NEW ORLEANS (Monday, November 30, 2009) – West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again, defending champion from Fair Grounds’ Grade II New Orleans Handicap last March and also hero of Churchill’s Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap last June, arrived back at Fair Grounds before dawn Monday morning and was enjoying a bath outside trainer Dallas Stewart’s barn as training hours ended.

“He arrived back from Louisville safe and sound,” Stewart said as he held the handsome gray/roan colt’s shank while the bath was completed, “and ‘Amen’ to that. He’s doing fine. Maybe we can go for a repeat this season.”

What would stand in the way of that quest?

“That horse Blame (owned by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm and trained by Al Stall Jr.),” Stewart said. “The way he ran the other day (winning Churchill’s Grade II Clark Handicap Nov. 27) he looks very tough. Our horse was just a little dull in there (finishing ninth), but he’s had a long year. We’ll give him a little time before we start back up with him. Macho’s no slouch. He’s won a million dollars, now.”

Prominent among Macho Again’s other highlight races during 2009 was a head defeat by potential Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in Saratoga’s Grade I Woodward Stakes Sept. 5.

Rachel Alexandra, the filly who beat the boys in Pimlico’s Preakness Stakes and Monmouth’s Haskell Invitational in addition to the Woodward (and also won the 2009 Fair Grounds Oaks on the way to her Kentucky Oaks tally when still racing against fillies) arrived back at her winter quarters at Fair Grounds on Nov. 27.

Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. Credits Fast Start to Early Arrival

One way to get off to a fast start in the Fair Grounds jockey standings is to arrive before Churchill closes to establish some business and then quickly score a riding “hat trick” to get everyone’s attention.

That’s what jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. did on the eighth day of the meeting, Nov. 21, when he rode Unter Racing Stable’s Pretty Persuasion to win the fifth for trainer Mike Stidham, Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tapachula to win the sixth for last year’s Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen and then the ninth race that day aboard Martin Cherry’s Northern Bell for conditioner Steve Margolis.

“I got off to a hot start, that’s the key,” said Hernandez on Monday morning, “and I’m riding for a lot of good outfits. Mike Stidham and Steve Margolis both got off to good starts, and I’ve just been tagging along for the ride. If I keep riding good horses, I can stay in contention (for leading rider), but with guys like Shane Sellers and Robby Albarado down here that’s a tough thing to do.”

Hernandez, 24, born in Lafayette, Louisiana, has a father Brian Sr. and a little brother Colby who are currently riding at Delta Downs. At Fair Grounds this season, he has teamed up once again with agent Wesley Landry, who started him off on his career five years ago.

“He’s always been a good little rider, right from the beginning,” said Landry. “I’m happy to get back together with him. We’ll see where our business takes us.”

Hernandez, who earned his first leading rider honors at Evangeline Downs in 2004 an route to being named the Eclipse Award winner , also boasts leading rider titles at Turfway Park and Kentucky Downs during 2008. Following Sunday’s racing program, he is tied for second in the Fair Grounds standings with Shane Sellers and John Jacinto at 12 wins – one off the 13-win pace of leading rider James Graham.

Also Back in Town – Jockey Francisco Torres

Arriving back in New Orleans Sunday morning in time to ride on Sunday’s Fair Grounds program was jockey Francisco Torres, who was in contention for leading rider locally last season before suffering a broken collarbone and also needing knee surgery after a training hours-accident early in the meeting.

“I came back in time for the last two weeks of the meeting here and finished up pretty good,” said Torres Monday morning, “and I’m coming off a really good season at Churchill. I rode 14 winners up there and finished fifth in the fall standings.”

Reminder: Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire Runs at Fair Grounds Thursday

When racing resumes at Fair Grounds Thursday, guests of the New Orleans oval can watch and wager on 2009 Grade II Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire, who returns to competition after being idle since the Preakness Stakes last spring. The 3-year-old by A.P. Indy worked a half-mile in :49 3/5 on Monday.

Among those slated to oppose Friesan Fire, owned by Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farm and now conditioned by last year’s Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen, when he goes to the post Thursday is James and Alice Sapara’s Good and Lucky, winner of last season’s $75,000 Louisiana Handicap at Fair Grounds for trainer Josie Carroll.