Noble Bird and Breaking Lucky were left in the wake of Arrogate in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup in late January, but a case can be made for both in Saturday’s $400,000 New Orleans H. (G2) at Fair Grounds, one of the highlights of the TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) undercard.
Noble Bird set a hot pace before fading to sixth in the Pegasus, while Breaking Lucky never got involved any point in finishing eighth. The two displayed much better form at times last season, good enough to take the 1 1/8-mile New Orleans if replicated.
Having evolved to some extent as a need-the-lead type, Noble Bird used his early foot to win races like the Pimlico Special (G3) and Fayette (G2), the latter in track-record time at Keeneland. However, modest starts have generally led to no-shows, as was the case in races like the Alysheba (G2) and Clark H. (G1).
The Clark was one of Better Lucky better tries on dirt last year, where he finished a clear second to lone speed Gun Runner but ahead of Shaman Ghost. Two starts earlier, the Canadian classic winner was a narrowly-beaten fourth by a neck in the Woodward (G1) to Shaman Ghost, who earlier this month captured the Santa Anita H. (G1) following a second in the Pegasus.
The seven-year-old Hawaakom is in peak form entering the New Orleans having captured the $73,000 Louisiana over this track in late January, followed by a runner-up finish to Gun Runner in the Razorback H. (G3). The remainder of the New Orleans contenders exit the Feb. 25 Mineshaft H. (G3), won by Honorable Duty by a half-length over International Star, with Eagle fourth and Mo Tom sixth.
International Star and Eagle, second and third, respectively, in the 2016 New Orleans, both entered the Mineshaft off long spells and are eligible to move forward second off the bench.
The $300,000 Muniz Memorial (G2), Fair Grounds’ leading grass stakes for older horses at about 1 1/8 miles, features the top five from the finishers from the Feb. 25 Fair Grounds H. (G3) — Enterprising, Oscar Nominated, One Mean Man, Bullards Alley, and Granny’s Kitten. Separated by three lengths at the finish, all except Grade 3 scorer Bullards Alley have winning form over the course.
Grade 3 winner Kasaqui, a narrowly beaten second in the Arlington Million (G2) last August, is the primary out-of-town invader. He tuned up with a sharp runner-up placing in the Tampa Bay (G3) last month.