The current king and queen of Louisiana racing, Star Guitar and Superior Storm, are set to go for their record fourth crown each in the annual Louisiana Champions Day at Fair Grounds Dec. 11.
The 5-year-olds are the main attractions for an expanded 13-race program for the 20th renewal of the New Orleans event, which is restricted to Louisiana-bred horses. There will be an early 12:10 CST first post.
Star Guitar, who won last year's 1 1/8-mile Champions Day Classic by nearly eight lengths as the 1-5 choice, drew the rail for this year's $150,000 event, which is the ninth race on the card at 4:11 p.m. He'll face seven rivals.
In the $100,000 Champions Day Ladies at 1 1/16 miles, the million-dollar earner Superior Storm also has seven opponents in the day's sixth race at 2:37 p.m. The daughter of Stormy Atlantic , breaking from post 4, won the 2009 race last year over a sloppy track by 1 1/2 lengths as the 3-5 choice.
A heavy storm hit Fair Grounds on Champions Day last year and forced the postponement of the rest of the program, including Star Guitar's Classic victory, which was contested a week later on a fast track.
Trained by Al Stall Jr., Star Guitar also won the 2007 Champions Day Juvenile and the 2008 Champions Day Sprint. Superior Storm took down the Champions Day Lassie in 2007 and the Ladies for the first time in 2008.
Brittlyn Stable's homebred Star Guitar, closing in on the million-dollar mark in career earnings with $975,958, gets a rider switch this time, with Robby Albarado replacing Jesse Campbell. Campbell rode the son of Quiet American when fourth in the Gold Cup at Delta Downs Nov. 5, which was Star Guitar's first race in nearly three months.
Star Guitar has been working consistently over the Fair Grounds track for his return and breezed an easy half-mile Dec. 6 in :49 1/5.
“That was just about what I was looking for,” said Stall afterward. “He went fine. The important work was last week (when Star Guitar went a bullet five-eighths 1:00 2/5). He should be ready.”
Star Guitar is six-for-eight over the Fair Grounds main track and has logged 14 victories in 20 starts overall. His last victory came in the Evangeline Mile Handicap Aug. 14, his most recent race prior to the disappointing Delta Downs effort.
The favorite will have a pair of familiar rivals in the Classic. Heiligbrodt Racing Stable homebred Snug, who won the one-mile Gold Cup by 4 3/4 lengths at 28-1 odds, is back to the main track after running fourth in last year's Champions Day Turf. Valente Farms' Ide Like a Double, second in last year's Classic, also returns.
Star Guitar and Snug each carry 124 pounds.
Stall also entered Kissimmee Kyle, who was second in the Gold Cup at 30-1 after winning the John Franks Memorial Stakes at Louisiana Downs Aug. 28. The 4-year-old Gold Tribute gelding has finished in the money in his last nine races.
Jac Mac Stable’s Superior Storm looks formidable once again in the Ladies. She is coming off a neck victory in the restricted Magnolia Stakes over one mile at Delta Downs Nov. 5, which was her first race in more than four months. Albarado also gets the call, replacing John Jacinto.
Besides an outstanding record against state breds, Superior Storm has run some impressive races in open company. Last year she was easily second best to Seventh Street in Oaklawn’s Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) and then ran a close second to Wasted Tears in Lone Star Park’s Ouija Board Handicap (gr. IIIT) in her next start on grass.
“She’s always given her best effort every time I’ve led her over,” said trainer Richard Jackson, “but I really think she prefers a fast track over a sloppy one. Luckily, she was able to overcome the track conditions last year and still got the job done.
“I thought her last race at Delta (the Magnolia) was a good one and I feel like she’s coming up to this race just as good as she’s ever been.”
Superior Storm brings a 16-4-1 mark and earnings of $1,016,123 from 26 starts. Three-for-four with one second at Fair Grounds, she'll carry 118 pounds.
Harlie's Dreams, who was a fast-closing second in her stakes debut in the Magnolia at 39-1 and came back with a runner-up effort in the seven-furlong Orleans Stakes at Delta Nov. 20, will challenge. The field also includes Hisse, third in last year's Ladies and coming off a front-running 2 1/4-length optional claiming allowance tally on the turf at Remington Park Oct. 10 for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Big fields abound in most of the other Louisiana Champions Day races. Twelve 2-year-old fillies contest the $100,000 Lassie at six furlongs (race 7, 3:08 p.m.). Nine are entered in the $100,00 Turf at about 1 1/16 miles (race 8, 3:40 p.m.). The $100,000 Juvenile, at six furlongs, attracted 14 (race, 10, 4:43 p.m.). Ten will line up in the $100,000 Sprint at six furlongs (race 11, 5:15 p.m.) and 15 close out the series in the $100,000 Ladies Sprint (race 12, 5:46 p.m.).
Desert Wheat has won the Turf twice, including last year's event, in four tries. Also returning off a win in 2009 is Flashy Wise Cat in the Sprint.
$150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic (Race 9, 4:11 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Star Guitar (LA), R Albarado, 124, A M Stall Jr.
2. Snug (LA), G Melancon, 124, J C Hudson
3. Eighth At Citypark (LA), B J Hernandez Jr., 118, S Breaux
4. Kissimmee Kyle (LA), T Agilar, 118, A M Stall Jr.
5. Ide Like a Double (LA), J Graham, 118, B J Gilbert
6. Twilight Ross (LA), R E Eramia, 118, C Candies
7. Sadie's Soldier (LA), K D Clark, 115, B A Brinkman
8. Productive Envoy (LA), E Martin Jr., 115, T J Richey