Chocolate Ride won Fair Grounds’ two most important grass races, the Muniz Memorial (G2) and Fair Grounds H. (G3), in wire-to-wire fashion last season, and on Saturday will seek to take possession of the $125,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley H. (G3) as well. The about 1 1/16-mile Bradley, a tune-up for the Fair Grounds and Muniz Memorial later in the meet attracted a field of 12 of older horses.
A six-year-old gelding trained by Brad Cox, Chocolate Ride raced just twice following the Muniz last March. Sidelined following an eighth in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs in May, Chocolate Ride made a triumphant return at Fair Grounds on November 27 with a facile, three-length allowance win over the Bradley course and distance.
Looking to retain control of his Bradley crown is the venerable Louisiana-bred String King, who has finished first or second in 10 of his past 11 starts. After taking the Bradley last January, String King won three of his next four starts, but was beaten a nose by Hot Zapper in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf on December 12.
The top three finishers from last month’s $60,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial — Ibaka, Blarp, and Potomac River — are all back for this richer prize, but Florida invaders Sky Flight and Roman Approval appear to be more serious challengers. Sky Flight is a two-time stakes winner and graded-placed on dirt and turf, while Roman Approval was narrowly caught by The Pizza Man after setting the pace in the Stars and Stripes (G3) at Arlington last summer. Roman Approval later placed in the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) and off-the-turf Claiming Crown Emerald.
Flashlight, second to Lochte in a Tropical Turf H. (G3) conducted in monsoon-like conditions in November, was ineffective over Polytrack at Turfway Park last time and figures to improve on the return to grass. Stakes winner Pumpkin Rumble also rates an upset chance after a sharp allowance win last month on the local sod.
An intriguing showdown between Eagle and International Star highlights the $75,000 Louisiana, an early 1 1/16-mile prep for the Mineshaft H. (G3) and New Orleans H. (G2) later in the meet.
Eagle rides a three-race win streak into the Louisiana, the most recent being a 1 1/4-length tally in the $60,000 Tenacious over Freestyler and Ride On Curlin. International Star, who swept the Lecomte (G3), Risen Star (G2), and Louisiana Derby (G2) last season, made his first start since the latter in the $210,000 Zia Park Derby on November 25, but faded badly to fourth after setting a slow, pressured pace.
The Louisiana field also includes Majestic Harbor, a past winner of the Gold Cup (G1) who placed in the Greenwood Cup (G3), Marathon (G2), and Hawthorne Gold Cup (G3) in his last three, and multiple graded stakes-wining sprinter Coup de Grace.
Leading contenders in the $60,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial, an about 1 1/16-mile turf dash for older fillies and mares, are the Brad Cox-trained stakes heroines Street of Gold and Cash Control, and Gulfstream stakes scorer Prayed For.
(Chocolate Ride photo: Alexander Barkoff/Hodges Photography)