Duty calls again in New Orleans

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Honorable Duty needed every inch of 9 furlongs and the long Fair Grounds stretch to collect his third stakes victory – and second graded score – of the meeting in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap Saturday.

The improving 5-year-old son of Distorted Humor stuck his head in front of pacesetting Breaking Lucky just two strides before the wire to get up and win the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap under James Graham. The victory capped off an undefeated Fair Grounds campaign and Sunday Honorable Duty was named horse of the meeting.

The victory in the New Orleans Handicap proved anything but easy. Honorable Duty was nearly 15 lengths behind Breaking Lucky and eventual third-place finisher Iron Fist at one point on the backstretch. Breaking Lucky shook off Iron Fist at the top of the stretch and looked to be a very likely winner, but a strong early pace ended up taking its toll on the frontrunner. Graham got Honorable Duty into the clear at the eighth-pole and the pair got up to win by a neck.

“He’s getting better and better with every start,” Graham said on his walk back to the jockey’s room. “Down the lane he laid his neck down and he’s jumping from here to the end of the paddock.”

James Breeden bought up Honorable Duty for owner David Ross at the 2015 Keeneland November breeding stock sale and put up $130,000 to do so. At the time, he was an 0-for-3 colt late in his 3-year-old year who had only raced on turf. Now, he is a Grade 2-winning 5-year-old gelding on the dirt.

Trainer Brendan Walsh said the decision to geld Honorable Duty before his victory in the Tenacious Stakes in December was not easy at the time, but seemed like the only choice left.

“He got to the point where his mind was getting the better of him, so we did it and he’s done nothing wrong since,” Walsh said. “The boy that rides him, the kid that grooms him, they’ve done a super job with him. Every little thing counts.”

Walsh added that the Grade 2 Alysheba on the Kentucky Oaks undercard would be a likely next target for Honorable Duty.


Farrell remains undefeated at 3

Farrell completed her sweep of the local Kentucky Oaks preps with another impressive performance in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, continuing the success of New Orleans-based runners winning preps for major prizes later this spring at Churchill Downs.

The bay filly was on the muscle in the paddock, but it was a different story once the running began.

“She’s terrific and just keeps getting better and better,” winning jockey Channing Hill said. “She settled extremely well today. I didn’t ask her until we left the eighth pole, and I still had a ton of horse.”

Ridden with confidence, Farrell raced three-wide and just off the leaders until she moved up effortlessly to take the lead at the top of the stretch. Despite jumping tire tracks left by the starting gate just before the sixteenth pole, the victory was never in danger. She won by 3 1/4 lengths from Wicked Lick, who edged Vexatious in a photo for place.

“She’s doing everything we’ve asked her to do, and she’s coming around and she’s maturing,” trainer Wayne Catalano said. “She’s really learning, and I take my hat off to the whole crew.”

A homebred for her owner Coffeepot Stables, Farrell is by Malibu Moon and out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Rebridled Dreams, which makes her a half-sister to dual Grade 1 winner Carpe Diem.

The winner of last year’s Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill, Farrell now heads back to Louisville as one of the favorites for the May 5 Oaks.


Career form at age 6

In one of many thrilling finishes on Louisiana Derby Day, Enterprising proved best in a three-way photo finish in the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Handicap.

Breaking from the rail under Tyler Gaffalione, Enterprising saved ground while racing in mid-pack for much of the race. Enterprising was the fourth member of a rhombus-shaped Mike Maker-trained quartet as the field started to bend for home. Gaffalione and the 6-year-old gelding by Elusive Quality engaged stablemate Oscar Nominated at the eighth-pole, took the lead at the sixteenth-pole just after Gaffalione dropped his stick and held off a late surge from 9-5 favorite Kasaqui to win by a neck. Kasaqui out-nodded Oscar Performance for the runner-up spot.

Enterprising looked like one of the best 3-year-old turf horses of his crop when he made big late runs to win the Oceanside and Grade 3 La Jolla Stakes at Del Mar in 2014 for trainer Tom Proctor and owner and breeder Glen Hill Farm. Unfortunately for those connections, he did not win again until last May, in an allowance at Belmont Park. Eventually sold privately, he started to race for Sidney Karmia’s Maxis Stable last August.

“I bought three horses privately from Glen Hill,” Karmia said.

Transferred to Maker at that point, Enterprising is as good as ever. Prior to his score Saturday he won the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap and finished second in the Sunshine Millions Turf in late January at Gulfstream Park.

“We were here five weeks ago and won the Grade 3, and I was just in awe,” Karmia said. “We were booked two months out to just come to Mardi Gras and didn’t even know the horse was running. Mike said we’re going to have to come back on Louisiana Derby Day. It’s worked out well.”


Mr. Al’s Gall all heart

Trainer Justin Jeansonne was asked how he was doing as he watched his 2-5 favorite Mr. Al’s Gal stride off with her pony after the post parade before Saturday’s $75,000 Crescent City Oaks.

“Hopefully better after this race,” an anxious Jeansonne replied.

The daughter of Salute The Sarge gave Jeansonne reason to feel better when she came through again for her trainer and Evelyn Benoit’s Brittlyn Stable for her fourth state-bred stakes victory in a row. Under jockey Richard Eramia, Mr. Al’s Gal broke sharp, established an early lead, set a strong pace and held off Rose Guitar by a half-length.

Originally a $1,000 purchase at the 2015 Equine Sales of Louisiana open yearling and mixed sale, Benoit bought privately Mr. Al’s Gal after an impressive 12 3/4-length victory in the Louisiana Futurity on New Year’s Eve.

Unlike many private transactions, Benoit made the decision to leave Mr. Al’s Gal with Jeansonne instead of transferring her to another trainer.

“This boy has done a remarkable job, his little daughter feeds her every day, so it’s a family thing. She was named after his Dad who passed away,” Benoit said. “What can you say other than I think she is, hands down, the best filly in right now in Louisiana. She’s got that heart, that’s hard to breed. When you see a talent like this, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. I’m lucky that people have enough faith in me to take the horse.”

Notes: Darrell and Sadie Brommer’s Prado’s Sweet Ride started off the day’s stakes action with an upset victory over Cash Control in the $50,000 New Orleans Ladies Overnight. Trained by Richard Scherer and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., the 5-year-old Illinois-bred daughter of Fort Prado won by three quarters of a length over 2-5 favorite Cash Control. … Dan Casey’s and Elite Thoroughbred Racing’s True Emperor posted the biggest upsets of the day winning the $75,000 Crescent City Derby under Jose Riquelme for trainer Lee Thomas. Sent off at 29-1 in the field of 13, the colt by Yes It’s True led from the start and cruised home 2 ½ lengths in front of favored Underpressure and Hernandez. … Whispering Oaks Farm’s Eden’s Grey Kitten, the 7-2 third choice under Florent Geroux, won the day’s final stakes when he got up by a half-length over Icy Gentleman to take the $60,000 Costa Rising for Louisiana-breds. … The Fair Grounds meet wrapped up Sunday and trainer Brad Cox collected his first training crown in New Orleans with 43 wins and a 28-percent strike rate. Cox finished with eight more wins than runner-up Joe Sharp, who saddled Girvin to victory in the featured Louisiana Derby Saturday. Florent Geroux defended his title in the jockey’s race, winning 98 races and $2,856,618 in purses. Robby Albarado finished second with 61 wins and Mitchell Murrill third with 60. Keith Plaisance won his first owner’s title with 14 victories, topping defending champ Midwest Thoroughbreds by one win.