Fair Grounds Race Report: Big Bang

Published in the Dec. 21 issue of The Blood-Horse
It's like death and taxes. Put a good horse in the hands of trainer Bobby Barnett and you've got a sure thing. In the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile on Dec. 14, Meteor Impact made his presence known with a loud bang. This bay colt is a work in progress. Forget the final time of 1:11.23 for six furlongs. Just remember the name.

Foaled under a magnolia tree in the front yard of owner/breeder Charlene Touzant Thorson, Meteor Impact showed early signs of being at the top of the pecking order. "As a baby he was a bully," Thorson recalled. "He was always the first to eat and the first to drink. All the other babies in the paddock knew he was the boss."

Dropped back to mid-pack in the 14-horse field, Meteor Impact, under Calvin Borel, was willing to wait. The torrid opening quarter posted up front as Meteor Impact moved steadily forward on the rail was :22.03. It was time to get it on. Too tight inside, Meteor Impact, nicknamed "sailor," charted an outside course on the turn. In mid-stretch he split the leaders like they were bowling pins, busting loose to a six-length win.

"Mr. Barnett told me to take the colt back and not get into any duel because there was a ton of speed," Borel said. "This horse cooperated with me and did everything that we planned."

"This is a horse that has more than one move in him," Barnett said. "That's one sign of a good horse. I don't think two turns is going to pose a problem."

The 12th running of the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf was a race that people will talk about for a long time. Mr. Sulu, in an attempt to steal the race, shot out to a lead so huge it was hard for the camera to keep him in the frame. Loose as a goose, Mr. Sulu hit the top of the stretch 10 lengths on top. The daring tactics almost worked but the lead began to diminish. The Fair Grounds turf course was doing its thing: 10...eight...six lengths at the eighth pole, the countdown to leg-weary fatigue was obvious.

Mr. Sulu could hardly lift his legs with 100 yards to go while Coach Rags and One Brick Shy were lengthening strides and closing fast. One Brick Shy won by a neck over Coach Rags in the last jump. Mr. Sulu finished third.

The weird beginning had an even more bizarre ending. At the moment all three horses hit the wire, they came together and bumped. The rider of Mr. Sulu, Kirk LeBlanc, claimed foul against the top two, and Robby Albarado, aboard Coach Rags, alleged interference against the winner. After listening to several minutes of testimony over the phone, the stewards disallowed the objection.

"The way that horse took off was unreal," said winning rider Gerard Melancon. "I was very concerned when he got away like that. When a horse gets that far out in front sometimes your horse just gets tired of playing catch-up. We all made some contact right at the wire but it wasn't anything that was going to change the outcome of the race."

With only five runners to face the starter in the $150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic, everybody was insured of getting a check. How big of a payday was the question, and the dramatically improving Walk in the Snow had the answer. Once again, the 3-year-old dark bay gelding brought his "A" game to the table and smothered the competition.

Owned by Ginger Taylor and trained by her husband, Herman, Walk in the Snow, ridden with confidence by LeBlanc, settled patiently into the fourth spot down the backside. The race was billed as a showdown between Oak Hall (last year's winner) and Walk in the Snow, but the script got flipped when Prince Slew hit the furlong marker as the leader.

With more pounce to the ounce, Walk in the Snow dug in and showed the class that had earned him a second-place finish to Essence of Dubai in the Sept. 21 Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs. He finished with determination, winning by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:51.53 for the nine furlongs.

Herman Taylor, who has transitioned himself from a farm manager, was relieved at the outcome. "I was whipping myself there for awhile when he was coming down the lane with Prince Slew," Taylor offered.

Look me in the eye. See what you got. That's what Zarb's Luck seemed to be saying to Bet Me Best in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Sprint. Out of the gate, Bet Me Best was away best, but Zarb's Luck, who loves the combination of cold weather and the Fair Grounds surface, didn't seem to be impressed. Neck and neck they dueled through a scorching :21.41 quarter and a :44.69 half-mile.

"He did the fractions with no encouraging," said Albarado, the winning rider. "When I saw Ricky (Faul) was smooching on his horse, I thought I had him collared. When I called on my horse, he just took off." The 5-year-old Zarb's Luck, a rangy chestnut son of Zarbyev, pulled away to win by three lengths in 1:10.23.

Hooked horses don't usually come home fast, but trainer "Fast Eddie" Johnston had his horse ready to fire bullets. "He's been training his socks off ever since we got him here," Johnston said, hands on his hips, talking proud trash as he waited for Zarb's Luck to return to the winner's circle.

The older the violin, the sweeter the music. The 5-year-old veteran Prized Amberpro, owned by Linda Patch and Joseph K. Thomas, was making her 16th start of the year while winning the Louisiana Champions Day Ladies. Kept within striking distance by jockey C.J. Woodley, the Aspro mare dug in late to finish 2 1/2 lengths clear of Wild Squaw.

"Going into the first turn, I was on some heels so I let up and she was off the bridle," Woodley said. "With this long stretch, I just wanted to keep her in striking distance. She's an iron mare and gives her best every time."

"They slowed the pace down," said trainer Scott Gelner. "So C.J. had her strategically close. Stretched out to a route of ground, she just loves to run. It seems like the older she gets, the better she gets."

The $2.80 win price was the lowest of the day and was Woodley's first Louisiana Champions Day winner.

So much for statistics. Before Kool K.J. won the Louisiana Champions Day Lassie for 2-year-old fillies, outside posts (eight and up) in dirt sprints were 0 for 74.

"She's been catching horses with a hot turn of foot," said trainer Bret Thomas. "So today we figured she would benefit with a more tactical approach." The plan worked and Kool K.J. came home an impressive five-length winner after a stalking trip.

From father to son: William C. Thomas, who is the father of the trainer, bred Kool K.J. Next chapter of the story was the purchase of Kool K.J. by Jimmy and Marty Evans of Ft. Worth, Texas. Ask a Texan how much they paid for a yearling? "Let's just say we got our money back today," Jimmy Evans said with a wink.

Something for everybody: Louisiana Champions Day has a $50,000 Starter Handicap. As you would expect, the winner's circle was crowded with jogging pants, giveaway T-shirts, blue jeans, and baseball caps. Silky Zarb was the wire-to-wire winner. Kept to cruise control, Silky Zarb controlled the pace throughout the 1 1/16-mile event to win by three-quarters of a length. b

(Chart, Equibase)