good about our prospects going forward.”

7. Il Malocchio 15/1 – She steps up to try graded stakes company for the first time after finishing third in the two-turn Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. That was her first start on dirt and for new trainer Kenny McPeek after she compiled a 4-1-2-0 record on Woodbine’s synthetic and turf course, a mark that includes finishing second in the 1 1/16-mile Princess Elizabeth Stakes against Ontario-breds.

8. Travel Column 5/2 – She suffered a narrow neck defeat in the Rachel Alexandra after receiving what some felt may have been an overly-confident ride from jockey Florent Geroux. No matter the reason for her loss, expect her to fire an improved effort as (like Clairiere) she makes her second start of the year and off the layoff; trainer Brad Cox hits at 24% in comparable situations.

“I think she should get a good stalking trip from our post,” Cox said. “There’s no pace in the race. We’re not going to sit back there and give someone the race. We didn’t win (the Rachel Alexandra) but we were very, very pleased with the comeback and we expect her to move forward off that return. She’s a very, very good work horse and she’s been training great since that race.”

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