September 26, 2023

Lack of pace gives New Orleans Classic a wide-open look

Owendale wins the Blame Stakes (Coady Photography)

New Orleans Classic (G2) — Race 11 (5:12 p.m. ET)

One thing that becomes evident from scanning the field for Saturday’s $400,000 New Orleans Classic (G2) is the almost complete lack of early speed. That makes handicapping the 1 1/8-mile test for older horses at Fair Grounds on Saturday a genuine puzzle.

Who might go for the lead? Roadster, the 2019 Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner, is a possible candidate. Not only has he drawn post 1, but the gray figures very fresh having not competed since a runner-up placing in the San Carlos (G2) 54 weeks ago. That was for Bob Baffert, and the five-year-old now resides in the barn of Mike Stidham, who has emphasized stamina and fitness of late for Roadster, who’s had a trio of six-furlong works in recent weeks.

“He’s had issues with his feet since he was a two-year-old so we had a little stopping and starting since I got him. But right now, we got him as good as he can be,” Stidham said.

Owendale is surely one of the favorites from a class perspective, and could move forward off a season-opening third in the Razorback H. (G3) contested in the slop. Jockey Florent Geroux might attempt to keep the five-year-old closer to the pace than usual as he did in last fall’s Alysheba (G2), though that performance and the Pimlico Special (G3) next out, in which he showed rare early speed also, resulted in second-place efforts. Owendale has generally been more effective at reaching the winner’s circle from off the pace.

Chess Chief is another possibility to be up close to the lead, though the son of Into Mischief’s relative class pales in comparison. However, he ran well in the New Orleans Classic last year, crossing the wire in third before he was demoted to sixth for stretch interference.

Others lining up include Sonneman, runner-up to Maxfield in the Tenacious S. and Mineshaft (G3) earlier in the meet; Grade 3 veteran Enforceable, who followed up an exciting Jan. 17 allowance win with a dull try in the Mineshaft; and Olliemyboy, who makes his first stakes appearance since joining the Norm Casse barn, for which he is 2-for-2.

“It’s another step up, but I think it’s a pretty wide-open race,” Casse said. “He’s going to have to have some help on the front end, but I think he’ll be very, very competitive in it.”

Captivating Moon, who captured the Fair Grounds (G3) on turf last out, has been customarily cross-entered to the New Orleans Classic as well as the Muniz Memorial (G2) over the grass.