A winner of five of seven starts this year, Midnight Cry Stable’s homebred Stormin Baghdad tries turf for the first time Dec. 22 in the Bonapaw Stakes, the last of four $100,000 stakes on the inaugural “Santa Sprint Saturday” card at Fair Grounds.
A field of 13 is entered for the Bonapaw, an event for 3-year-olds and up at 5 1/2 furlongs on the Stall-Wilson turf course. The other sprints on the program are all on dirt: the Sugar Bowl for 2-year-olds, the Letellier for 2-year-old fillies, and the Esplanade for fillies and mares, 3-years-old and up.
Stormin Baghdad, a 3-year-old colt by Stormin Fever, lost four consecutive races to start his career in 2006, but since then has turned it around. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Stormin Baghdad has posted all five of his wins on either dirt or artificial surfaces, most recently taking the Nov. 22 Thanksgiving Handicap by a neck at Fair Grounds.
Out of the Skip Awaymare Skip to Baghdad, Stormin Baghdad has tried graded stakes competition twice, including the Sept. 29 Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr. III) at Turfway Park, in which he was third in a three-way photo finish. Shaun Bridgmohan will ride.
Asmussen will also start 3-year-old Natural Speed, who has placed in eight of 11 starts this year, winning four.
Another to watch is 5-year-old Going Wild, who was second in both of his starts this year, including the Thanksgiving Handicap. Off for nearly a year before returning in October, Going Wild seems to be rounding into shape for trainer Bret Calhoun. On Nov. 13, he breezed four furlongs in :47.40, the best of 31 works recorded that day at Fair Grounds.
Going Wild, a son of Golden Missile and a $600,000 2-year-old purchase by Robert and Beverly Lewis, is a former Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) starter, but has won only once in his 19 races dating back to March of 2005. He was bought late last year by Jim Helzer and R.D Hubbard, but needed time off.
"We bought him as a stallion pospect," Helzer said. "Our ultimate goal is to stand him in New Mexico or Oklahoma, but we'll continue to run him for now.
"He was real sore in his suspensories and he needed a good while off to get heeled up. We took it slow and gave him about four-and-a-half months to get over his soreness, but he's training like a tiger now. We're expecting a good year out of him."
Calhoun will also saddle 6-year-old gelding Orphan Brigade, who has three allowance victories this year.
Other competition may come from a pair of early speed horses who are accustomed to running in the state that they were bred in: Texas-bred Mystery Classic and Louisiana-bred All Wired Up.
Mystery Classic has won five consecutive starts and is 12 of 17 lifetime. The 4-year-old Mystery Storm gelding has won sprints at Lone Star Park, Remington Park, Retama Park, and most recently, the Dec. 1 Spirit of Texas Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park. A John Pierce II homebred, Mystery Classic was fifth in last year’s Bonapaw, but only 1 3/4 lengths behind.
All Wired Up has won four of his last five sprints, and has raced all 18 of his lifetime starts in Louisiana, but never at Fair Grounds. Jockey Joe Patin Jr., will try to hustle All Wired Up to the lead from post 10, as all nine of his career wins have been in wire-to-wire fashion.
The likely favorite for the 57th running of the six-furlong Sugar Bowl could be Zayat Stables’ Saada, a son of Thunder Gulch. Saada has won only one of five starts, but was entered in a pair of two-turn graded stakes, taking third in the Oct. 8 Grey Breeders’ Cup Stakes (Can-III) at Woodbine.
Trainer Bill Mott has decided to shorten up Saada, whose most recent start produced a second-place finish Nov. 16 in a six-furlong allowance test at Aqueduct. Robby Albarado, a six-time leading rider at Fair Grounds, will get the mount.
Last year’s Sugar Bowl was won by Kentucky Derby starter Teuflesberg.