Repent (4) edges Easyfromthegitgo in the Louisiana Derby.

Repent (4) edges Easyfromthegitgo in the Louisiana Derby.

Lou Hodges Jr.

Fair Grounds Race Report: Re-Energized

Published in the March 16 issue of The Blood-Horse
After trainer Kenny McPeek teaches Repent how to change leads, is he going to teach the colt to sing? Why not? The stretch-running son of Louis Quatorze has handled every other challenge thrown at him.

If horsemen and fans were looking for something brilliant from Select Stable's Repent in the $750,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) on March 10, they didn't get what they came for. It was just another boring win. Well, not exactly. The final margin was a few inches, decided in the last desperate jump over a tenacious Easyfromthegitgo. It was close enough to rub some of the dapper off Jerry Bach, the man from Cincinnati who owns Repent with his wife, Feye. "This isn't the kind of thrill I had in mind," Bach said, holding both hands over his heart.

In some ways, the race was baffling. Speed is Bob's Image's game, but he didn't play all of his cards. Hung out four wide around the first turn, Bob's Image couldn't or wouldn't take the lead until after the first quarter was run in :24.23. Peachtree Stable's Charioteer applied the early pressure. It was only a couple lengths back to Repent, who broke outwardly into Publication at the start. Down the backside, Repent was last but only six lengths off the lead.

After a half-mile, run in :48.31, Bob's Image and Charioteer were stride for stride with Easyfromthegitgo breathing down their necks. After checking slightly, Repent cruised past two horses down the backside. It'sallinthechase, stuck tight in a box, moved over to the rail and finally was able to split horses. Sweeping around the far turn, Easyfromthegitgo, no pushover on this day, had waited long enough. Beating Repent to the punch, he ducked through on the inside and went into attack mode.

At the head of the lane, Easyfromthegitgo, his move timed to the second under Donnie Meche, grabbed the lead like he intended to keep it. Repent, under new rider Jerry Bailey, came wide, then cut the corner with precision. Ducking this way and that, Repent gritted his teeth and engaged Easyfromthegitgo. The battle brought the fans out of their seats. In the last 50 yards, Bailey tucked the whip away and let Repent find his own courage. Repent, now five-for-seven in his career, won the race by a nose in 1:43.86.

"We had the dream trip," trainer Steve Asmussen said of Easyfromthegitgo. "He ran second, but I thought we won."

Not nominated to the Triple Crown events and representing the peasant class, It'sallinthechase, at 52-1, finished well to get third. "He was so much happier today without the blinkers," jockey Gerard Melancon said about

It'sallinthechase. "I started looking for some room at the quarter pole and that's when he started kicking it in. Just like his last race (the Risen Star Stakes), we moved with the winner but I had a lot more horse today."

The finish may have been too close to call, but the audacity of Easyfromthegitgo and the daring of Repent were evident. "He worked really hard for this one," a relieved McPeek said of Repent. "It's a tough assignment for a horse that runs from behind like he does to overcome a slow pace, but he showed today he is that special kind of horse."

"He was a little erratic about changing leads," Bailey said of Repent's stretch run. "He needs to learn the right lead because a left lead at Churchill Downs won't cut it. Sometimes it takes 3-year-olds a while to learn it but the time for him is now."
McPeek knows his horse and required lesson plan. "This horse is still not completely on cue. At the end, he was on the right lead but I would like to see him do it earlier. He still needs to work through some of these things, but over time he is going to get better at it."

Asked to explain the jock switch from Tony D'Amico to Bailey, McPeek didn't flinch. "We had a difficult, serious decision to make," McPeek said. "The race was closer than we expected. When you win by a nose you have to think you did the right thing. That's why you put it in the hands of a man like Jerry Bailey."

It was the old story you hear in the track kitchen. The jock unsaddles and tells the trainer, "I had a good hold and was sitting chilly. We were head and head with the leader and then they opened the gates."

That pretty much describes the $350,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) on March 9 when Take Charge Lady whipped a field of 3-year-old fillies like they were her stepchildren. It's getting to be an intimidating habit. The bay daughter of Dehere had won the Silverbulletday Stakes (gr. III) three weeks earlier by 8 1/2 lengths. This time she won by five.

Jerry Bach, getting his accustomed post-race exercise, rushed down from his lucky power spot in the grandstand where he had watched his splendid filly gallop under the wire unchallenged.

You have to be careful around Bach these days. His joy is contagious. "This is like a dream," Bach said. "Having two horses (Repent and Take Charge Lady) like this at the same time is just not real. I keep telling my wife, 'Sweetheart, do you realize what's going on here? It could be another 20 years or never before this happens again.'"

Bach may be dreaming, but he is lucid. "People in this industry spend their whole lives to get a stakes runner," he said on his way to a sip of champagne, "and now here we are with two stakes winners. Talk about good fortune. All you can do is drink it in."

The prohibitive favorite, with the diamond-shaped white star on her forehead, came into the paddock looking as racy as a Greyhound. At the sound of the saddling bell, Take Charge Lady got up on her toes and appeared a little feisty.

Of course, there were the usual whispers from the wise guys. Take Charge Lady was going to "bounce" off her last spectacular effort when she tied a track record. The search for pimples continued. She was a beaten favorite over a sloppy track in the Golden Rod (gr. II) at Churchill Downs and the Fair Grounds surface was sloppy from a heavy downpour earlier in the day.

Sure. Take Charge Lady bounced all right. She bounced out of the gate from post six and angled over to the rail to gain command over a spunky Niall O'Callaghan-trained Chamrousse. She continued to bounce down the backside, reaching the half-mile in :47.69. Going around the far turn, she bounced away again, increasing her lead over a field that was beginning to string out like a pair of Mardi Gras beads. For those runners who wanted some pace to run at, hope was diminishing. Asked in mid-stretch, Take Charge Lady had the answer. "By the time I got in the lane she still had plenty left," jockey Tony D'Amico said. "This filly has matured a lot from last year. She is turning into something extraordinary."

Down the stretch, Take Charge Lady recoiled like a rifle and pulled away from Lake Lady, who had changed tactics and was coming into the picture from off the pace. Lake Lady fought off the gutsy Chamrousse for second. "We couldn't get there today," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Lake Lady, "but we are pleased with the improvement." The 1 1/16 miles were completed in 1:43.30. Continued...

(Chart, Equibase)