Even-money favorite Spritely Walker enjoyed a ground-saving trip to register a three-quarter of a length victory in Saturday's $150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic at the Fair Grounds.
The Classic was the headline feature of the 10-race series for Louisiana breds worth $1 million. Champions Day was contested in extreme fog Saturday.
Corey Lanerie rode the 3-year-old Louisiana-bred son of Skywalker for owner Heiligbrodt Racing Stable and trainer Steve Asmussen. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile test over a sloppy track was 1:53 1/5. Prince Slew was second, finishing four lengths ahead of Mr. Archibald.
Spritely Walker was nicely placed along the inside while racing in fourth place among the eight contenders. Lanerie angled out briefly for racing room and weaved back to the inside during the stretch run while overtaking 14-1 Prince Slew in deep stretch.
"Going down the backside, I knew I had a lot of horse," said Lanerie, who had ridden him just once before Saturday, when he broke his maiden last year at Fair Grounds in his first start for Asmussen. "I thought I'd have to go around the leaders, but the rail opened and that's when I moved."
Asmussen had flight troubles and was forced to miss the race.
Spritely Walker won for the fourth time this year while earning $90,000. He increased his career bankroll to $210,340 with a record of 4-3-1 in 11 starts. He has blossomed since being stretched out around two turns. He won the Louisiana Breeders' Derby at Louisiana Downs and was most recently second, a neck behind Zarb's Luck, in the one-mile Gold Cup at Delta Downs.
The winner paid $4, $3 and $2.60. Prince Slew returned $7.20 and $3.80. The show on Mr. Archibald was $3.20. The $2 exacta was worth $36.60.
In the $100,000 Ladies, Cute N Noble ($38.80) drew clear in the stretch and was a convincing four-length winner over another longshot, Autobesarah.
Owned by Curtis Clark and trained by Maxful Landry, Jr., the daughter of Noble Assembly notched her second stakes win, and was reunited with jockey Guy Smith, who has been aboard for all four of her lifetime wins. It was the first Champions Day win for the owner, trainer, and jockey.
Heavily favored Prized Amberpro rallied to take the lead in the stretch but was unable to sustain her bid and wound up third.
Trainer Andrew Ney had a big day with two wins: Silky Zarb in the Turf and Jacob's Prospect in the Starter Handicap.
In the Turf, which was transferred to the main track for the sixth time in 13 years, Silky Zarb, with Gerard Melancon aboard, splashed home in 1:47.38 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth, holding off Mr. Sulu by 1 3/4 lengths.
Silky Zarb ($3.40) and Melancon inherited favoritism when the race was moved to the main track. "I didn't mind seeing all the rain this morning," said Melancon. "I was very happy the race came off the turf."
The son of Zarbyev has now won in back-to-back years on Champions Day, as he took last year's running of the Starter Handicap for Ney.
Ney saddled the Starter Handicap winner for the second straight year as Jacob's Prospect ($17) stalked pacesetter Ex Who and held off Sunup Sundown to win by two lengths. Frank Lovato Jr. was aboard the 4-year-old, who has now registered three of his four lifetime victories at Fair Grounds.
In the Sprint, Zarb's Luck ($7.60) battled for the lead throughout and outfinished Go Rail Go to become the first back-to-back winner of the race in 10 years. Ridden by Robby Albarado, the 6-year-old son of Zarbyev is co-owned by Scott Boudreaux and trainer Eddie Johnston.
In the Juvenile, Walk This Way followed up his maiden victory over the track on opening weekend with a stakes win for owner Stanley Seelig and Trainer Patrick Mouton. Ridden for the first time by Shane Sellers, Walk This Way ($28.80) won by 1 1/4 lengths.
In the Lassie, Rose Of Sophia had never raced outside of claiming company, but the daughter of Malagra rallied from last to storm to victory in her third career start for owner Kara Gael Baggett and trainer Cole Norman. Carlos Gonzalez, who rode her to a second-place finish in her most recent start at Delta Downs, was aboard for the 1 1/2-length victory.
Mike Kennington, who bred 1999 Lassie winner Hallowed Dreams, also bred Rose of Sophia. Both are daughters of Malagra.