Tom Durant's Silver Dust has been made the lukewarm 7-2 morning favorite for the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots against a competitive field of ten other older horses.
Trained by Bret Calhoun, the 5-year-old gelded son of Tapit enters the mile-and-an-eighth event over the main track off of a win in the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap on February 16, which was his first stakes victory. A winner of four of his 19 career starts, Silver Dust has displayed quite a pattern of consistency in his last four outings, three of which resulted in trips to the winner's circle. After winning an off-the-turf allowance event by eight lengths at Churchill Downs four starts back on November 21, he returned to the winner's circle once more in a Fair Grounds allowance event on December 21. He will break from post six under Jack Gilligan, who scored his first graded stakes victory when piloting Silver Dust in the Mineshaft Handicap.
Breaking from the ten hole is Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing's Copper Bullet. Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen, the 4-year-old son of More Than Ready was second beaten a neck to Coal Front in the Grade III Razorback at Oaklawn Park last time out. As a 2-year-old, Copper Bullet won the Grade II Saratoga Special Stakes and did not race again until November of the following year. When he did return to action, however, he did so in style having defeated allowance company at Churchill Downs by 31⁄2 lengths three starts back. He will be guided by jockey Jose Ortiz and is the 4-1 morning line second choice.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has scored Louisiana Derby-New Orleans Handicap doubles in the past with Circular Quay (2007-08) and Mission Impazzable (2010-11) and will seek to do the same with last year's Grade II Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy. Mike Repole's 4-year-old son of Take Charge Indy has not won since last year's Louisiana Derby and will be making his second start this year. In his most recent effort, he was a distant fourth over a sloppy main track at Gulfstream Park in a six-furlong allowance race behind multiple graded stakes winner X Y Jet. He will break from post four under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez at morning line odds of 15-1.
Invading from New York and seeking a fifth straight win is Mary R & Chester Broman Sr.'s Mr. Buff. The John Kimmel trained New York-bred son of Friend Or Foe's quartet of triumphs all took place at Aqueduct and include stakes win in the Alex M. Robb Stakes and the Jazil Stakes, the latter of which was against open company. Jockey Junior Alvarado has the mount aboard Mr. Buff who will break from post eight at 6-1 odds.
Carrying the local banner in the New Orleans Handicap is G M B Racing's Lone Sailor, who boasts the highest amount of lifetime earnings of the 11 runners with $934,737. Trained by Tom Amoss, the 4-year-old son of Majestic Warrior will attempt his second graded stakes win. Three starts back, he won the Grade III Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park on September 30. Lone Sailor was beaten a neck to Noble Indy in last year's Louisiana Derby and would go on to finish a respective eighth and fifth in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (both Grade I ) behind eventual Triple Crown winner Justify. He will be guided by jockey James Graham from post two as at odds of 9-2.
Rounding out the field are Mo Dont No (post one, Mitchell Murrill, 30-1), Souper Tapit (post three, Tyler Gaffalione, 6-1), Krewe Chief (post five, Corey Lanerie, 20-1), Noble Commander (post seven, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 20-1), Bandua (post nine, Adam Beschizza, 12-1) and Core Beliefs (post 11, Florent Geroux, 6-1).
The New Orleans Handicap (3:34 p.m. CT) is carded as the 10th of 13 races on Saturday, March 23 and kicks off a $500,000 Guaranteed All Stakes Pick 4. First post on Louisiana Derby day is 11:00 a.m. CT.
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