NEW ORLEANS -- Denis of Cork, who wintered at Fair Grounds last season before making an impact on the Triple Crown trail, is recovering nicely from the injury that sidelined him early this summer, and trainer David Carroll hopes to have the colt back in his barn by mid-January. If things move along smoothly, Denis of Cork could be ready in time for the New Orleans Handicap March 14 - a big "if" with a horse coming back from a long break.
Carroll typically enjoys successful Fair Grounds meetings, and usually has a promising youngster or two that winter in New Orleans.
Besides Denis of Cork, the useful Blackberry Road raced in all three Fair Grounds 3-year-old stakes last season, and that horse's owner, the Dogwood Stable, has another colt named Coal Baron who could see stakes action here. Coal Baron lost twice in sprint races, but drew away to win a two-turn Churchill maiden race by more than three lengths on Nov. 5.
Carroll said Coal Baron would run in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill before shipping in to Fair Grounds.
Also in the Carroll barn and headed to New Orleans after she starts in the Glorious Song at Woodbine on Saturday is the unbeaten 2-year-old filly Selva.
Acoma, the 3-year-old filly who impressively won a pair of graded turf stakes in Kentucky this fall, is "getting a couple months off," Carroll said, and will come back into training later in the Fair Grounds meet.
As for Denis of Cork, he has moved to Vinery Farm in Ocala, Fla., after spending the summer at Fares Farm in Kentucky, recovering from what Carroll called a pre-condylar fracture in his hind ankle. The injury, which merely required rest to heal, occurred after Denis of Cork finished second in the Belmont and a troubled third in the Kentucky Derby after winning a Fair Grounds allowance race as a prep for a career-best run in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn.
The Vinery facility has a Pro-Ride training track, and Denis of Cork is ready to begin light exercise on his way back to action.
"I went to see him every week, except when we were in Saratoga," Carroll said. "Fares Farm did a wonderful job, and he looks great. I'm really happy with him."
Training races make a comeback
Fair Grounds handicappers will note a new wrinkle in the workout lines of many horses based at the Evangeline Training Center in Lafayette - training races.
The training center has been in operation since 2005, and can house some 2,000 horses, but the training races are a new development, according to Jason Boulet, current racing secretary at Fair Grounds and the former racing secretary at the Evangeline Downs racetrack. The races began about two months ago, occur every two weeks, and are contested over 4 1/2 furlongs.
Boulet said that Charles Ashy Jr., who runs the training center, "kind of designed the training races after the old Fair Grounds training races."
Until a few years ago, unraced horses making their career debut here at Fair Grounds were required to participate in a Wednesday morning training race before they could be entered. Ashy, Boulet said, has opened things up at Evangeline to let horses with prior race experience start in one of the training races.
Chamberlain Bridge moves up
A few weeks ago, trainer Bret Calhoun had a glut of horses that could run in turf-sprint stakes, but Calhoun's strength in the division has thinned. Euroears is sticking to dirt for now, and Mr. Nightlinger is getting a rest. That leaves Chamberlain Bridge, who won a Keeneland turf-sprint stakes and a Churchill turf-sprint allowance in his two most recent races, as Calhoun's horse for one-turn races on the Fair Grounds grass course.
The Fair Grounds turf-sprint-stakes schedule for older males is not especially lucrative. There is the $60,000 Bonapaw on Dec. 20, followed by the $75,000 Colonel Power on Feb. 7, and Chamberlain Bridge would figure to be a candidate for both spots.
Calhoun also said the multiple graded-stakes-winning filly Storm Mesa has been sent out for a winter break.