Bourgeois enjoying big meet
NEW ORLEANS – For the first time, Louisiana trainer Keith Bourgeois has a winter base at Fair Grounds, and he’s on pace for one of his most successful meets here.
“I like it here, not just because I’m having a good meet,” said Bourgeois, 53, who lives in Lafayette, La., and until this season would send his runners by van to New Orleans.
Through Thursday’s races, Bourgeois had won with 13 of 42 starters (31 percent) and ranked sixth in the trainer standings. His in-the-money rate was 55 percent.
Bourgeois still relies to some extent on shipping. He is keeping 13 horses in his Fair Grounds barn, overseen by his 23-yearold son, Grant Bourgeois, and another 27 horses at Delta Downs, where assistant Becky LeBlanc oversees the barn. Horses will travel from one track to another to run in appropriate races.
“My son stays here full time,” Bourgeois said. “He gallops. He runs the barn. Having him, I can keep the horses here full time.”
Bourgeois, who has 2,323 career victories, first won at Fair Grounds in 1988. His season high for wins at Fair Grounds is 22, from 195 starters, in 1999-2000. His victory total this season is his highest at Fair Grounds since he won 14 races from 70 starters in 2008-2009.
Years ago, Bourgeois was a fixture among the leading trainers at Fair Grounds. He finished in the top 10 in the standings here for seven consecutive meets, from 1995-96 through 2001-2002. During that span, he averaged 168 starts per meet.
Then he became much less active at Fair Grounds and more active at Delta Downs. After making 91 starts at the 2002-2003 Fair Grounds meet, Bourgeois had seven New Orleans meets in which he made no more than 25 starts. Slots-enhanced purses at Delta Downs drew him there.
“When the casino came to Delta, we just started running a lot there,” Bourgeois said. “Delta got [slot machines] first, and then Evangeline got them.”
Slots came to Delta Downs in 2002. Slots didn’t come to Fair Grounds until 2008.
Bourgeois, who runs mainly a claiming operation, has been winning at a steady clip at Delta and Evangeline for many years. Nationally, he has finished in the top 50 in trainer wins 12 times since 2000. His best national finish was 10th in 2009, when he reached single-year bests for wins, 192, and purse earnings, $3.52 million.
After this meet, Bourgeois said, he intends to have a string of horses at Churchill Downs for the first time. He and his son will go there, and LeBlanc will oversee the stable’s horses at Evangeline Downs.
Allowance might impact Risen Star
Six 3-year-olds running a mile and 70 yards Sunday in a first-level optional $50,000 claimer have a chance to demonstrate whether they belong on the path to the Louisiana Derby.
“Whoever wins it or runs second will probably run back in the Risen Star,” said Larry Jones, who trains Jensen, who will be trying two turns for the first time in the race.
The Grade 2 Risen Star, the final stakes prep for the $1 million, Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, will be run Feb. 20. The Louisiana Derby will be run March 26.
The $41,000 race Sunday didn’t draw an entrant at the $50,000 optional-claiming price.
The likely favorite is Harlan Punch, who hasn’t raced since finishing third, five lengths behind winner Exaggerator, in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot on Nov. 21. Harlan Punch, who has won 1 of 3 starts, finished second in the Jean Lafitte at Delta Downs in his second start.
Trainer Tom Amoss said he thinks Harlan Punch will appreciate moving from the bullring at Delta Downs to the mile track at Fair Grounds.
“I think he’s a nice horse,” Amoss said. “He’s a big, strongly made horse. I don’t think he’s a horse for Delta.”
Amoss already is on the Louisiana Derby trail with Mo Tom, who won the first Louisiana Derby stakes prep, the Grade 3 Lecomte, on Jan. 16. The trainer wouldn’t speculate about whether Harlan Punch might join Mo Tom in the Risen Star.
“This race is the only thing in my mind right now,” Amoss said.
Dolphus, trained by Joe Sharp, was set to run in the Lecomte but reared in the starting gate, got loose briefly, and was scratched. If the $50,000 Keith Gee Memorial on Sunday is switched from turf to dirt, Sharp would run Dolphus in that race instead of this one.
A Lookin At Lucky colt who is a halfbrother of Rachel Alexandra, Dolphus has won 1 of 2 starts. He finished third at this level and distance, four lengths behind winner Pinnacle Peak, on Dec. 18.
Concerning whether this race might lead to the Risen Star for Dolphus, Sharp said: “It just depends how he comes out of it. He hasn’t had what I’d call a strenuous campaign to this point. He’s a pretty fresh horse.”
Jensen, a Haynesfield colt, rallied past maidens to win at six furlongs Jan. 10.
Jones said he thinks Jensen will benefit from stretching out.
“That’s what pedigree says he’s supposed to do,” Jones said.
The other horses are Spikes Shirl, a Dallas Stewart trainee who lost by a neck to Tiznoble in a mile race at this level Dec. 28; Texas Jambalaya, a Terry Eoff trainee coming off a fourth-place finish in the seven-furlong Big Drama on Jan. 9 at Delta Downs; and Royal Ramson, a maiden trained by Danny Pish.