NEW ORLEANS, LA – Carl Hurst and William Bradley’s homebred The Player was decidedly not playing on Saturday, donning blinkers and wiring the field by open lengths in the Grade 3, $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap at Fair Grounds.
Breaking well as the even-money favorite under Calvin Borel, The Player went straight to the lead and set an easy pace of :24.27, :47.98, and 1:12.13 while not being pressured. The Player hit the top of the stretch with a 3-length lead and drew off convincingly under steady urging, crossing by 4 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:42.29 for the 1 1/16-mile main track event.
“Going down the backside, Calvin had that nice hold on him, and he was just so relaxed and running easily,” explained Bradley, who also trains The Player. “He said, ‘He needs to know when those horses are coming to him,’ and said that he was quite a bit more focused today, and I think, just watching, I thought that the horses were going to come to him, but Calvin never even asked until the 1/8-pole. When Calvin was looking around at the 1/4-pole, I said, ‘They’re not going to catch them today.’”
Thirstforlife, Scuba, and First Premio dueled gamely down the stretch before Thirstforlife was ultimately awarded second by a nose in a photo finish. Scuba, meanwhile, was determined to be a head past First Premio in third. Rich Daddy was 8 1/2 lengths back in fifth, a length ahead of Team Colors, with No Distortion completing the order of finish.
Cedartown, the 8/5 morning line favorite that’s in the midst of a three-race win streak, was scratched Saturday morning by trainer Michael Stidham.
“I wasn’t happy with the way he was doing coming out of the last breeze and we wanted him to be 100%,” Stidham said.
The Player, who was fourth in his first Fair Grounds start on January 13 in the $75,000 Louisiana Stakes, improved his record to 13-5-3-1 with career earnings of $452,485. The win was the second career stakes score for the 5-year-old son of Street Hero following the Grade 2 Fayette Stakes on October 28.
“He ran at Keeneland and did it impressive, but he kind of just lost interest,” Borel said. “The works were there every morning and I just couldn’t understand it. He’s so much better than these horses. It was very disappointing and he just wasn’t focused, so me and the boss talked, and I worked him, and he was a totally different horse. He got focused like he’s supposed to be.”
The Player returned $4.20 to win, $2.80 to place, and $2.20 to show. Thirstforlife brought back $7 to place and $4.20 to show, while Scuba paid $2.60 to show.