NEW ORLEANS -- That was more like it.
Friesan Fire threw in a clunker, finishing third as the 2-5 favorite in a Dec. 3 allowance race comeback from a long layoff. But he looked like a different horse -- like the horse that won the 2009 Louisiana Derby -- winning the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds.
Leading all the way under Shaun Bridgmohan, Friesan Fire ($5.80) dictated a moderate tempo on the way to a 1 3/4-length victory over General Quarters. The winner set splits of 24.64 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 48.44 for his first half, and a steady 1:12.38 for six furlongs, passing the mile marker in a swift 1:36.77 before finishing up in 1:43.39, a fine 1 1/16-mile time on a track playing fast.
"In his comeback race, he just got tired," Bridgmohan said. "Today, with a race under his belt, he was much better."
Bridgmohan said Friesan Fire's strong stretch run impressed him.
"He ran a real powerful race," he said.
Powerful, but not a peak performance, said Steve Asmussen, who trains Friesan Fire for the Vinery Stable and Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farms.
"He looked good to me, but I don't think he was all the way back," Asmussen said.
Friesan Fire became unsettled in the paddock before his Dec. 3 start, and after going without blinkers last time, Asmussen put them on again Saturday. He said Friesan Fire displayed improved behavior before the Louisiana Handicap, "but you want him to be better."
General Quarters, who was 7 1/2 lengths better than third-place Good and Lucky, ran well in defeat, closing from third behind a soft pace. Robby Albarado said he followed owner-trainer Tom McCarthy's instructions to take back and make one run.
"That was a really good horse in front of me," Albarado said.
Gaudin: Cash Refund romps
Cash Refund dueled early with Euroears before settling the score at the half-mile pole and cruising to a 2 1/2-length victory in the $75,000 Gaudin Memorial.
The expected early duel between the favorite Euroears and Cash Refund resulted in a first quarter of 21.20 seconds, as the two leaders opened up a six-length lead over the field.
"He does everything so fast you are sort of at his mercy," said jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., the rider of Cash Refund. "You just stay out of his way."
At the half mile, Cash Refund's lead was a length over Euroears, and Hernandez felt the race was well in hand.
"He made the 44 seem so easy," said Hernandez. "I knew he had enough left to finish."
Cash Refund finished the six furlongs in 1:09.56 and paid $6.60 to win as the second choice. Euroears faded badly, finishing sixth in the seven-horse field. Sok Sok finished second, three-quarters of a length in front of Grand Traverse.
The victory took Cash Refund's record to four wins and a second from five starts, and did not come as a surprise to his trainer Steve Margolis.
"He came to the paddock on tilt," said Margolis. "He's a cool horse to be around and he takes off like a rocket."
For the favorite Euroears, it was his first loss in six races at the Fair Grounds.
"I think a lot of it was exhaustion from the hot, hot pace," said trainer Bret Calhoun. "He didn't break great and we were chasing."
- Abram Himelstein
Tiffany Lass: Jody Slew aided by pace
Jody Slew had been privately purchased as a turf prospect last fall, and she might have stayed in the barn Saturday had trainer Bret Calhoun's fast 3-year-old filly Speedacious not been forced to miss the Tiffany Lass Stakes. But a confluence of events landed Jody Slew in the Tiffany Lass, and with help from a wicked early pace, Jodi Slew landed a 23-1 upset.
Jody Slew broke slowly under Miguel Mena and had one horse beat into the first turn of the $75,000 Tiffany Lass, and that was a good thing. Up front, Elusive Jozi on the inside and Sheer Beauty on the outside waged a furious duel, passing the half-mile in a testing 46.02 seconds. In the first wave of pursuers sat 4-5 favorite Quiet Temper, who attacked coming into the stretch but quickly flattened out. Quiet Temper, so impressive in her last two starts, moved up for a couple strides, then fell quickly back, finishing fifth in a field reduced to eight by two scratches.
"By the time I straightened up she had no run," said jockey Robby Albarado.
But Jody Slew did. Martin Racing Stable and Dan Morgan purchased the filly late last year on the strength of her third-place grass finish in the Caressing Stakes at Churchill. Calhoun toyed with the idea of sending Jody Slew to Gulfstream for a grass stakes this weekend, decided against it, and tossed the filly into the Tiffany Lass for lack of a better option.
"There was nowhere else for her to run on the grass," said Calhoun.
Jody Slew launched her rally on the far turn, and by midstretch she had reached contention on the far outside. "She was flying," said winning rider Miguel Mena.
With Bella Medaglia, who finished second, and Tidal Pool, the eventual show horse, embroiled in a bumping match to her inside, Jody Slew swooped to the lead in the final half-furlong, winning by a half-length. The winner was timed in 1:40.84 for one mile and 40 yards, and paid $48.60 to win.
"If she comes back healthy and sound, we'll run her back in the Silverbulletday," Calhoun said. "Why not?"
Why not, indeed. Jody Slew already has done the improbable.
- Marcus Hersh
Bradley: El Caballo returns a winner
El Caballo hadn't raced since June and was making his first start back from a long injury layoff in the $98,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley Stakes, but trainer Ralph Nicks had him ready. El Caballo picked up where he left off before getting hurt, winning the Bradley by 3 1/4 lengths in a fine performance.
Ridden by Albarado, El Caballo ($5.40) was never far removed from the leaders while racing on a turf course labeled good and playing slow. The two early leaders, Tend and Swains News, melted without any resolve, with El Caballo taking over in midstretch. Albarado kept El Caballo focused through the final furlong, and the 6-year-old horse was never challenged. Get Rich Quick made a mild late move for second, with Vanquisher third. Princeville Condo, second choice and favored for much of the betting, never fired and wound up fifth. Jockey Cisco Torres said Princeville Condo did not care for the soft going. The winner was timed in 1:46.26 for 1 1/16 miles.
El Caballo suffered a condylar fracture while working toward the Firecracker Handicap last summer, and the injury required surgery to insert screws and stabilize the joint. Nicks said he took plenty of time bringing El Caballo back, and El Caballo's form seems in no way diminished by the injury. Nicks said he and owner Jim Spence would pass the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, the next race in the older horse turf division, and await the March 28 Mervin Muniz Handicap, a race in which El Caballo finished second by a nose last year.
- Marcus Hersh
Leggio: Annihilation finishes fast
Bumped at the start and taken back, Annihilation made up for lost time with a strong turn of foot to win the $75,000 Leggio Stakes by a length.
"I actually thought I'd be closer, but she got wiped out leaving the gate," said jockey James Graham. "I let her get her feet underneath her."
Annihilation was five lengths behind pacesetting Lady Chace at the top of the stretch when Graham asked her for more.
"I just asked her to quicken and she did," said Graham. "She really ran big."
Annihilation went outside and ran down Lady Chace, then held off a late charge by Coy Cat, finishing a length in front. Simplify's late charge for second place fell just a head short of catching Coy Cat.
Annihilation went the 5 1/2 furlongs over the Fair Grounds turf in 1:04.94. She paid $12.80 to win and earned $45,000 for her connections, trainer Dan Hendricks and owner Alex Solis.
- Abram Himelstein