NEW ORLEANS (Friday, December 04, 2009) – Horse of the Year candidate Rachel Alexandra jogged once the “wrong” way around the Fair Grounds oval Friday morning about 9:30 a.m., accompanied by a pony with assistant trainer Scott Blasi and trailed from about 10 yards behind by trainer Steve Asmussen, supervising the exercise aboard his pony.

“Very athletic, looks beautiful,” is how Asmussen described Rachel Alexandra’s appearance on the track.

Right after entering the track, Rachel Alexandra bucked a few times and reared up once before settling down and continuing on an otherwise uneventful circumnavigation.

“She’s a very playful horse,” Asmussen said. “She’s anxious to do something, very physical. She reacts to things that happen. She doesn’t stand still a lot and she has a tremendous amount of personality.”

Asmussen said that Rachel Alexandra would continue following her recent routine “for the foreseeable future.”

Friesan Fire Comes Back ‘Great’

As for Friesan Fire, the Louisiana Derby winner and Kentucky Derby favorite who finished third in his first start since the Preakness Stakes in Thursday’s feature, Asmussen said he came back from that effort “great.”

“He got a little tired but he came back fine, Asmussen said. “We’ll train him for a while and then we’ll decide what to do next.”

Asmussen Approaching Own Single-Season Mark

Meanwhile, Asmussen continues to close in on breaking his own record for wins in one calendar year, with nine wins needed for the record-setting number of 623 entering the day. The 44-year-old Texas native had 21 horses entered at six different North American tracks Friday, including three at Fair Grounds, which serves as Asmussen’s winter headquarters and where he is the defending trainer champion.

Risen Star Upgraded to Grade II Status

The Risen Star Stakes, a key prep race on the road to the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby, has been granted Grade II status for 2009 by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association’s American Graded Stakes Committee.

This season’s 37th running of the Risen Star, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, carries a purse of $300,000 and is set for Feb. 20. The Risen Star has been won in recent years by standouts such as Friesan Fire (2009), Pyro (2008), Lawyer Ron (2006), Badge of Silver (2003), Dixieland Heat (1993) and the race’s current namesake, the1988 Louisiana Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes winner Risen Star. The race had been known as the Louisiana Derby Trial Stakes through 1988.

Defending Riding Champion Albarado Back at Home at Fair Grounds

Last March, Louisiana native Robby Albarado made history at Fair Grounds, winning his seventh jockey championship at the Crescent City oval.

“It meant a lot to me,” said Albarado at the time. “It was something that had never been done before in the long history of Fair Grounds, and it probably meant more to me because I was born here (Lafayette, Louisiana) and grew up around here. I’ve known about the history of Fair Grounds all my life.”

After leaving New Orleans last spring, Albarado added more 2009 laurels to his career by winning leading rider honors at Keeneland during the Lexington, Kentucky, track’s prestigious spring meeting and then went on to an additional jockey championship during Churchill’s spring session.

However, after returning from Louisville earlier this week following the conclusion of Churchill’s fall session, Albarado reiterated his feelings and future goals during the break in Fair Grounds’ training hours Friday morning
“It’s always kind of nice to come back home,” said Albarado. “It’s nice to see all my old friends in Louisiana, and it’s also always nice to see my Kentucky people shipping in this week. Things seem to be progressing really well for me to have another good winter here.

“Of course, again this year, my biggest future goal is to win the Kentucky Derby,” said Albarado, whose national accomplishments already include riding Mineshaft and Curlin to Horse of the Year titles, and the latter to a victory in the Preakness. “I really, really want to win the Kentucky Derby before I can feel I’ve completed all my goals as a jockey.”

Asked about prospects that could be his next “big horse,” Albarado admitted it was still too early in the year to have any definite ideas.

“It’s still a little early for anything like that,” Albarado said. “It’s not like I can say ‘I expect to win the New Orleans Handicap with this horse or the Louisiana Derby with that horse.’ Things have to sort themselves out a little bit and I have to keep my eyes open.

“As for the Kentucky Derby, all I can say right now is that I ride a lot of (owner) Jess Jackson horses (like Curlin), and that he has a lot of nice babies back there in the barn,” Albarado concluded.

Shane Sellers Scores a Riding Triple Thursday

Jockey Shane Sellers, like Albarado a Louisiana native, has returned to Fair Grounds this winter after a four and a half year hiatus from the saddle and has been among the local leaders since the first day of Fair Grounds 2009-2010 Thoroughbred Racing Season Presented by Miller Lite.

On Thursday, Sellers regained a tie for current leading rider honors at the end of the day by riding three winners during the afternoon. He won Thursday’s third race aboard Dwayne Gallineau’s Jadeseye for trainer Carl Woodley, returned to the winner’s circle after the seventh aboard Mike Munna Racing Stable’s Cupid’s Hit for conditioner Gerald Romero, and completed his “hat trick” astride the Josie Carroll-trained Good and Lucky in the feature, defeating last spring’s Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire in the process.

James Graham Enjoys Thursday Riding Double to Remain Tied for Fair Grounds Lead

Irish-born jockey James Graham has finished second in the Fair Grounds standings in other seasons, and was second once again in the summer standings at Chicago’s Arlington Park when that meeting ended Sept. 27, but as always, Graham is unfazed by the lack of a riding title since arriving in the United States in 2001.

“All that stuff (lack of a riding title) doesn’t make any difference to me at all,” said Graham Friday morning. “I have stayed safe, sound and healthy throughout my career, and I’m just happy to still be here and be able to keep riding. I can’t complain. When I had all those seconds in the last few days at Arlington (when attempting to catch eventual 2009 Arlington champion Junior Alvarado) I might have contributed to some of those seconds by making a mistake that cost me the win. All I can do is try to fix whatever I might have done wrong and try to make sure I don’t do it again.

“As for being leading money-winning rider at Arlington (which he was last summer and is currently at Fair Grounds), I don’t worry about the money title either,” said Graham. “I never had any money when I was growing up, and I don’t worry about money now. My wife takes care of all that.”

Graham scored a riding double Thursday, winning the fourth astride Laura Ann Wieczorek’s Go Go Grande for trainer Bobby Springer, and then coming back to the winner’s circle after the fifth aboard Kenneth Broussard’s One Last Parc for conditioner Donald Cormier Jr. That horse returned a win mutuel of $141 – second highest straight payoff of the season.

Fair Grounds Fans Reach for Number One Thursday

Numbers players who like the number “#1” had a good day Thursday, when saddle towel #1 captured four races during the afternoon, #1 and #2 saddle towels came in first and second three times, and the #1, #,2, and #5 came in first second and third twice during the day’s nine-race program.