Catching My Eye: Fair Grounds, Dec. 29-Jan. 1 'Mercy, Mercy, Mercy'

January 3rd, 2023

That old Cannonball Adderley tune “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” comes to mind as I watch back one of the standout runs of the Fair Grounds meet to date. Mercy Warren won by 16 lengths in a first-level allowance sprint on Sunday with a merciless move in the turn that surely broke the racing hearts of the six fillies she buried. After breathing down two runners' necks for the opening three furlongs, the Run Away and Hide filly opened up mightily under Brian Hernandez Jr.’s hand ride to be five lengths ahead with one furlong to go. She ran a 96 Brisnet Speed figure, 11 points higher than her previous top. Somehow she was sent off at 3.30-1.

Her trainer, Cherie DeVaux, has spoken about this filly’s potential in the past, and I think she is ready to truly start living up to it. After the dazzling effort on Sunday of the Maggi Moss, David Ingordo, and Little Red Feather Racing’s four-year-old, I have the feeling she could leave her mark on the older filly sprint division this year. And I have a feeling the runners she faced will need some boosts in confidence one way or another before ever returning to form.

Making just his fourth start, the now four-year-old Pro Oxidant stepped forward in a mighty way for trainer Eddie Kenneally on Thursday at Fair Grounds. The Medaglia d’Oro gelding out of the A.P. Indy mare Ender’s Sister made two nice starts this fall at Churchill Downs, including a debut win, before throwing in an excusable dud last out at Keeneland: starting awkwardly then taking a bump when facing two next-out winners Marsalis and Seal Beach.

Pro Oxidant’s 104 Brisnet Speed figure excites, but even more so was the visual performance of stalking between horses through much of the six furlongs then clearing those to run down the game Underhill’s Tab. He still has conditions left, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Pro Oxidant face stakes company next out.

Bartulia made his first start with blinkers on last Sunday and took a major step forward for trainer Brad Cox. Facing a field of formless foes, the Creative Cause four-year-old broke sharply and set moderate fractions to win by 9 1/2 lengths going 1 1/16 miles on the good main track. He earned a 93 Brisnet Speed figure.

I told the public Bartulia was beatable. I looked stupid. But in no way can we take this win at face value going forward and assume this runner will offer a command performance. Why? Because of the company he ran against: Two of which have offered brief flashes of an up-and-comer sprint presence but have regressed ever since (Maasai Warrior and Jeeper), one Gennadi Dorochenko runner who was entered over his head, and, lastly, a $375,000 purchase-now-five-year-old who in three career races has posted Brisnet Speed figures of 66, 56, and in his first start after a year on the bench, a 69 on Sunday.

On her last day as a two-year-old, first-time starter Forest Chimes rung in the new year breaking her maiden in Saturday’s finale, posting an 84 Brisnet Speed figure going 1 1/16 miles across a good main track. The Tonalist filly out of the successful Forestry dam Sequoia Queen is trained by Jason Barkley. Neither pedigree nor trainer stats suggested she had a strong chance of winning at first asking, and the bettors sent her off at 13-1.

Forest Chimes won by 7 1/2 lengths after making a signature Corey Lanerie wide, sweeping move through the second turn past the likes of runners from the Steve Asmussen, Al Stall, Wayne Catalano, John Ortiz, Tom Amoss, Kenny McPeek, Joe Sharp, George Leonard, and DeVaux barns. I’m intrigued, especially considering how locked in the Jason Barkley barn has been after winning three races from 10 runners at Keeneland this fall.

Stringing two impressive wins together at the meet over strong fields of Louisiana statebred filly and mare sprinters, the frontrunning Beleout is a force that must be reckoned with in her division.

On Sunday, it was stakes runner Wholelottamo, Half Koo Koo, and Speedy Dudette who seemed to have the kick to take her on, but Beleout broke to the lead and did not look back as James Graham guided her to a 5 1/4-length victory on a track that had been playing fair enough to all running styles. She earned an 87 Brisnet Speed figure, three points higher than her effort first-time out from the Courtney Dandridge barn earlier in December.

The story around the track about Beleout goes something like this. Entered in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Lassie as a maiden, her previous trainer and breeder always knew she had big things in store. The thing is, the four-year-old filly by Flat Out was as wild as they get. Kicking down stalls, uncontrollable in training and in the paddock before races, she even bit the finger off a hot walker. Then she spent the summer on “a farm on the other side of the lake" — "Fol," as you see in her workouts, aka Folsom Training Center on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.

She’s certainly gathered herself now and will no doubt be sprinting in statebred stakes this meet.