Mo Tom became a darling of local horse racing fans during the 2015-16 season, winning the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs, then in January getting an impressive victory in the Lecomte, the Fair Grounds' first big outing for top 3-year-old hopefuls.
He wound up with four wins in 10 starts.
“I thought he had a great season,” said Mo Tom's trainer, Tom Amoss of New Orleans. “He won the Ohio Derby. It puts him in the upper echelon of the 3-year-old crop.”
However, Mo Tom, owned by Saints owner Tom Benson and wife Gayle, faltered in the three races after the Lecomte, which were the biggest of the season.
It was the loss in the Louisiana Derby, in which Mo Tom became stuck on the rail, that hit the hardest.
“It was terribly disappointing,” Amoss said. “The Louisiana Derby is one race at the Fair Grounds that I haven't won. I've won a lot of races there, but I've never won that one. I was disappointed he didn't have a clean trip and get a fair chance.”
A year later, Mo Tom is back on Louisiana Derby Day, and Amoss is hopeful of a good showing if not a win in Saturday's Grade II, $400,000 New Orleans Handicap for 4-year-olds and up. On the Fair Grounds' third-biggest race day of the meet, it's the third-biggest race of day, behind the $1 million Louisiana Derby and the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks for top 3-year-old fillies.
The magnitude of the race and Amoss and Benson being New Orleans natives carries importance, Amoss said. However, the race, and this 4-year-old campaign, is much bigger than that. There's a lot of more to be made post-career.
“I think Mo Tom needs to show as a 4-year-old that he's not only capable of winning big races, but that he's attractive to become a stallion,” Amoss said.
After winning the $500,000 Ohio Derby, which Amoss said validated Mo Tom, he raced once more in 2016, finishing fifth in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in September. He then was rested, returning to workouts at the Fair Grounds on Jan. 1.
Mo Tom then ran in the Mineshaft Handicap on Feb. 25, Louisiana Preview Day. He finished sixth. Although the race appeared to be preparation for the New Orleans Handicap, Amoss said he simply didn't do a good job preparing Mo Tom.
Since then, there have been more concentration on fitness and sharpness heading to the New Orleans Handicap.
The race, as expected, has drawn big-time contenders, including Honorable Duty, who won the Mineshaft, and International Star, who finished second, as well as Eagle. And those aren't even the favorites. Noble Bird, trained by Mark Casse, is the 7-2 morning-line favorite, and Hawaakom, trained by Wes Hawley, is second at 4-1. Mo Tom is 10-1.
It not only is a competitive field but an experienced one.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Amoss said.
To help in that regard and in an effort to keep Mo Tom out of another bad trip, jockey Robby Albarado was brought in to ride him. It will be the first time aboard Mo Tom for Albarado, who got his 5,000th career victory on Jan. 22 at the Fair Grounds and rode Curlin to victory in the 2007 Preakness.
“I know he's excited to ride the horse,” Amoss said of Albarado, who is second in the Fair Grounds jockey standings this meet with 56 wins and was the winning jockey in the 2003 and '07 New Orleans Handicap. “He knows the horse well from watching him, and he's been wanting to ride him for some time. He fits well for us.”
That won't change the closing style of Mo Tom, who also is bigger and stronger than during his 3-year-old campaign, Amoss said.
“He's a come from behind horse, and that's the way he's going to run,” Amoss said. “He was a late foal (May), but he has caught up to the class.
“I'd like to see a really good pace up front, and I want to see him show his finishing kick.”
An impressive performance could lead to appearance in big races in May at Churchill Downs or in June and July at Belmont.
“His last race was his first after the layoff, and we put a lot more work into him,” Amoss said. “He's done well with it.
“But let's see how he does in this race.”