Five jockeys to watch
With Rosie Napravnik out of the picture — the leader of the past four years announced her pregnancy and retirement at the Breeders’ Cup — some new names are set to step forward:
Graham, who has been tailing Napravnik closely around Fair Grounds leaderboards in recent years, suddenly finds himself at the head of the pack.
Graham has been runner-up at the Fair Grounds six times, including the past two years with win totals of 83 and 105. He added an Arlington Park rider title to his résumé since he left New Orleans, notching a Grade 3 win on Istanford in the Arlington Stakes Classic. He comes into the meet ranked No. 15 on the year with 195 wins, claiming $5.6 million in earnings.
Eramia is on the rise. In the past three years, he has climbed from seventh to fourth to third in the Fair Grounds standings.
In the interim, he won two Grade 3 stakes at Lone Star atop Grand Contender.
He comes into the meet ranked No. 9 on the year with 215 wins, claiming $4.5 million in earnings.
The seven-time Fair Grounds leader made his return to New Orleans last season after racing elsewhere the year before and finished fourth in the standings behind Napravnik, Graham and Eramia with 58 wins.
Back again, he’s riding high after winning his 1,000th race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6, only the third rider to do so. He comes into the meet ranked No. 97 on the year with 104 wins, claiming $5.46 million in earnings.
Since placing 12th last season with 30 wins in his first season at the Fair Grounds, the young Frenchman has continued his ascent. The 28-year-old has won six Grade 3 stakes following the last meet, doubling his total from the past four years.
The most impressive of those came early this month, when he rode Work All Week to take the $1.5 million prize for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He comes into the meet ranked No. 63 on the year with 104 wins, claiming $5.18 million in earnings.
While the previously mentioned jockeys had to have been happy to see her gone, they may just have another Rosie Napravnik to contend with already.
Another formidable female from Maryland, Boyce will race this winter at the Fair Grounds, The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday.
Not only does Boyce, who has won nearly 350 races in Maryland the past five years, have Napravnik’s blessing, it was apparently Napravnik’s idea for Boyce to take her place. She’ll even use Napravnik’s agent, Derek Ducoing.
“It really was last-minute,” Boyce told The Sun. “Rosie called, we discussed it and I decided to take the chance.”
She comes into the meet ranked No. 189 on the year with 71 wins, claiming $2.88 million.
Five horses to watch
Like Vicar’s In Trouble did last season, horses can come out of nowhere during the Fair Grounds winter meet to make national waves, but here are five to look forward to before the new crop rises:
The Steve Asmussen-trained filly returns to New Orleans as the highest-ranked horse from last winter’s meet, where she placed third with two first-place finishes in as many starts. Ridden by Rosie Napravnik, she closed out with a win in the Fair Grounds Oaks.
After that Grade 2 victory, she took four of five Grade 1 races, including the Kentucky Oaks and, most recently, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Her new rider has yet to be determined. She enters the meet ranked No. 3 this year, having earned $2.81 million with six wins in seven races.
This 3-year-old trained by Larry Jones has been on the verge all year after placing second in both the Risen Star and Lecomte Stakes last season and fourth in the Louisiana Derby, finishing fifth among earners at the meet.
He went on to win the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes and placed second in the Haskell at Monmouth Park. The New Orleans Handicap could be his to take this season.
He enters the meet ranked No. 80, having earned $483,000 on one win in six races.
A bright spot for Louisiana, he has taken several stakes in the state throughout his three-year career, most notably the Star Guitar Stakes last meet. Trained by Al Stall Jr., he could add another win Saturday in the Delta Mile Stakes at Delta Downs.
He’ll be a contender Champions Day on Dec. 13. He enters the meet ranked No. 117, having earned $381,250 on five wins in seven races.
Stall also trains this young filly, which he mentions as his finest in the Fair Grounds stables, having placed second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 1 after winning the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades Stakes a month earlier at Keeneland.
She could make her mark in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on Louisiana Derby Day. She enters the meet ranked No. 79, having earned $489,800 on one win in three races.
This filly trained by Dallas Stewart has been on Untapable’s heels throughout the year, finishing not far behind her in the Fair Ground Oaks, Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff. This meet could finally see her take Untapable.
She enters the meet ranked No. 90, having earned $444,427 on one win in eight races.
Trainers to watch
You likely know the names, but here’s an update on what they’re up to:
What is there to say about Asmussen that hasn’t already been said? He has the second-most wins of any horse trainer ever, and the 60 he procured at the Fair Grounds last year were enough to earn his 13th title at the track.
Toward the end of that season, he became embroiled in a scandal when PETA caught video of a longtime assistant talking about mistreatment of the team’s horses, but that didn’t keep him from staying among the top five nationally this year. That’s all cooled down, and he brings back Untapable, which has rode a first-place finish at the Fair Ground Oaks to wins in the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff, in hopes of keeping up his hot streak.
He is ranked No. 4 entering the meet, having earned $11.88 million on 268 wins in 1,248 races. He’s stabling the maximum of 50 horses at the Fair Grounds.
While Asmussen can claim to have the most titles since 1960, Amoss is right behind him. The year before last, Amoss tied Asmussen in wins at the Fair Grounds for his 10th title, and he came in second behind him the two years before that. He claimed his 3,000th win this summer.
Grand Contender, who won two stakes for Amoss at Lone Star, has been working out at the Fair Grounds in preparation for the Delta Mile on Saturday at Delta Downs, according to the Daily Racing Forum, so it’s possible the horse could play a part in gaining back the title in New Orleans along with A Kiss to Remember and Populist Politics.
He is ranked No. 17 entering the meet, having earned $4.96 million on 165 wins in 522 races. He’s stabling the maximum of 50 horses.
Al Stall Jr.
Before a down meet last year, ranking 20th with 20 fewer races, the New Orleans native ranked sixth at the Fair Grounds two years running. That’s not indicative of his history; he has ranked in the low 30s nationally for earnings since 2010.
This year, he’s stabling Top Decile — who early in her career has placed second and first in Breeders’ Cup and Keeneland stakes races in the past couple of months — at the Fair Grounds along with Sunbean to retake his perennial spot in the top 10.
He is ranked No. 55 entering the meet, having earned $2.41 million on 48 wins in 269 races. He’s stabling the maximum of 50 horses.
One of few trainers who exercises his own horses daily, the 2011-12 Fair Grounds earnings leader took a spill in April at Delaware Park when he was bucked off — causing, among other injuries, bleeding of the brain.
He’s long since fully recovered, winning the Monmouth Oaks and Pegasus Stakes with Cassatt and Albana since the incident, along with two other stakes. Those horses are stabled at the Fair Grounds this season to help him improve on his third-place finish in earnings from last season.
He is ranked No. 79 entering the meet, having earned $2.09 million on 45 wins in 154 races. He’s stabling 45 horses at the Fair Grounds.
The husband of Rosie Napravnik and former assistant of Mike Maker made the move in the offseason to be his own boss. It has paid off so far, winning 12 of his first 29 starts racing in Kentucky.
As he and his wife are settled in for the season in New Orleans, he could be the newest stalwart at the Fair Grounds and will be looking for his first stakes win as a head trainer.
He is ranked No. 1,071 entering the meet, having earned $195,915 on 12 wins in 29 races. He’s stabling 25 horses at the Fair Grounds.