March 29, 2023

The Player the one to catch in New Orleans Handicap

The Player's first win at 1 1/8 miles was the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland (Coady Photography)

More focused with the addition of blinkers, The Player ran away from the opposition in last month’s Mineshaft H. (G3), leading all the way under Calvin Borel. Saturday at Fair Grounds, the five-year-old Street Hero horse will be a major threat to do it all again in the $400,000 New Orleans H. (G2) on the TwinSpires Louisiana Derby Day undercard.

The 1 1/8-mile New Orleans attracted only a field of six, and on paper The Player looks very much like the primary speed. The Buff Bradley trainee, who won the Mineshaft by a widening 4 1/4 lengths, will break from post 1, and an extra sixteenth alone figures not to be a hindrance given a win over the distance last fall in the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland.

It might be up to Han Sense, the Iowa-bred who’s lost back-to-back allowances in photo finishes, to keep The Player honest up front. If he does so, leading off-the-pace contenders Good Samaritan and Leofric will have a chance.

Best known for beating two classic winners in last summer’s Jim Dandy (G2), Good Samaritan makes his four-year-old debut in the New Orleans. While he didn’t win again after his Saratoga upset, he closed out his sophomore season with a sharp second in the Clark H. (G1) to Seeking the Soul, with The Player fifth.

Leofric was scratched from last weekend’s Essex H. at Oaklawn in favor of the New Orleans. The lightly-raced son of Candy Ride has won four of his last six and has been knocking on the door in stakes company, most recently finishing second in the Razorback H. (G3) to the rail-skimming Hawaakom.

Grade 2 veteran Scuba made a mild rally for third in the Mineshaft after a less-than-ideal trip. While he’s shown early speed in much longer races, he figures to be farther off the pace in the New Orleans. The field is rounded out by Hollywood Handsome, who makes his second start off a layoff but has not placed in four prior stakes attempts.

A field of 11 has been entered in the $300,000 Muniz Memorial (G2) at about 1 1/8 miles on the turf, but most eyes will be the Pin Oak homebred Synchrony and Mr. Misunderstood, the one-two finishers in last month’s Fair Grounds H. (G3) at the same distance.

An authoritative two-length winner off a layoff approaching nine months, Synchrony delivered to Mr. Misunderstood his first loss in nine attempts on turf. The latter, the 13-10 favorite, had not faced horses older than he before that, but gave a typically strong account while five lengths ahead of the next horse.

Lucullan, second by a neck in last fall’s Hill Prince (G3) in his only other stakes try, enters the Muniz off a three-length allowance score at Gulfstream for Kiaran McLaughlin. Forge, meanwhile, ran division champion World Approval to a half-length in the Tampa Bay (G3) and figures dangerous with a continuation of that form. Graded veteran Ring Weekend also comes in off an allowance triumph at Gulfstream.