The withdrawal of odds-on favorite defending champion Delaunay has reduced an already short field to just five starters for Thursday’s $100,000 Thanksgiving Handicap at the Fair Grounds.
Trainer Tom Amoss scratched Delauney due to equine bronchitis and trainers already had been saving some of their best hopefuls for Louisiana Champions Day on Dec. 14.
Gantry (6-5), the remaining Grade II stakes winner, trained by Ron Faucheux has risen in the ranks to become the favorite pick in the 88th running of Thursday’s feature.
The 6-year-old gelding son of Pulpit, owned by Evelyn Benoit of Brittlyn Stables, will attempt to recapture the title he conceded to Delaunay last year by a 21/2- length margin.
The new morning-line favorite goes into the race a fresh horse after an impressive 41/2 length victory Sept. 7 in the six-furlong, $50,000 Temperance Hill Stake at Louisiana Downs. Regular rider Richard C. Eramia carries high weight at 122 pounds.
Faucheux said he plans to take his horse into the upcoming sprint stakes: the F.W. Gaudin and Duncan Kenner.
“I think the reason for the short field is just the quality of horses in the race,” he said. “With Gantry and Delauney both winners of Grade II stakes, it goes to show just how tough the race was when it was first drawn.”
Jockey James Graham will ride Riceland Racing Stable’s Strong and Tough (30-1), who ships in from Evangeline Downs with trainer Enis Mouton.
The 5-year-old Louisiana-bred gelding has earned only one win in his last nine starts this year, a $30,000 race at Evangeline Downs May 22. He finished third and sixth respectively in his last two starts under jockey KJ Smith Nov. 8 at the Fair Grounds.
Foreign Production, (15-1), the second of Faucheux’s entries, scored his latest win Oct.13 in an allowance $36,000 race at Delta Downs.
The seven-year-old Louisiana-bred gelding was claimed Aug. 4 by Faucheux and Thomas Arnaud, following his second-place finish in a $17,500 race at Louisiana Downs, Aug. 4.
Foreign Production is ridden by regular rider Richard E. Eramia.
“He’s a solid Louisiana Bred who just won a nice allowance race at Delta,” Faucheux said of his senior competitor. “He’s a class horse. We’re high on him.”
Central Banker ( 8-1), an Al Stall Jr. trainee who was for purchased for $200,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale, is being ridden by French rider Florent Geroux, replacing Robby Albarado, who rides at Churchill Downs for the remainder of its meet.
“(Geroux) has a very good style of riding,” Stall said, “and he can naturally tack the 113-weight assignment.”
The Winstar Farm colt horse won the Grade I Foxwood’s King Bishop Stakes on July 25 by three and three-quarter lengths at Saratoga and finished fourth by three-lengths in his last outing, an $80,000 allowance race at Keeneland on the Polyturf, Oct. 4.
“That didn’t turn out so well,” Stall said of his race on the artificial grass track. “He doesn’t particularly like that surface.”
Stall added that Central Banker and Gantry are half-brothers out of Rhum, a New York-bred multiple stakes winner.
“He’s a nice horse, just a little tough to find a race for,” Stall said. “But he runs good on the turf and the dirt. It’s going to be a very tactical race.”
Rating highest among the card in the “last three finishes” rated category is Mico Margarita (8-1), trained by co-leading trainer, Steve Assmusen.
The three-year-old missed by just three-quarters of a length, taking second place, in his last start at Saratoga’s Grade II Amsterdam Stakes on July 28.
Previous to the cruising to an impressive four-and-one-half length win in Calder’s Grade III Carry Back Stake, July 6. Aboard Kirk and Judy Robison’s colt is California-based veteran rider David Flores who is based at the Fair Grounds for the first time this season.
Post time is 11:05 a.m. Thursday.