A superb racing card at Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans may have ended in the cover of nearing darkness but the 3-year-olds shone a light on their way to the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Whether it was the addition of blinkers, experience, or added distance, it all came together for Mandaloun (Into Mischief – Brooch by Empire Maker) in the $400,000 Risen Star (G2), presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Owned by the late Khalid Abullah’s Juddmonte Farms’ the Brad Cox-trainee rebounded from a third-place finish at odds-on in the local Lecomte (G3) to defeat rivals Proxy and Midnight Bourbon in the most definitive Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) prep to date.
Sent off as the 2.10-1 favorite, Mandaloun, racing with blinkers on for the first time, ran a comfortable 3-wide trip under Florent Geroux behind longshot leader Rightandjust, who was shadowed early to his outside by Lecomte winner Midnight Bourbon. The leading pair hit the half-mile in 48.45 and the plot remained unchanged as the trio entered the far turn, while beginning to draw clear of Proxy, who was stalking in fourth. Rightandjust was the first to wilt, succumbing to Midnight Bourbon, who was quickly engaged by Mandaloun off the far turn. The pair tussled in mid-stretch when Mandaloun began to assert himself. He put Midnight Bourbon away and kept a re-rallying Proxy at bay for a 1 ¼-length win. Mandaloun (an Arabic term for a type of window) finished the 1 1/8 miles over a fast main track in 1:50.39 and earned 50 qualifying points for the May 1 Derby.
His Beyer Speed Figure was a hefty 98.
Cox opted to add blinkers to Mandaloun, a 3-year-old son of Into Mischief, after he was a somewhat disappointing third in the January 16 Lecomte. That was his first start at two turns and against stakes foes after winning his first two starts sprinting in Kentucky. The equipment change may have spurred a form reversal, but it wasn’t the only key to victory.
“More than anything, it was just the experience of having the race going two turns under his belt,” Cox said. “He’s had two great works since so we expected him to move forward, the way he was training. I think the blinkers did help out. Florent immediately made a comment after the race. Much more focused in the post parade, more focused on his job. We didn’t put a bunch of cup on him, just like a one-inch cup, but it seems to have done the trick to get him mentally over the top, mentally getting him where he needs to be.”
Geroux has been aboard Mandaloun in all four career starts and definitely noticed a change late in the Risen Star.
“Blinkers on was a difference-maker today for sure,” Geroux said. “We knew he needed it racing, but he’s been winning without them. He’s always been a little funny down the lane. He’s never given me his full potential. Today we had the same kind of trip we had in the Lecomte, but when I pushed on the gas today, he responded right away. Last time I feel like he wasn’t giving me his best. He was a little more focused.”
Mandaloun has now won 3-of-4 starts ($351,252 in career earnings) and looms a leading Kentucky Derby contender. Cox won a split division of the Risen Star last year with Mr. Monomoy and the Louisiana Derby (G2) with Wells Bayou. This year’s March 20 TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby is on the radar for a colt who figures to appreciate the 1 3/16 miles, along with 1 ¼ miles of the Kentucky Derby.
“It (the Louisiana Derby) is definitely going to be in play,” Cox said. “We will talk it over with (Juddmonte manager) Garrett O’Rourke and the Juddmonte team and come up with a game plan. I’m very proud of the colt. He stepped up and ran a big race today. That (nine furlongs) is a big ask at any time for a Thoroughbred, and then to do it in February of your 3-year-old year. Garrett has made the comment several times that he thinks he’s a mile-and-a-quarter-horse and he trains like one. He’s got enough speed to be close and he stays on. He’s got the physical make-up of a mile-and-a-quarter horse so we’re optimistic he’ll get better with more ground.”
Godolphin’s homebred Proxy completed an Arab-exacta as he doubled up on his second-place finish in the Lecomte for trainer Mike Stidham and earned 20 Derby qualifying points. The son of Tapit has progressed from a maiden winner here in November to a now seasoned Kentucky Derby contender. He’s still figuring things out, however, as he lost a bit of focus under John Velazquez entering the far turn and dropped back, only to re-break and chase the winner home. For Stidham, it’s all about getting Proxy to peak on the first Saturday in May.
“We all know that we’re all hoping that we can be as good as we can be on a certain day (for the Kentucky Derby),” Stidham said. “He’s inching in the right direction. The main thing is you want them to come out of these races healthy, you have something to work with, and you can inch forward and culminate for the big day in May.”
