Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas looks to continue his hot streak in the $125,000 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, sending out Optimizer in the Jan. 26 turf test for older males.
The 1 1/16-mile E.R. Bradley has drawn a field of nine topped by 120-pound highweight James Street, and will go off as race nine with an approximate post of 4:55 p.m. CST. It was originally scheduled to be run Jan. 19, but was held a week to allow the turf course to dry after heavy rainfall in the New Orleans area.
Optimizer, winner of the Kent Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Delaware Park in September for owner Brad Kelley's Bluegrass Hall, could bring Lukas to the winner's circle he visited last weekend with Oxbow after capturing the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III). The longtime horseman also sent Will Take Charge to victory in the Jan. 21 Smarty Jones Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park.
Last out Optimizer ran third in the Dec. 15 Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes (gr. IIT), finishing well in spite of getting squeezed between rivals midstretch. Jon Court makes up part of a 117-pound impost for the 4-year-old son of English Channel from post 7.
Melnyk Racing Stable's James Street, winner of the Autumn Stakes (Can-II) at Woodbine at the beginning of November, looks to improve off a fifth-place finish in the Dec. 22 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap. The 6-year-old El Prado runner trained by Josie Carroll finished willingly but did not get there in time in the 1 1/16-mile event, which was won by Strike Impact.
Strike Impact, owned by trainer Pat Dupuy in partnership with Chester Miller, is a 9-year-old Smart Strike veteran who will be making his 70th start in the E.R. Bradley. Last year he also won the Independence Day Stakes at Mountaineer Park, and was third in the E.R. Bradley 2012 edition.
Another old-timer is David P. Holloway Racing's Dubious Miss, third in the Buddy Dilberto in his most recent start for trainer Paul McGee. The 9-year-old gelded son of E Dubai was second in the E.R. Bradley in 2012 by 1 1/2 lengths after getting steadied at the sixteenth pole. He finished 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Strike Impact but could not close fast enough to catch frontrunner Mr. Vegas, who wired the field.
Local hope String King faces open company after taking two straight Louisiana-bred stakes, most recently the Louisiana Champions Day Turf Stakes, on the Fair Grounds lawn. The 5-year-old Crowned King gelding will start for owner/trainer Charlie Smith.
"I'm really looking forward to it," said Smith of the prospect of running String King against open company. "I've been kind of dancing over the past performances of all the horses in the race and I don't think we're outclassed at all. The way I look at it, none of those others better stub their toe if they want to beat us.
"The only thing that bothers me about Saturday is that we drew the rail, and the rail is not a very good post to have on the turf course at Fair Grounds," Smith continued. "However, I've got James Graham as my rider, and he's a good enough jock to get him off the rail shortly after the start and get him out somewhere around the three-path."
Amerman Racing's recent allowance winner Tetradrachm, Adele Dilschneider's lightly raced 4-year-old Unlatch (winner of the Nov. 23 Woodchopper Stakes last out), Chuck and Ella Lou Hagerman's Bim Bam, and Stone Farm's Trend complete the field.
$125,000 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap (gr. IIIT), 4YOs & Up, 1 1/16 miles (turf, rail at 25 feet)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. String King (LA), J. Graham, 115, C C Smith
2. James Street (KY), J. Jacinto, 120, J. Carroll
3. Strike Impact (KY), S. Bridgmohan, 117, P J Dupuy
4. Unlatch (KY), B.J. Hernandez, Jr. 115, A M Stall Jr.
5. Bim Bam (FL), G. Melancon, 115, S M Asmussen
6. Trend (KY), R.E. Eramia, 113, M Stidham
7. Optimizer (KY), J.K. Court, 117, D W Lukas
8. Tetradrachm (KY), L.R. Goncalves, 114, P J McGee