The Player, Good Samaritan Square Off in New Orleans Handicap
A small but talented group of six horses is set to contest the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) on March 24th at Fair Grounds.The main player in the nine-furlong race is, well, The Player, who will carry the top weight of 122 pounds. The five-year-old son of Street Hero showed promise two years ago with a runner-up effort in the Indiana Derby (gr. II) but has really stepped up to another level over the last six months or so, winning the Fayette Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland last fall and the Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III) at Fair Grounds last month.
Trained by Buff Bradley of Groupie Doll and Divisidero fame, The Player is versatile in terms of running style but has generally done his best work while racing on or near the lead. In the Mineshaft, The Player—equipped with blinkers for the first time—utilized his speed to gain a clear early lead on his way to a 4 ¼-length victory. The Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel, who has ridden The Player in his last five starts, will have the mount once again.
His main competition could come from Good Samaritan, winner of the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) last summer at Saratoga. Hailing from the barn of Bill Mott, Good Samaritan had somewhat of an inconsistent three-year-old season but ended the year with a runner-up effort in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, beaten just a half-length in a strong effort. Joel Rosario will be aboard Good Samaritan, who was assigned to carry 117 pounds.
Adding further depth to the field is Scuba (119 pounds), a seven-year-old gelding with wins in the Marathon Stakes (gr. II), Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. III), and Greenwood Cup (gr. III) on his record. However, the Brendan Walsh runner has historically excelled running longer distances and could find the nine-furlong distance of the New Orleans to be a bit short; he was third behind The Player going 8.5 furlongs in the Mineshaft Handicap last month.
The lightly-raced Leofric (116), runner-up in the Razorback Handicap (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park on February 19th, will be seeking the first stakes win of his career while stepping up in class. Han Sense (114), second in the Nashua Stakes (gr. II) in November 2016, and Hollywood Handsome (113), a competitor in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) last summer, complete the field.
The New Orleans Handicap is the eighth race on the Saturday card at Fair Grounds, with a projected post time of 4:39 p.m. Eastern.