July 13, 2024

Just Might, Chess Chief among post-Christmas stakes stars at Fair Grounds

Chess Chief gets a nose in front of Happy American to win the Tenacious S. at Fair Grounds (Photo by Lou Hodges. Jr/Hodges Photography)

The Gun Runner S. and Untapable S. may have been highlights of Sunday’s post-Christmas racing action at Fair Grounds, but they were far from the only stakes contested on a busy afternoon. Four other ungraded stakes bolstered the rich card.

Up first was the $75,000 Blushing K. D. S. for fillies and mares racing 1 1/16 miles over firm turf. Summer in Saratoga was favored at 13-10 off a victory in Keeneland’s 1 1/2-mile Dowager S. (G3), and she didn’t disappoint, even while cutting back significantly in distance. After trailing a compact field through splits of :23.70 and :47.82, Summer in Saratoga unleashed a furious rally to win by a neck over Bellagamba. Catch a Bid, More Than Unusual, Curly Ruth, and Advocating rounded out the order under the wire.

With Corey Lanerie aboard for trainer Joe Sharp, Summer in Saratoga reached the finish line in 1:42.54. The five-year-old daughter of Hard Spun keeps improving with maturity and might still have more upside for the partnership of Narola and Anderson Farms Ontario.

Whereas Summer in Saratoga rallied from dead last, opposite tactics proved successful in the $75,000 Richard R. Scherer Memorial S., where even-money favorite Just Might led all the way to beat Manny Wah by 1 1/4 lengths. Pyron took third, followed by Mr. Hustle, Lucky Curlin, Grinning Tiger, and Field Day. The gelded son of Justin Phillip completed the five-furlong turf dash in 1:04.12 to record his seventh stakes win of the season and his fourth lifetime at Fair Grounds.

Colby Hernandez rode Just Might on behalf of trainer Michelle Lovell, who owns the speedy five-year-old in partnership with Griffon Farms. No horse has won more stakes in the U.S. this year than Just Might, a versatile runner capable of competing with equal aplomb on dirt and turf.

Just Might wasn’t the only Fair Grounds standout to shine on Sunday. Chess Chief picked up his second stakes win over the New Orleans oval when springing a 10-1 surprise in the $100,000 Tenacious S. traveling 1 1/16 miles on dirt. Winner of the New Orleans Classic S. (G2) last March, Chess Chief settled a few lengths behind splits of :23.75, :47.20, and 1:11.83 before besting Happy American by a nose in 1:43.39. Pirate’s Punch, Shared Sense, Major Fed, Ebben, Warrior in Chief, and Little Menace concluded the order of finish.

Winning the Tenacious marked a major rebound from Chess Chief’s eighth-place finish in the Clark S. (G1) at Churchill Downs last month. Owned by the Estate of James J. Coleman Jr., Chess Chief is trained by Dallas Stewart and was ridden to victory by Reylu Gutierrez. The son of Into Mischief evidently enjoyed returning to Fair Grounds and could be poised for a productive winter campaign.

Completing the undercard stakes action was the $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial S. over 1 1/16 miles on turf. The Canadian-bred four-year-old Halo Again wasn’t expected to factor off a pair of graded stakes defeats over the Woodbine Tapeta track, but the 14-1 longshot outran his odds in a big way.

Benefiting from a perfect ride by Reylu Gutierrez, Halo Again carved out modest splits of :23.55, :47.95, and 1:12.42 before digging deep to hold off Pixelate by half a length. Next came Monarchs Glen, Forty Under, Big Dreaming, Logical Myth, Midnight Tea Time, Another Mystery, and Artie’s Rumor. Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Halo Again stopped the timer in 1:43.22 to record his third career stakes win for the partnership of Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing.

Having proven his worth on grass, Halo Again has extensive options for a 2022 campaign, with stakes on both turf and Tapeta among the possibilities for the son of Speightstown.

Racing continues on Monday at Fair Grounds with five additional stakes worth a combined $375,000. First post time is 2:05 p.m. ET.