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MAXFIELD, another star for Godolphin, could be headed to the Dubai World Cup after his solid win in the Mineshaft Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt.
Maxfield remained undefeated in five starts and delivered another “wow” performance in his comeback, registering an easier-than-it-looked 3 ¼-length win over Sonneman on Louisiana Derby Preview Day at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Maxfield, under Florent Geroux, hopped in the air at the start of the Mineshaft and found himself at the back of the six-horse field while longshot Dinar cleared on the lead and opened up a big edge early. A tight field that expected to have a slow pace was turned upside down on the backstretch, as Dinar continued to barrel along, opening up 10 lengths while rattling off a half-mile in a snappy 47.49. The complexion of the Minefield predictably changed entering the far turn, as Blackberry Wine and Chess Chief were the first to move, with Maxfield quick to take up the chase. The .60-1 favorite overpowered the leaders in mid-stretch, kicked clear with authority over late-rallying Sonneman, who was a half-length ahead of Chess Chief.
Maxfield, a 4-year-old son of Street Sense, has always been thought of as one of the most talented horses in training, though actually training has proven to be a bit of an obstacle for trainer Brendan Walsh. Entering the Mineshaft, Maxfield had started just four times in three seasons of racing and was forced to miss the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2019 with a minor foot injury and then got derailed off the Kentucky Derby Trail last year when he came out of a June workout with a condylar fracture of his right front cannon bone.
Walsh, as patient and talented a horseman there is on the grounds, was forced to back off again and point to 2021. Maxfield got going again in the local December 19 Tenacious, beating Sonneman by an easy 2 ½ lengths. After a very brief illness that forced Maxfield to miss about a week of training, the Mineshaft was up next, and it marked just the second time Walsh’s stable star has been able to put back-to-back races together. Walsh deflected the majority of the credit on to a horse who is now 5-for-5, with earnings of $615,262.
“He’s just a special horse; you point him in the right direction and he does it for you,” Walsh said. “It’s a privilege to have him in our barn. I’d like to thank the whole team at Godolphin, (owner) Sheikh Mohammed, and the whole team. And my team as well; they’ve done some fantastic work, my two assistants. He’s really progressed and he’s turning into the horse we always hoped he would be.”
Maxfield burst on to the scene at 2 when he won the 2019 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland but couldn’t make the Juvenile. The song played out the same in 2020 when he won
Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn (G3) in May only to be forced off the Derby Trail with the aforementioned fracture. Walsh has never really allowed himself to look that much into the future with Maxfield, for obvious reasons, but with the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) looming March 27, it could be time for a big step up in class.
“’We’ll see (about the World Cup),” Walsh said. “We’ll go back, see how he comes out, talk to the team, and come up with a plan. All options are open. We’ll enjoy today. He’s making the progress we want him to make and I think we’re in great shape with the horse.”
CLAIRIERE caught heavily-favoured Travel Column to win the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (g2).
In what was her 3-year-old debut, the Stonestreet Stables homebred Clairiere was last in the field-of-eight down the backstretch. She made a bold move inside on turn for home under jockey Joe Talamo, jumped off the heels of Travel Column in the deep stretch, and edged that rival by a neck to win what was a thrilling edition of the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra presented by Fasig-Tipton (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
The second choice in the wagering at 2.30-1, the daughter of Curlin out of the multiple grade 1-winner Cavorting prevailed in a final time of 1:45.34 for 1 1/16 miles and earned 50 points towards the Kentucky Oaks in the process, while Travel Column earned 20. It was another 6 ½ lengths back to Moon Swag (10 Oaks points) in third. Littlestitious earned 5 Oaks points for finishing fourth.
“This is a really nice filly, very professional,” Talamo said. “Steve (trainer Asmussen) gave me all the confidence in the world in her. Going in he said to just ride your race. I just kind of pointed her in the right direction and down the lane when I eased her out, she was all racehorse. It’s fun to ride those kind (of horses). The sky is the limit, especially with that just being her third start.”
In winning the Rachel Alexandra, Clairiere turned the tables on Travel Column, who had defeated her previously in the Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill Downs. It was the fifth win in the Rachel Alexandra for Asmussen, and two of those (Untapable in 2016 and Summerly in 2005) would go on to Kentucky Oaks glory. Since 1997, nine horses who competed in the Rachel Alexandra have gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks. Sixth of those won both.
Stonestreet also campaigned the race’s namesake and 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
With the win, Clairiere now sports a record of 3-2-1-0 with career earnings of $270,492.
~ with files from Jennifer Morrison