The Fair Grounds Handicap (gr. IIIT) Feb. 20 has a certain "local flavor" that people in New Orleans will love. While nine older runners passed the entry box for the about nine-furlong feature tucked between the Twinspires.com Rachel Alexandra Stakes and Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes (both gr. II), two stand out as local legends. Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Saturday, February 20, 2016, Race 10
Chocolate Ride, the defending winner of the Fair Grounds 'Cap, and state-bred hero String King have combined to make 19 starts over the turf course at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Their 11-4-1 record in those races and $813,484 in earnings speak volumes for their affinity of the surface.
Chocolate Ride, a 6-year-old gelding by Candy Ride , is the 7-5 morning-line choice for the race as he has won five straight races over the course. Following an allowance win and a score in this race a year ago, the Brad Cox-trained runner took the Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Handicap (gr. IIT) March 28. He returned as good as new Nov.27 to win an allowance optional claiming race and the Jan. 16 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap (gr. IIIT).
Always close or on the pace, Chocolate Ride drew well in post 6 and will again be ridden by Florent Geroux. He'll tote top weight of 123 pounds.
The majority of Charles Smith's String King's wins have come against state-breds although he won last year's Bradley. Beaten a nose Dec. 12 in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf Stakes, he was fifth in this year's Bradley behind top three Chocolate Ride, Roman Approval, and Blarp, who all come back in the FG 'Cap. A crisp :35 3/5 three-furlong breeze Feb. 13 may set him up for a sharper effort.
Three Diamonds Farm's Roman Approval is the 4-1 second choice off his Bradley effort and stakes-placing last fall in the Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes (gr. IIIT). The 5-year-old son of Roman Ruler should appreciate an extra sixteenth from his last start and second trip over the course.
Local product Al Stall Jr. will send out Departing, who is listed as the 9-2 third choice. Relatively new to turf racing the 6-year-old son of War Front did win the Firecracker Stakes (gr. IIT) over Churchill Downs' turf last June and comes to Fair Grounds off a good second in Oaklawn's Fifth Season Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 16.
Robert Persons and Earl Conrad Sanderson Jr.'s Blarp is also by War Front. Trained by Joe Sharp, the 5-year-old as posted Equibase Speed Figures good enough to be considered a player here.
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Wireless Future (KY) Corey J. Lanerie 116 Thomas M. Amoss 8/1 2 2Potomac River (KY) Juan P. Vargas 115 Jeff Engler 20/1 3 3Roman Approval (KY) Javier Castellano 118 Michael J. Maker 4/1 4 4Pumpkin Rumble (PA) Mitchell Murrill 116 Gary M. Scherer 12/1 5 5Same As (KY) Francisco C. Torres 112 Jeff Engler 20/1 6 6Chocolate Ride (KY) Florent Geroux 123 Brad H. Cox 7/5 7 7Departing (KY) John R. Velazquez 121 Albert M. Stall, Jr. 9/2 8 8Blarp (KY) Colby J. Hernandez 116 Joe Sharp 8/1 9 9String King (LA) James Graham 116 Charles Craig Smith 10/1
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Saturday, February 20, 2016, Race 10