The handicap conditions in place for decades have been removed from the re-named $400,000 New Orleans Classic (G2), but Silver Dust will still be asked to concede four pounds to all rivals in the 1 1/8-mile feature for older horses at Fair Grounds on Saturday.
A close second last season when run for the last time as the New Orleans Handicap, Silver Dust has since proved a reliable member of the regional division. Although disqualified from his score in the Jan. 18 Louisiana (G3) due to a medication positive, the Tapit gelding maintained his strong current form with a victory over Gun It in the Mineshaft (G3) last month.
By My Standards, a stablemate to Silver Dust who captured the Louisiana Derby (G2) last term, looms as potentially the major threat. Elevated to 11th in the Kentucky Derby (G1) after a rough trip, the Bret Calhoun trainee was subsequently out of action until Feb. 9, when he captured a second-level allowance by a commanding six lengths.
Lone Sailor, third in the 2019 New Orleans, was beaten just a half-length in the Tenacious S. in December, and followed up with a photo-finish allowance at Oaklawn in his most recent start on Jan. 31. The Tom Amoss charge has just three wins from 24 starts, but has reliably placed in numerous graded stakes nationwide.
Todd Pletcher won the New Orleans Handicap a record six times from 2007 through 2014, and will attempt for a seventh with third-time starter Fearless. The son Ghostzapper made a belated career debut at Gulfstream in late December, winning by three parts of a length, but was a more convincing allowance scorer on Feb. 1, winning by more than eight lengths and earning a 107 Brisnet speed rating.
Denied in his title defense of the $300,000 Muniz Memorial (G2) last season by eventual Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar, Synchrony will give it another try in the nine-furlong grass test Saturday while also looking to make amends for a season-opening loss to the speedy Factor This in last month’s Fair Grounds (G3).
Bricks and Mortar’s trainer Chad Brown ships in two from his Palm Meadows base. Instilled Regard captured the Fort Lauderdale (G2) in mid-December before running a solid third to Zulu Alpha in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), while Grade 1-placed Rockemperor returns from a layoff dating since early August.
Trainer Mike Maker has three entered, including recent John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) scorer Dot Matrix. A former mainstay in the Maker barn, 2019 Belmont Derby (G1) upsetter Henley’s Joy, makes his debut Saturday for new trainer Steve Asmussen, while multiple Grade 1 veteran Channel Maker invades for Bill Mott after a season-opening fourth to Zulu Alpha in the Mac Diarmida (G2).
A competitive renewal of the $100,000 Tom Benson Memorial, for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, features Dream Passage, Altea, Notapradaprice, She’sonthewarpath, Winning Envelope, and Desert Ride.