June 23, 2024

Competitive stakes action on Thanksgiving menu at Fair Grounds

Just Might dominates the off-the-turf Colonel Power at Fair Grounds  (Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges Jr.)

The historic New Orleans Fair Grounds will stage a pair of stakes during its Thursday kickoff. Joining the traditional opening-day feature, the $150,000 Thanksgiving Classic at six furlongs, is the inaugural $75,000 Joseph R. Peluso Memorial S. for turf distaffers.

Thanksgiving Classic – Race 7 (4:12 p.m. ET)

The top three choices on the morning line – 3-1 favorite Necker Island along with 7-2 shots Greeley and Ben and Just Might – also rank as the 124-pound co-highweights. Greeley and Ben brandishes a nine-race winning streak for Karl Broberg, who famously claimed him for $10,000 at Oaklawn Park in March. Subsequently climbing the ladder, he handled stakes company in the Sept. 26 David M. Vance S. at Remington Park in his latest.

Necker Island, himself claimed by Chris Hartman for $100,000 the one time he was in for a tag, brings a different sort of career trajectory. Third in last year’s Indiana Derby (G3) and Ellis Park Derby, and ninth in the pandemic-delayed Kentucky Derby (G1), Necker Island prospered by reverting to one turn this campaign. The Hard Spun colt has won his past two at Churchill Downs since shortening up to sprints, dominating Pyron in a seven-furlong allowance and overcoming trouble to edge Mucho in the Bet on Sunshine S. at this trip Nov. 6.

While Necker Island and Greeley and Ben will be making their first Fair Grounds appearances, Just Might is proven on the surface with a 4-2-1-1 mark over this main track. The Michelle Lovell trainee has spent most of his time on turf, but romped in the off-the-turf Colonel Power S. here Feb. 13, and he’s raced on dirt in his three most recent outings. Victorious in the Aug. 23 Chesapeake S. at Colonial Downs and the Sept. 18 Louisville Thoroughbred Society S. at Churchill, Just Might faded to sixth in the Phoenix (G2) at Keeneland. But as reported by Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh, he grabbed a quarter that day and can be forgiven.

Grade 3 veteran Strike Power receives six pounds from the highweights. Freshened since a sixth in the July 31 Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1) at Saratoga, the Steve Asmussen charge previously placed in the Maryland Sprint (G3) and Kelly’s Landing. As a well-bred son of Speightstown with speed and back class, Strike Power is eligible to make his presence felt.

Emerald Forest is capable of bringing the heat early as well, although he takes the blinkers off after tiring to fifth in the Harrods Creek S. at Churchill. Sparingly raced Went West, who notched a career-best 106 Brisnet Speed rating at Gulfstream last out, has been training forwardly for Louis Roussel.

Joseph R. Peluso Memorial – Race 8 (4:44 p.m. ET)

Alms wins the 2020 Shantel Lanerie Memorial (Hodges Photography / Amanda Hodges Weir)

Eleven fillies and mares have welcomed the new 1 1/16-mile turf stakes, including multiple Grade 3 veteran Alms who had starred in the Shantel Lanerie Memorial on this course in 2020. That capped an unbeaten four-race sequence at the beginning of her career, but the Godolphin homebred has been spotted only three times in the interim. Fifth to Sharing in Churchill’s Tepin S. and a near-miss third in the Appalachian (G2) during Keeneland’s ad hoc COVID summer meet, Alms was sidelined for more than 15 months. She resurfaced with a sixth in a turf sprint at Keeneland Oct. 28, and the Mike Stidham filly is sure to move forward here.

Curly Ruth, a daughter of Curlin and Grade 1-winning millionaire Rutherienne, is a fascinating stakes debutante. Trainer Eddie Kenneally steps her up to this level after she cleared her second- and third-level allowance conditions at Kentucky Downs and Keeneland, respectively.

Key Biscayne was holding her own in NYRA’s sophomore turf stakes last season, notably finishing third in the Saratoga Oaks to Antoinette. Transferred to Mike Maker following a minor Gulfstream Park stakes win this summer, the Arindel homebred was best of the rest behind Pocket Square at the Spa. Key Biscayne probably failed to stay 1 1/2 miles when retreating to eighth in the Oct. 24 Dowager (G3), and the 12-1 shot has appeal on the cutback.

Brad Cox is double-handed with local stakes scorer Dominga, the 7-2 morning-line favorite, and recent Keeneland allowance winner More Than Unusual. Argentine Group 1 vixen Bellagamba, runner-up to More Than Unusual in that race, could improve in her third stateside try for Ignacio Correas.

Winter Sunset, the multiple stakes-winning daughter of Tapit and turf star Winter Memories, hopes that a return to Fair Grounds will spark a revival. Other entrants are Catch a Bid, who stretches back out for the first time since her Mountaineer stakes coup; the respective second and third from the Sept. 26 Ricks Memorial at Remington, Valentines Day and Island Hideaway (who’s won there since); and Breeze Rider, third to Curly Ruth and Sweet Melania at Keeneland.