Day 1 at Fair Grounds: Backside immersion

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

March 30th, 2017

NEW ORLEANS -- The forecast all week suggested that my first day at Fair Grounds would be a little wet. What I experienced Thursday morning was a virtual baptism.

Intermittent showers while traversing the backside with Fair Grounds' Michael Adolphson eventually turned into a soaking storm with lightning thrown into the mix. Seeking shelter in the Tom Amoss barn was a temporary option, but with no let-up in sight and an offer by the head man himself for a lift to the track's front side, the wisest choice seemed to go get dry and settle in upstairs. Visibility on the way to the racing office was not good and, as expected, the main track is a sea of slop and the turf course is getting a rest Thursday.

Paying a visit to the barns of Neil Howard and Brendan Walsh before Amoss', we had a look at some contenders on Saturday's Louisiana Derby (G2) program. Lecomte (G3) winner Guest Suite quietly snacked as Howard explained that he hoped to see the colt much closer to the pace Saturday than he was last time in the Risen Star (G2). New Orleans H. (G2) contender Eagle, who should improve off a recent comeback effort in the Mineshaft H. (G3), turned in a gallop after the break and got off the track just before the massive storm hit. Former Ambassador Will Farish, who owns Eagle and Guest Suite, the latter in partnership, is expected to be on hand Saturday.

Among Walsh's contenders Saturday are Mineshaft winner Honorable Duty in the New Orleans. Honorable Duty has won both the Mineshaft and the $75,000 Tenacious this meet in game fashion, the horse having hit a new peak since being gelded late last year.

Amoss will have Mo Tom in the New Orleans. The 2016 Lecomte winner was notably troubled in both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby following that win, but has managed only one top three placing, a victory in the Ohio Derby, in four tries since the Louisiana Derby. He was sixth in the Feb. 25 Mineshaft in his first start since September.

Despite always having had one of the longest stretches in the country, the perception that the track is in turn kind to rallying types is not true according to the long-time Fair Grounds mainstay and New Orleans native.

"This track has never been a track for deep closers," said Amoss when discussing the New Orleans Handicap. "I've been here a thousand years, but this year, more than any other year I've seen, it is hard to close on this track."

Whether that changes in time to help the likes of Mo Tom, or Eagle and others for that matter, remains to be seen.

Although rain and an off-track were a strong probability, I held back on posting spot plays for Thursday's card as a wait-and-see measure. I'll instead be giving periodic thoughts during the afternoon on my Twitter feed, @VPHanson, and will do the same Friday as the main track and turf course dry out. Also be on the lookout for an edition of "Turf Talk" with special guest John G. Dooley, the Fair Grounds track announcer, joining me this week.

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(Photo by Vance Hanson)