Catching My Eye: Fair Grounds winners who look ready for stakes company

January 5th, 2024

The racing last week at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots was excellent, and a handful of winners look primed to try stakes company next out. Here’s who caught my eye.


The four-year-old Charging repeated at the meet with another impressive turf sprint performance on Monday. Here’s a horse that I have been mad at since he ran second on closing day last year, costing me a nice Pick 5 score. I’ve doubted him since then, but no longer. And he looks ready to take on stakes company.

Claimed away from Brad Cox by Tom Morley at Saratoga this summer, the Candy Ride colt came to Fair Grounds with all his allowance conditions available to him and just rattled through the first and second levels. How’s he doing it? Rocketing out of the gate and to the lead, for one thing, but this guy is so fit, he proved on Monday, he has another gear down the lane.

The Duncan Kenner on Jan. 20 could be too quick a turnaround. If so, the Colonel Power on Feb. 17 has his name all over it.


Michelle Lovell had a strong end to the year at Fair Grounds. On Road to the Derby Kickoff Day, her big fella Just Might ended his losing skid by winning the Richie Scherer and posting his career-best 108 Brisnet Speed figure.

But the headline story for Lovell is Doncho, the debut winner from a salty maiden special weight sprint on last Saturday’s card.

Winning by a bunch and posting a big figure is nice, but it’s how you do it and who you beat that speaks volumes about a horse. Doncho did it easily on debut and at 21-1 against 10 foes. Jockey Colby Hernandez was in town to ride, and he barely had to move aboard the son of Mo Town out of the Henny Hughes dam Sassy Redhead. Breaking sharply, relaxing to let the inner rival to the lead, Doncho sat behind Evan on Earth, a full sibling of Bango’s who looked very promising on debut, and put him away with ease as Cox’s even-money favorite Hero Worship was chasing throughout. The speed figure verified the visual as Doncho earned a 95 from Brisnet. 

Sprinting seems to make sense in terms of Doncho’s pedigree and with the barn he is in, they have a ready road map to follow after the success they saw with Damon’s Mound's three-year-old campaign. 

Two to Watch

Sultry Lass

On Monday, it was Sultry Lass. Making just her fourth start, the five-year-old Bernardini mare beat an interesting field of older route allowance fillies, including Thestral, Surely Shirley, and Huntleigh. Deshawn Parker rode her perfectly from off the pace, and when he tipped out down the stretch, she kicked nicely to win by two and earn an 83 Brisnet Speed figure. Sultry Lass doesn’t fit the theme of expecting entry into a stake next out, but definitely one to keep tabs on, especially how well Lovell’s barn has been running.


Juddmonte’s Impel started his career with a bang. Stalking the odds-on Phil Bauer trainee Tipsy Tammy, Impel engaged that leader out of the turn, showed his competitive spirit as that inner foe fought back, but then drove clear by over two lengths.

Earning an 89 Brisnet Speed figure, the obvious question for this Juddmonte homebred is can he get two turns? By Quality Road and out of the Flatter mare Your Love, he’s a big colt and from watching just one race, I’d say he looks like one who could be a serious grinder at two turns. I doubt we’ll see him in a stake next out, but one more from the Cox barn to keep an eye on, nonetheless.



Having raced in three stakes as a freshman and sophomore, the six-year-old G’wildcat may have proven he deserves another shot against top Louisiana-bred sprinters.

Winning the second race on the New Year’s Day card by over seven lengths, G’wildcat earned an 88 Brisnet speed figure — his top in 21 lifetime races. And he did it against a field that had 36 wins among them, each flirting with stakes company at some point in their career. After pressing El Deal Me Aces through the opening furlong, the recent addition to the Sturges Ducoing barn took over and drew off. An easy clean trip, but also one that showed his versatility to settle if need be, which can be crucial to beating these local one-dimensional sprinters who burn each other out needing the lead.

Jack Hammer

A few sprinters dropped out of stakes company looking to get their confidence back, but only one enraged with a puffed-out chest and that was Jack Hammer. Bret Calhoun’s runner is a half to Winning Romance, a filly who won several stakes for Calhoun. After progressing into a real talent as a three-year-old, the question became sprint or route for this son of Jimmy Creed. He followed up his win in the six-furlong Louisiana Futurity with a one-mile stake victory at Delta Downs, then came back in the Half Ours S., was fried chasing the pace and then was put on the shelf, apparently targeting this meet.

Though taking on stakes company opening weekend, it looked like he needed one in his first race back. On Monday with Reylu Gutierrez up, Jack Hammer settled nicely, saved ground, and showed his run down the stretch and through the gallop-out. A strong sign of a maturing horse employing relaxed tactics and then building speed through the long Fair Grounds stretch, so I’m guessing longer next for Jack Hammer, and I’m guessing the Star Guitar S. on closing day is the end goal of the meet for the four-time winner who earned an 88 Brisnet Speed figure for his latest.