Considering the pedigree she comes from, its no surprise why there is so much excitement surrounding the Fair Grounds debut of Mike G. Rutherford’s Stageplay.
The 3-year-old filly was bred by highly-successful trainer Steve Asmussen and enters as an early favorite in Saturday’s 24th running of the Listed $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes in the first leg of the Road to the Kentucky Derby at the Fair Grounds.
The offspring of former Preakness winner Curlin and Stage Stop, Stageplay only has three career starts under her belt, but still enters Saturday as the most highly-anticipated filly in the group.
In her three starts, Stageplay already has registered a three-length victory at Keeneland in her maiden debut on Oct. 10 and a close victory at Churchill Downs in the $84,000 Rages to Riches on Nov. 1.
A few weeks later, on Nov. 28, she was bumped in the first turn of the Grade II $200,000 Golden Rod on a sloppy Churchill Downs course. The Louisiana bred made a late push, but fell 4 1/2 lengths behind eventual winner Carina Mia and took second place.
Stageplay will have to make a few adjustments going into Saturday, running on a faster Fair Grounds course and being ridden by multiple graded stakes winning jockey Florent Geroux for the first time, but Geroux said he expects her to do just fine.
“She’s a very talented horse and I’m excited to see what she’ll be able to do this weekend,” he said. “With the success she’s already had, and (Asmussen) backing her, it’s obvious she has a bright future.”
MARIE G. KRANTZ MEMORIAL: There will be plenty of people with something on the line in Saturday’s 21st running of the $60,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial at the Fair Grounds but none with quite as much as trainer Mike Stidham.
The 59-year-old has trained 1,598 first-place finishers over his career, and he’ll have a great opportunity to add one more to that list, as he’ll have four horses entered into the Krantz Memorial.
The most highly-regarded of his four entrants will be the Gary Vandeweghe and Cobra Farm-owned Fila Primera. The 4-year-old won the $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes in her last race and has won both of her starts since being transferred over to Stidham.
Stidham’s other entrants in Saturday’s race include Christine and Phil Hatfield’s Zubi Zubi Zu, Mt. Brilliant Farm’s Colour Party and M & M Thoroughbred Partners’ Masquerade.
LOUISIANA STAKES: Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s International Star had quite a year in 2015, and he’ll be returning to where it all started on Saturday.
The 4-year-old swept all three of the sophomore graded stakes at the Fair Grounds last year, ending in an impressive win in the Grade II $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby.
The Mike Maker-trained colt was scratched from the Kentucky Derby the day of the race and has only raced once since her win in the Louisiana Derby. But he finally makes his return in Saturday’s $75,000 Louisiana Stakes.
International Star will also have a familiar rider as Miguel Mena returns to mount the colt once again. Mena was the jockey for all three of International Star’s wins in the Road to the Kentucky Derby races last year.
COLONEL E.R. BRADLEY HANDICAP: A long-awaited clash headlines Saturday’s Grade III $125,000 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap, with defending champion and 18-time winner String Kind against expected favorite Chocolate Ride.
String King, which is owned and trained by Charles C. Smith, is coming off a shocking loss in his attempt to win a fourth $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf on Dec. 12.
It was the colt’s first race after a three-month layoff following the Unbridled Stakes at Louisiana Downs, and he is expected to come in strong with Richard Eramia taking the mount. Eramia was atop String King for three of his four stakes victories in 2015.
The Brad Cox-trained Chocolate Ride won the Grade III $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap and the Grade II $300,000 Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap in 2015 and has first-place finishes in three of his past four starts.
The colt has only raced once since May, but that one race was a dominant performance in an Allowance Optional Claiming race at the Fair Grounds on Nov. 27.
During that victory, Chocolate Ride nearly set track records at the Fair Grounds on the same course and distance that the Bradley will be run on, so many expect him to come with an impressive performance in Saturday’s race.