The 4-year-old son of English Channel lived up to his even-money favoritism in the 1 1/8-mile event. He came off a solid win in the Jan. 26 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap (gr. IIIT) to handle the soft turf by two lengths over Bim Bam, completing the distance in a pedestrian 1:56.06.
"His performance was as top-shelf as it could possibly have been," Court remarked. "Compared to last time it was a little more of an eventful trip."
It was Willcox Inn and Jose Lezcano who took the lead in the Fair Grounds Handicap as jockey Jon Court allowed Optimizer to find his footing after lunging slightly at the start. The frontrunner set the tone with an easy :24.76 and :51.52 with Optimizer placing little pressure in second, about two lengths back on the outside.
Willcox Inn maintained his position with a one-length lead through three-quarters in 1:17 flat, but Court had Optimizer ready to strike coming off the turn and shifted to the inside for a trip up the rail. Optimizer took control at the head of the stretch and drew off under strong urging to finish up in workmanlike fashion. Bim Bam closed from third on the backside to get second and Two Months Rent was third.
"We were in and out trying to find the best part of the track and, when it came down to it, I did venture down on the inside and I got back to the outside; we were trying to find the firmest spot out there and it's all pretty soft," Court said. "But he handled it well enough to save some ground and make that move towards the lead down on the inside and that put us in the winner's circle."
Jockey Richard Eramia, who was aboard Bim Bam for his second-place run, had some insight into the race.
"Everybody—the horses on the lead, the horses behind—everybody waited to make one run from the quarter pole," he said. "The only thing you had to do on this grass was wait. My horse ran a strong race and finished even and that was a good thing."
Optimizer returned $4, $2.60, and $2.20, Bim Bam paid $4.20 and $3, and Two Months Rent brought $3. Willcox Inn and Cavalero completed the order of finish in the field scratched down to five.
Major Gain,Strike Impact, Unlatch, Quality Control, Hyper, Macho Bull, and Golden Yank were declared from the race.
Bred in Kentucky by Brad Kelley's Bluegrass Hall out of the A.P. Indy mare Indy Pick, Optimizer improved his record to 5-2-2 from 21 starts with earnings of $626,942 for Bluegrass Hall and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.