Haltered for a hefty $150,000 at Churchill Downs in early November, Pioneer Spirit started paying dividends for his new connections on Saturday when holding on to win the $75,000 Tenacious at Fair Grounds by a head over the favored Blended Citizen, with Lone Sailor a half-length behind in third.
The Tenacious, for older horses at a mile and 70 yards, was the feature on the six-stakes “Santa Super Saturday” program at the New Orleans track. However, extremely wet conditions throughout the afternoon resulted in numerous scratches and the transfer of three stakes originally scheduled for the turf to the sloppy main track.
Pioneer Spirit, now trained by Robertino Diodoro, was claimed from the barn of Brad Cox, who trains Blended Citizen. A 6-year-old by Malibu Moon, Pioneer Spirit now races for Lawrence Roman, Heads Up Racing, and Lucky Dog Stables.
The second choice in the Tenacious, Pioneer Spirit paid $8.20 after completing the course in 1:44.09 under David Cohen. Pioneer Spirit has also won the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Grand twice, and placed in three other stakes earlier this year, including the Oaklawn H. (G2).
“The track was playing to early pace so I wanted to be in a good spot,” said Cohen. “I think there’s a stake for him opening day at Oaklawn, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Pioneer Sprit increased his bankroll to $696,578 and his mark to 28-11-4-7 with the victory.
The $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial for older horses wound up being run under nearly identical conditions as the Tenacious after it was washed off the turf. Cross-entered to both was Captivating Moon, who took the path of least resistance and started in the 1 1/16-mile Diliberto, which scratched down to a field of five.
The 11-10 favorite, Captivating Moon won by 1 3/4 lengths over Space Mountain, with Factor This a distant third. The winner paid $4.20 after completing the course in 1:45.82 under Brian Hernandez Jr.
Owned by Lothenbach Stables and trained by Chris Block, Captivating Moon spent a large share of his early career on turf. He placed eight times in stakes on the grass, four at graded level. The Diliberto was the first stakes win for the 4-year-old Malibu Moon colt, who’s bankrolled $390,609 from a line of 19-4-6-5.
Unveiled to great acclaim last month at Churchill Downs, Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Taraz won even more stylishly in the $75,000 Letellier Memorial, the first of the afternoon’s stakes.
Under Florent Geroux, Taraz took an early lead and extended it 11 1/4 lengths at the wire over second choice Ursula. Sweet Kisses ran third in the field of five juvenile fillies. Taraz returned $2.80 after completing 6 furlongs in 1:10.83.
Winner of both starts by a combined margin of 18 3/4 lengths, the Brad Cox-trained daughter of Into Mischief has now bankrolled $102,412.
“She felt great underneath me,” said Geroux. “One of the best horses I’ve been on feeling what I had underneath me. We’ve liked her from the beginning and sometimes you don’t know how they will perform in the afternoon, especially with an off track like today, but she handled it perfect. The goal is to stretch her out and run her long, we just wanted to sprint her one more time and give her a race.”
In the other 2-year-old event of the day, the $75,000 Sugar Bowl, Gold Street lived up to expectations as the even-money favorite, scoring by 3 1/2 lengths over Amongst, with Axiomo third. Owned by Mike McCarty, trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., Gold Street paid $4 and covered 6 furlongs in 1:11.20.
A son of Street Boss, Gold Street required four starts to break his maiden, but did so emphatically when splashing home seven lengths ahead in the slop at Churchill Downs on Nov. 23. His record now stands at 5-2-2-0, $135,218.
Notapradaprice, who had captured the Dr. James Penny Memorial (G3) and All Along S. on grass earlier this year, handled the wet going just as effectively in the $75,000 Blushing K. D. for fillies and mares.
Leading wire-to-wire under Corey Lanerie, Notapradaprice passed the wire 6 1/2 lengths in front of Stave, with Avie’s Mineshaft third. The favored Oh My ran last of seven in a race originally scheduled for the turf. The final time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:45.88.
Owned by Stonehaven Steadings, Notapradaprice was sold for $150,000 at Keeneland November following her victory in the Sept. 28 All Along at Laurel. Moving from the barn of John Servis to Eddie Kenneally, she was a flat 10th on testing ground in the Nov. 28 Cardinal (G3) at Churchill Downs in her first start for her present connections. A five-year-old by Paddy O’Prado, Notapradaprice has now earned $509,650 from a line of 28-9-7-3.
Claimed two starts previously for $80,000, Pete’s Play Call relished the off conditions with a 2 1/2-length victory over the favored Wilbo in the $75,000 Bonapaw, also originally scheduled for the turf.
Owned by Michael Hui, Hooties Racing, and WSS Racing, the 6-year-old, Maryland-bred son of Munnings splashed home in 1:04.38 for 5 1/2 furlongs under Ricardo Santana Jr. Star of Kodiak was third.
Now trained by Mike Maker, Pete’s Play Call was winning his stakes debut and improved his career mark to 33-9-6-6, $402,776.