Louisiana native Al Stall Jr. certainly knows his way around New Orleans and Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots. The son of Albert M. Stall, the longtime chairman of the Louisiana Racing Commission, Al Stall Jr. is among the leading trainers at the current stand.
The 48-year-old Stall came up under Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg and was an assistant to trainer Frank Brothers. He saddled his first winner in 1991, is a two-time leading trainer at Fair Grounds, and perhaps is best known nationally for his handling of grade I winner Joyeux Danseur.
We caught up with Al Dec. 14 as his last training set of the day went out and asked him five questions:
You have a rising star in Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Blame , winner of the Fayette Stakes (gr. II) and Clark Handicap (gr. II) against older horses to end the year. What has that been like, and what’s on tap for next year?
“We’ve always liked him from the day he walked in the barn. It’s rare in this game for one to pan out, so running a 3-year-old against these older horses is new territory for me at this level. We couldn’t be more excited the way he has turned out and how the future looks. He had a foot problem last year and that is why he missed some time. He hasn’t had a surgery or chip: knock on wood, that’s good.
He’s on a little break right now, but next year we’re going for it all — we want to try to have him ready for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. We’ll target that and back up his schedule from there.
He’s got the looks and the pedigree (Arch —Liable, by Seeking the Gold) to boot. He’s the total package. Let’s just hope we can get lucky and keep everything in one piece.”
You had the 3-5 morning-line favorite for the Dec. 12 Louisiana Champions Day Classic in Star Guitar , but it rained some six inches and four stakes were canceled. What was that like?
“There’s nothing you could say. It was torrential. When rain comes off the Gulf (of Mexico) like that, the storms line up like a train. If you are unlucky enough to be underneath the train, that’s what happens.
All of our horses were fine; our barn is high, but some barns got a little water. I noticed a few levees built out of bales of straw, but none of the stalls got flooded. Going home Saturday night, people were white-knuckling it. You don’t want to end up in three or four feet of water and have your car conking out on you. Things happen like that everywhere…they happen here.
I’m not worried about Star Guitar, he’s overcome a lot worse. We’re going to keep going with him and he’s hopefully going to run Saturday (Dec. 19). They’re going to run all four of the stakes that were rained out. He’s got two firm races in Louisiana, the race Saturday, hopefully and there’s a race at Delta Downs Feb. 6 (Premier Night Championship). After that, we’ll see where we are. This race is $150,000 and the other is $200,000. We’re not going to be a hero and go looking for a fight somewhere else.”
This is the fourth meeting at Fair Grounds since Hurricane Katrina. What’s the level of racing like now in Louisiana?
“Fair Grounds is a can’t-miss type place because of the winter schedule. You’re always going to have good horses and good racing this time of year. As far as the other tracks, they’ve done extremely well with the slots. Gambling has gone great guns since Katrina. Louisiana is in pretty good shape compared to other states.”
Football is big in Louisiana, and the New Orleans Saints are undefeated in the NFL at 13-0. Can they win the Super Bowl?
“I don’t want to jinx us, but the alignment is good. If they can stay ahead of Minnesota and get home field through the playoffs, the Super Dome is a major, major advantage. I can guarantee you that. Everybody is extremely fired up. It puts the whole city in the good mood.
My generation grew up with the Saints. They’re 43-years old and I’m 48 years old, so for as long as I had a clue of what’s going on, we’ve had a pro team to root for. Our house was about two minutes away from Tulane Stadium, which was where they first started. We’ve been going since Day One.”
If you could have only one meal in New Orleans, where would you go?
“I’d go to Clancy’s in uptown in New Orleans. It’s in the university section. That’s my spot. I’d get trout with a little crab meat on it…it’s as good as it gets.”