From the Print Edition: Sturdy Oak

Published in the Dec. 15 issue of The Blood-Horse
Shades of Seabiscuit. Hallowed Dreams' lifetime record looked like a typographical error (27: 25-0-2). She was racing back in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Sprint on just seven days of rest. She was in against eight males and one other filly. Hollywood could not have written a more perfect script for the marquee Louisiana-bred who had earned the reputation of being a winning machine.

Even trainer Jerry Quinn thought he was running for second money. His filly, My Brent's Diamond, had faced Hallowed Dreams on three previous occasions without getting a sniff. Shortly after the break, it was apparent there was going to be a surprise ending to this flick. Hallowed Dreams was falling off the radar back in sixth place.

Meanwhile, back in reality, My Brent's Diamond broke alertly under Eddie Martin. Following instructions to the letter, Martin sat chilly and satisfied behind a wall of eager runners. "There was a lot of speed in there and I was hoping that once they cleared me they would be used up," Martin said. Burnt toast would be more like it. The front-running duel was timed in :21.59 and :44.87.

Assessing the damage in mid-stretch, Martin eased My Brent's Diamond off the rail and the 4-year-old filly began to lengthen stride. From that point forward, it was a thriller. Bearing down on Kettle Man, My Brent's Diamond split horses and came home with a burst in the final time of 1:09.94.

"We were just taking a shot, hoping we might get some place money," the Irish-born Quinn said, taking a peek at the $42.80 mutuel. "She has been training very well and the owner (Mike Meeks) has been very patient. He told me four or five months ago that we would be pointing for this race."


BAGGING THE JUVENILE

The undefeated Hail to Bag came into the paddock for the $100,000 Juvenile Stakes bouncing like a Mexican jumping bean. The tall chestnut, muscled up in his rear engine, had not raced for over 90 days and he was eager to get it on. The groom, being dragged around the walking ring, was eager to hear the bugler's call to post.

Looking pretty doesn't count for a hill of beans. It's which horse gets to the wire first. Once the gate sprang open, Hail to Bag didn't play around. He opened up a three-length lead, popping the first quarter-mile in :21.75. In front throughout, Hail to Bag drifted out wide into the lane, giving his followers a glimmer of hope. In the final eighth, Walk in the Snow made a late run and appeared to have a chance, but Hail to Bag fought back and managed to win by 2 3/4 lengths.

When it comes to training fast 2-year-olds, trainer Doris Hebert wasn't born yesterday. In the 11-year history of Louisiana Champions Day, Hebert has won the Juvenile three times: with J W's Best Bet (1996), Bet Me Best (1998), and Early Goer (1999). Now you can add Hail to Bag with his unblemished five-for-five record to the list.

"I had some good works into him before this start," Hebert said. "He may have been getting tired but the horses behind him seemed to be getting pretty tired, too."

Hail to Bag was bred at Channon Farm by Gillian Taylor. "We are going to use the money from the breeder's awards to buy a new shed for his mama, Mother Knows Best," Taylor said.

TURF TITAN

For horseplayers starved for full fields, Louisiana Champions Day is a feast. The stakes races are full to the brim. Eleven runners went to the gate in the $100,000 Champions Day Turf and any novice handicapper could have narrowed the race down to seven or eight contenders.

At 12-1, Mr. Sulu was one of the bargains. Under jockey Kirk LeBlanc, A.L. "Red" McMurray Jr.'s homebred broke evenly and was allowed to settle into the third slot around the first turn. With a half-mile to go, Mr. Sulu was hugging the rail and keeping the leaders in sight.

At the head of the lane, L'Homme and Bourbon Boogie were stride for stride. LeBlanc was inside, outside, probing for a sliver of daylight. Good things come to those who wait. Passing the sixteenth pole, Mr. Sulu propelled himself out like a cork from a champagne bottle, hitting the wire in 1:44.51 for the 1 1/16-mile distance.

"What a great ride," trainer Josie Carroll said. "Kirk has a lovely set of hands on a horse."

McMurray lives in Folsom, La., but races his stock at Woodbine in Canada during the summer. "As a baby, this horse was like a little calf," McMurray said. "I look for personality in a horse. That's what makes a winner. Plus I got one hell of a trainer in Josie. Wherever she goes, you are going to find my horses."


OAK'S CLASSIC

The question in the $150,000 Champions Day Classic was: Could Oak Hall get the distance? The answer was yes. One hell of a horse, Oak Hall does whatever you ask of him.

White Star, with pressure from the outside, blasted right out to the front. Coming out of the first turn in the 1 1/8-mile route, Oak Hall was in third. Things took a turn for the weird when Doc's In pulled up. "What helped me was when that horse pressed the lead and then dropped out," LeBlanc said. "I could see Alex (Jimenez) was having to ride his horse (White Star) hard and I knew he was going to come up short."

When Oak Hill caught up with White Star, LeBlanc was standing straight up in the irons. The battle was over before it started. Strung out like a camel caravan struggling in a dust storm, the eight runners chasing Oak Hall finally gave up. The 5-year-old gelding by Olympio went on about his business, passing the finish line with a comfortable 2 1/4-length margin.

Last year's winner of the Louisiana Champions Day Sprint had proven his versatility. "He does everything we ask of him," trainer Doyle Wardrop said. "Turf, sprint, or route--he handles whatever you put in front of him."

The Classic concluded a consecutive stakes triple for LeBlanc. "This has been the best day of my career," LeBlanc said.

TROUBLE FREE

It always seems to be the case: the rich just get richer. The 5-year-old mare Midge Too was the top money earner in the 1 1/16-mile $100,000 Champions Day Ladies. Accustomed to facing, and beating, open company in Texas and Arkansas, Midge Too carried 115 pounds and the burden of being the shortest betting price of the day. She won trouble free under LeBlanc, who seemed to be riding in a zone. "Kentucky is a little far but we'll get there someday," said co-owner and trainer Jerry Cart of his standout mare that has a new bank account of $485,883.

Valene Farms' 2-year-old filly Kwik Kash won the 11th running of the $100,000 Lassie Stakes with an explosive wire-to-wire effort. The attractive roan daughter of Bag showed a string of bullet workouts and came firing out of the gate. Clearing the field easily, Kwik Kash drew off under Jamie Theriot and handled six furlongs in 1:11.13. "We always knew she would be a good filly," Murray Valene said. "She had some problems early with her shins. She hadn't been out of her stall the last few days. This is probably the most courageous filly I ever had."

(Chart, Equibase)

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