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Optimizer goes for second Big Easy grass win

A front-running victor of the Grade 3 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap last month, Optimizer will seek a second victory in a row over the Fair Grounds lawn in the track's eponymous Grade 3, $150,000 Handicap at about 1 1/8 miles on Saturday.

Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and ridden to victory in both of his Grade 3 successes by Jon Court, Optimizer set very soft fractions en route to a 3 1/2-length triumph in the Bradley, and on paper will not have much competition for the lead in this race either. The opposition is stronger this time, however, and is led by Grade 2 veteran Willcox Inn, who lacked a clear path in the stretch when settling for third in the Grade 3 John B. Connally Turf Cup in his seasonal bow.

Grade 1-placed stakes scorer Bim Bam, a solid third in the Bradley in just his second start off a one-year-layoff, might fare better with a stronger pace ahead of him. The same can also be said for Bradley also-rans Unlatch and Strike Impact.

Making their first appearances of the season are Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby upsetter Two Months Rent and Quality Control, a Tom Amoss-trained Brazilian import who won twice at the Group 3 level in his native land. Others who might land a share are the eight-year-old veteran Golden Yank, who possesses a solid, if unlucky, 8-1-5-0 mark on turf, and the allowance-class Hyper, who will be guided by the recently un-retired Hall of Famer Gary Stevens.

The Grade 3, $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap features a rematch of Infrattini and Mark Valeski, who occupied the top two slots in the January 19 Louisiana Handicap over the same 1 1/16-mile trip.

Infrattini, an Include gelding trained by Paul McGee, entered the Louisiana off a dominating allowance win at Churchill Downs in November, and showed grit overcoming a wide trip around both turns to overtake Mark Valeski by three parts of a length. Mark Valeski, a close second in both the Risen Star and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby last season, was making his first start day since taking the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont last May.

Golden Ticket, dead-heat winner of the Grade 1 Travers last term, ships in from Gulfstream Park after notching a second-level allowance by 5 1/4 lengths last month. Others of note are last year's Louisiana Derby upsetter Hero of Order, a fine second against allowance foes in a local allowance several weeks ago, and the Bernie Flint-trained Cool Street, who makes his stakes debut having won his last four over the Fair Grounds strip including three allowances.

Grade 1 queen Daisy Devine will have her final prep for the April 13 Grade 1 Jenny Wiley in the $75,000 Bayou Handicap at about 1 1/16 miles on the turf. The five-year-old daughter of Kafwain will lug a career-high 126 pounds as she seeks to extend her perfect Fair Grounds turf mark to five races.

Currently in the midst of a three-stakes win streak, Daisy Devine faces eight rivals, most of whom she easily dispensed with in the January 26 Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap or the December 22 Blushing K.D. Handicap. Last year's Jenny Wiley heroine will concede at least 12 pounds to each of her opponents, including 2012 Bayou winner Artemus Kitten.

The $60,000 Gentilly, an about one-mile turf event for Louisiana-bred three-year-olds, has attracted a competitive field of nine. Success will be dependent on which of the leading candidates, none of whom have tried the grass before, best handles the surface.

Sunbeam, who also holds an entry in the Risen Star as an also-eligible, perhaps has the potential moving to the sod. A nose away from being perfect in three starts, the Louisiana Futurity winner is a son of Grade 1 turf hero Brahms.

Two-time stakes winner Hero Force and five-time stakes-placed Heitai will also garner looks, as well as the stakes-placed Nubin Ridge and recent graduates Hopeful Notion and Skip the Pinot.

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