The impeccably bred Battle Plan lived up to his billing in the $300,000 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO), taking the field nearly all the way in his stakes debut to defeat General Quarters by 1 1/2 lengths March 27 at Fair Grounds.
Overbrook Farm's 5-year-old homebred, by Empire Maker out of the Seeking the Gold mare Flanders, William T. Young's champion juvenile filly of 1994, had just two starts prior to this season. But he is making up for lost time with trainer Todd Pletcher. Battle Plan did not get to the races until late in his 3-year-old season and was also sidelined for nearly a year with a hairline fracture in a cannon bone after breaking his maiden in January 2009.
With Javier Castellano in the irons, the 8-5 choice Battle Plan put together another strong effort, outclassing a tough field in the 1 1/8-mile New Orleans for his fourth consecutive win. The final time was a sharp 1:49.33 on a fast track.
Determined to get the lead, Battle Plan outfought 66-1 shot Big Polk a Dot for the early advantage and clipped off quick fractions of :23.65, :47.11 and 1:11.73 as Big Polk a Dot tried to stay close in second and Star Guitar and Tone It Down stalked.
General Quarters, who had a little trouble settling early for Robby Albarado, loomed up three wide on the final turn as Star Guitar increased the pressure on the leader. But after straightening away in the stretch, Battle Plan showed he had plenty left and refused to give way as General Quarters pushed on without cutting significantly into the front-runner's lead.
Battle Plan won under moderate urging, with General Quarters settling for second. The millionaire Awesome Gem, no factor early, ran on late for David Flores to edge Star Guitar by a half-length for third, but four lengths behind the winner. Star Guitar, the top Louisiana-bred handicap horse ridden by Curt Bourque, had his six-race winning streak ended.
One of the last foals for Flanders, who died in mid-February, Battle Plan was coming off a five-length win in a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance race at Gulfstream Park Feb. 18. He began the year with a 3 1/4-length triumph over a first-level allowance field at Gulfstream Jan. 8. Since an off-the-board effort to begin his career in November 2008 at Aqueduct, Battle Plan has not lost. His earnings increased to $244,864 with the victory.
Battle Plan paid $5.20, $3.40 and $2.60, topping a $25.60 exacta. General Quarters, who drew the far outside post, posted his fourth consecutive runner-up finish at the current Fair Grounds meet for Tom McCarthy's one-horse stable, returning $5.60 and $4. The Southern California-based Awesome Gem paid $4 to show.
Star Guitar was followed by Giant Oak , Stones River, Stonehouse, Tone It Down, Hold Me Back and Big Polk a Dot.