Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Friday, August 23, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 08/23/2013 #
  • Mister Marti Gras, shown winning the 2011 Washington Park 'Cap, is likely to start in the 2013 edition of the Grade III race.

In Today’s Notes: Mister Marti Gras Heads Washington Park Noms; Arlington’s Brian W. Spencer New Fair Grounds Paddock Analyst

Lothenbach Stable’s Mister Marti Gras leads a diverse group of nominees for the Grade III $150,000 Washington Park Handicap on Aug. 31.  Twelve total nominations from such heavyweight stables as Graham Motion, Mike Stidham, Wayne Catalano and Chris Block are represented in the the list for what will be the race’s 80th renewal.  The Washington Park has been won in the past by such greats as Busher, Coaltown, Round Table, Swaps, Dr. Fager and Spectacular Bid. 

Bested last year by Grade I-placed Middie when second in the 79th renewal, Mister Marti Gras returns for his third Washington Park appearance.  In 2011, as a 4-year-old, the gelded son of Belong to Me took the race for Block.  The now 6-year-old looks to be in great form for what would be his fourth start of 2013.  After finishing second in a tough allowance on the grass to kick off the year, the versatile Mister Marti Gras finished a hard-charging second to multiple stakes winner Hogy in the Grade III Hanshin Cup on May 25 at Arlington.  Last out, he impressively closed under Francisco Torres to win the off-the-turf $125,000 Mystic Lake Mile at Canterbury Park.  A win by the Robert Lothenbach homebred would push his earnings past the $1 million mark.

A highly intriguing nominee is Riverdee Stable’s Eagle Poise.  A 7-year-old gelded son of Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker and an English Oaks victor Reams of Verse, Eagle Poise has not raced since finishing fifth in last year’s Grade III Stars and Stripes at Arlington for trainer Motion.  A marathon runner usually, the distance would be a cut below his norm, but well within his range if his form returns to that which won the Grade III Valedictory over Woodbine’s Polytrack in December 2011.  

Robert and Lawana Low’s Agent Di Nozzo would be bringing the best form of his career into the Washington Park if entered by trainer Steve Margolis.  A son of Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, Agent Di Nozzo ran the best last-race Equibase Speed Figure (112) of any nominee when winning the $100,000 Golden Bear Stakes at Indiana Downs.  The win was the gelding’s sixth in his last eight tries and second in a row. 

A nominee on the serious improve is Bluegrass VII’s Control Tower, from the Wayne Catalano barn.  An impressive winner of two allowances this meet, the son of Van Nistelrooy is coming off a career-high 107 Equibase Speed Figure when winning a one-mile turf allowance on Aug. 11.  Earlier in the meet, the chestnut was second in a good allowance race at the course and distance of the Washington Park to Kenneth Fishbein’s fellow nominee Hattaash.

The most accomplished nominee is Lael Stable and All In Stable’s Willcox Inn, who comes off a fifth-place finish in the Grade I United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park.  While leaning toward running in the grassy Grade II Bernard Baruch Stakes at Saratoga Racecourse on the same day, the son of Harlan’s Holiday could make an appearance instead in the Washington Park if trainer Mike Stidham and the 5-year-old’s owners feel the short walk from his barn to the Arlington paddock is a better fit.  Though his preferred surface is the turf, Willcox Inn did break his maiden on the Arlington Polytrack in what is now seen as an iconic maiden special weight in 2010 – besting eventual Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom. 

Brian W. Spencer, a prominent member of the publicity team at Arlington International Racecourse, has accepted a position as the Paddock Analyst at Arlington’s sister track, Fair Grounds Racecourse for its 2013-2014 thoroughbred meet. 

Spencer, who hails from Illinois, is currently the part-time Paddock Analyst for Arlington, as well as a vital assistant in the press box.  He has actively worked in racing for eight years and brings an accessible and intuitive approach to handicapping and fan education, which have been on display in his work with Horse Player NOW, America’s Best Racing and various seminars at a myriad of racetracks across the country. 

“The Fair Grounds opportunity in many ways came about because of my connection to Arlington Park. This is where it all started for me -- where I started coming to the races, where I learned to bet, and where I eventually did my first work in racing, co-hosting Learn to Win seminars with Joe Kristufek and writing horse-by-horse program comments,” Spencer stated.

“It was a natural fit for me when I was asked to be the Fair Grounds correspondent for Horse Player NOW, because many of the local Chicago connections send horses to New Orleans, giving me a built-in familiarity with the circuit.  Through those years, I've been fortunate to be a part of the Arlington family, and I've been welcomed and supported here from day one. The opportunity to join Jessica Pacheco on-air beginning last year turned out to be a huge plus, for obvious reasons, and she and the rest of the team have been great in providing valuable feedback. This year has been my first year as part of the communications team, and that, too, has given me important experience that will allow me to wear a couple of additional hats at Fair Grounds this winter.”

Spencer reports to New Orleans in October in advance of the track’s Nov. 22 opening.