Fair Grounds Race Report: Easy Does It

Publlished in the Feb. 2 issue of The Blood-Horse
For some owners and trainers, the $100,000 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 26 was the goal. For others, the mile race was just a pop quiz. Questions had to be answered before the final exam, the $750,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) scheduled for March 10. Intentions were hard to read.

Could Jeremiah Jack put in a finishing kick? Was Sky Terrace cranked up? Could War Emblem carry his speed? Was Easyfromthegitgo ever going to learn how to chill? Was It'sallinthechase a pretender?

Eleven runners attended class on a track labeled fast for a race that turned out to be a tale of two trips. From the break it looked like bumper cars. Sky Terrace got blasted from both sides. "He was rank in the gate," jockey Craig Perret explained. "I asked the gate crew to grab his ear but we were out of there."

It didn't take but a few strides for Sky Terrace to recover. With his head held high, the son of Skywalker put on a burst of speed that was scary. He collared War Emblem with one breath and spun around the first turn, tugging at the bit. Jeremiah Jack, three wide, was stalking the two leaders who clicked off an opening quarter in :24.15.

War Emblem stayed in control with a fired up Sky Terrace shadowing his right flank. Back and forth down the backside, they tested each other's will. Jeremiah Jack took a breather and dropped back. Rating well and with steady acceleration, Easyfromthegitgo secured the fourth slot. It'sallinthechase remained toward the rear and on the rail.

The pace quickened. Six furlongs in 1:12.01. War Emblem got clear on the far turn before Sky Terrace re-broke to catch up. Tucked into third and rubbing the paint, Easyfromthegitgo began to show the advantages of tactical speed. "He didn't mind getting dirt kicked in his face," Donnie Meche said. "He relaxed good all the way around and when I sat down on him and put him into the race, I could feel a lot of horse."

The start and finish of the LeComte is at the sixteenth pole. With War Emblem beginning to flounder in the abbreviated stretch, Sky Terrace looked like the winner. Just when the funeral parlor was about to send the flowers for Easyfromthegitgo, Meche eased the colt out three wide. "He pinned his ears back and changed to his right lead," Meche said "It was just enough to get us up to the wire in time."

For Meche, the LeComte was the 1,000th win of his career.

Passed in the last jump, Sky Terrace was second by a nose, while gaining with each stride, It'sallinthechase was up for third. The final time of 1:37.98 was the fastest mile of the current meet.

"Everything went our way," said a satisfied but realistic trainer Steve Asmussen. "The pace set up perfectly. We drew the inside post and got a dream trip. The other horse (Sky Terrace) got away bad. We are going to have to dig pretty deep to ever beat him again."

So...who received the passing grades?

By Dehere out of an Easy Goer mare, James Cassels and Bob Zollars' Easyfromthegitgo scored top marks as an improving sophomore who should thrive on longer distances. Trainer and co-owner Vickie Foley's biggest challenge may be in getting her young student Sky Terrace to rate behind horses. If Sky Terrace learns as fast as he runs that should not be too high a hill to climb. It'sallinthechase moved to the front of the class as a proven two-turn kind of horse. Jeremiah Jack showed determination adequate for another chance.

Who knows? Graduation isn't until the first Saturday in May.

Pat Hand
For the six other fillies in the $100,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes on Jan. 27, the deck appeared to be stacked. Lake Lady was flush. She had all the face cards, and when the gates opened, it was too late to re-shuffle.

Lake Lady was the heavy chalk because she simply outclassed her field. She had won her last three starts (a maiden special-weight and first level allowance at Churchill Downs, then the six-furlong Thelma Stakes at Fair Grounds) by a combined margin of 21 1/4 lengths.

On paper, Lake Lady was a sprinter with a stalking profile. Away smoothly from the gate, Lake Lady was reserved in fourth position coming out of the first turn. Heads were bobbing like corks down the backside except for one. Showing the doubting Thomases of the world she could rate, Lake Lady was in a glide pattern, toying with the opposition.

Without asking, the chestnut daughter of Salt Lake called her own number at the top of the stretch and moved to the leaders. A picture of confidence if ever there was one, Lake Lady eased out three wide into the shortened stretch. Meche could have left his whip hanging in the jock's room. "I know the acceleration she's got so I just kind of flagged at her in the lane and she went on about her business."

Carrying 122 pounds, Lake Lady rolled under the wire in the flat-mile time of 1:38.17. Second-place finisher Charmed Gift proved she should relish the longer distances ahead with a sustained closing effort.

The Tiffany Lass was a weekend stakes double for Asmussen. "Nothing about her tells me she is a sprinter," Asmussen said while coordinating the throng in the winner's circle. "She hits the ground so nice. It's one thing to be 2-to-5 in a hundred grander first time going long, but the athlete that she is gives us total confidence."

Robert Beck (Coast To Coast Racing Fund), who owns Lake Lady, was relieved to see his filly run so well. "Being by Salt Lake, some people questioned if she could get two turns," Beck said. "But her stalking style is perfect for this distance. Hopefully, she can go out a little farther. She did it easy this time."  

(Chart, Equibase)