International Star, Chocolate Ride seek to enhance Fair Grounds legacies

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

March 21st, 2016

The older horses International Star and Chocolate Ride love Fair Grounds as much as anyone around, thus are seemingly the ones to beat in the $400,000 New Orleans H. (G2) and $400,000 Muniz Memorial H. (G2), respectively, on Saturday.

International Star, who swept Fair Grounds' series for three-year-olds last year including the Louisiana Derby (G2), turned back Eagle and Ride On Curlin in the $75,000 Louisiana in mid-January, but ran below par when last of four in last month's Mineshaft H. (G3). It was his only loss to date over the track, but an inside bias arguably helped Majestic Harbor to an upset victory and seemingly hampered runner-up Eagle to some degree.

Eagle, the 2-1 morning line favorite for the nine-furlong New Orleans, looked smart capturing the $60,000 Tenacious in December under a hand ride but hung late when poised to surge past rivals in both the Louisiana and Mineshaft. Meanwhile, Majestic Harbor figures to show speed again, though his staying power can be found wanting at times.

Super Derby (G2) winner Mobile Bay and Grade 3 veteran Jessica's Star join the fray after finishing a neck apart in the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston last month. Freestyler, the beaten favorite in the Gold Cup, ran a clear second to Eagle in the Tenacious in his only previous start in the Big Easy.

Chocolate Ride, who has won six of seven over the Fair Grounds turf course, seeks to defend his title in the Muniz at about 1 1/8 miles. If he does so, he will have swept the track's three graded stakes for turf runners, a series that began in January with the Colonel E.R. Bradley H. (G3) and continued last month in the Fair Grounds H. (G3).

The six-year-old gelding's win margins were less than a length in each of those victories, and the 124-pound impost he bears in the Muniz might help others narrow the gap. Roman Approval finished second in both the Bradley and Fair Grounds and has been in consistently good stakes form since last summer.

A quartet of invaders from Florida could also factor. Multiple Grade 3 winner World Approval exits a sharp, wire-to-wire allowance win at Gulfstream, while Take the Stand narrowly missed registering a 61-1 upset in the Tampa Bay (G3) for Bill Mott. The Hall of Fame conditioner also saddles Grade 1-placed stakes winner Closing Bell. Can'thelpbelieving was second best to eventual Mac Diarmida (G2) hero Grand Tito in a February 13 allowance at Gulfstream last time.

The Louisiana Derby Day card also features numerous state-bred stakes as well as the $50,000 New Orleans Ladies, an open event for older fillies and mares at about 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Tuttipaesi, Cash Control, and Mizz Money are among the favorites in that overnight stakes.

(Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography)