Louisiana Champions Day is when the little man can stand at center stage, and they don't get much smaller than Peter Orlando. Right On the Mark, a 6-year-old gelding owned and trained by Orlando, gave the 59-year-old his first stakes win in 40 years of racing in the Champions Day Classic Dec. 9. "I'm just a small guy," Orlando explained. "It's just me by myself and four horses. I breed 'em and race 'em. That's all I do."
It was crunch time out of the gate. The favorite, Vilaxy, veered sharply to his left and came over on Valadour. White Star was out there winging it, getting the half in :47.24 and trying his best to sneak away. No chance. Zarb's Magic edged up to put in several challenges. After six furlongs, the pace duel made punching bags of both of them. Right On the Mark, who had been lying in the gap, shot into the lead and dug in to hold off Vilaxy by 1 1/4 lengths.
Corey Lanerie had one mount on Champions Day and he made the most of it. "When you win one like this, all you need is one mount," Lanerie said after the $150,000 race. "I thought if we could go heads up with Vilaxy for awhile and then get the jump heading for home then my horse could hold him off."
Orlando seemed surprised at the attention given to him in the winner's circle. When the photographer lined him up with his horse, tears were rolling down his cheeks. "Frame the picture," Orlando said. "This probably won't happen for another 40 years."
Jeopardy. Final round. Horses for $1,000. Best ever Louisiana-bred turf mare. Answer: Who is Sarah Lane's Oates?
The 6-year-old chestnut mare stood like a statue in the paddock. With her feet together, head erect, she looked around casually at the male horses she was about to face. She looked like a cat watching the furniture movers.
"She's a sweetheart around the barn," trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. said as he pulled the blanket off her back. "But when she gets out on the track she gets into a different zone. She has 100% determination to win. These boys don't faze her. I love to train her and, boy, does she love to be trained."
In the $100,000 Champions Day Turf Stakes, Sarah Lane's Oates was answering the bugler's call for the 62nd time in her career. Dropping back to the rear of the pack, she settled into her rhythm. The field compressed like an accordion as they went into the far turn and Sarah Lane's Oates began looking for room to run.
When Darkman began to get out in mid-stretch, E.J. Perrodin angled Sarah Lane's Oates over to the hedge and into a gaping hole, and the party was over.
Sarah Lane's Oates drove under the wire 1 1/2 lengths clear of Coach Rags, who had been stopped in traffic. It was Sarah Lane's Oates 20th career victory and adjusted her lifetime record on the turf to 19 wins, six seconds, and five thirds from 48 starts.
It was Yogi Berra who said, "You can't get there from here." The 2-year-old Louisiana-bred filly Amoriah proved him right.
When trainer Mike Mauberret's filly started working better than the colts in his barn, he decided he'd better do something. He left Churchill Downs with his filly and a road map. Amoriah needed earnings to have a shot for drawing into the Champions Day Lassie. The van trip to Mountaineer Park in West Virginia took 11 hours. "We got there and didn't have time to even school her in the paddock," Mauberret remembered.
Amoriah got the job done on Nov. 14, breaking her maiden by 2 1/4 lengths and getting a $10,904 paycheck that would send her to New Orleans.
The chestnut daughter of Fraser River started slowly in the Lassie, and was a distant ninth after a half-mile. Marlon St. Julien commenced a rally on the turn but Amoriah was caught behind a wall of horses. At the eighth-pole it looked like a game of bumper cars, with horses veering in and out in all directions. When Amoriah found the open seam, she burst through like a tornado in a trailer park.
"She settled herself into the race," St. Julien said. "She was relaxed and doing it on her own. I just kind of dropped out of the stirrups and bided my time with her. There was some bumping in deep stretch but she went through it without hesitating. She's small, but she's got the heart of three horses."
Prince Slew was the shortest price (1-2) on Champions Day and he wasn't bluffing. Coming off a nine-length romp in the Pelican State Stakes Oct. 29 at Louisiana Downs, the January foal remained an impressive and undefeated three for three after holding off the rally of Giuseppe's Majesty to win the Champions Day Juvenile Stakes by a length.
After a final six-furlong time of 1:12.35, a smiling David Guillory waved his stick. "We all knew that this colt could run," Guillory said, facing the microphone. "He got off to a poor start but I knew what I had under me. It was just a matter of weaving my way through traffic. I wouldn't be surprised if this colt can go long. His daddy was a route horse."
According to trainer Noral Tate, the son of Far Out Wadleigh will start next in the Dec. 24 Louisiana Futurity.
Trainer Doyle Wardrop has been training Thoroughbreds since 1975. He operates a modest stable of 12 to 15 horses and races them at Evangeline Downs and Delta Downs. Wardrop does not win many races at Fair Grounds, so please excuse his enthusiasm. He was in the winner's circle before his runner Oak Hall had pulled up. "We didn't want to be very far away," he said. "Barring any bad luck, I had a feeling they were going to have to run hard to catch us."
Hot early fractions (:22.15 for the first quarter) set up a closing rally for Oak Hall in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Sprint Stakes. The 4-year-old gelded son of Oympio pulled even with the competition in mid-stretch and then ran away to win by three widening lengths.
"When I turned for home I coaxed him with a criss-cross and he picked it up," jockey James Avant pointed out. "I was praying down the stretch, 'Please, Lord, don't let anybody come around me.' " Avant was riding for the first time since surgery for a malignant tumor found in his back.
Bejoyfulandrejoyce, trained by Tom Amoss and ridden by Lonnie Meche, used every gear in her front-running victory in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Stakes. The 3-year-old daughter of Dynaformer led the pack of 11 other fillies and mares past every pole. In deep stretch, last year's Ladies winner Knight Woman put in a determined bid but had to settle for second when Bejoyfulandrejoyce showed a second burst of speed and pulled away to win by 3 1/2 lengths.
A product of Louisiana himself, Amoss was surprised at what he was seeing. "When she went to the front I was a little concerned," he said. "Then I saw the opening quarter was run in :24 flat. On this racetrack that is pretty slow. Lonnie (Meche) was saving all her energy so I knew it was going to come down to that last eighth of a mile."