NEW ORLEANS -- The connections of Indygo Mountain can only hope Round 2 of the Fair Grounds 3-year-old stakes series goes better than Round 1. It hardly could be worse.
Indygo Mountain, a $600,000 yearling by A.P. Indy, hit the early Triple Crown radar with an impressive one-mile maiden win at Churchill Downs in October, but little went right in the ensuing two months. The colt battled foot trouble after coming to Fair Grounds, and actually was scratched on the track minutes before he was to have started in a December allowance race. Already behind in his training, Indygo Mountain quickly fell far behind the early leaders after hitting the gate at the start of the Jan. 10 Lecomte Stakes, and he wound up a distant sixth that day.
But trainer Bret Calhoun is optimistic that things will unfold far more favorably here Saturday when Indygo Mountain returns in the $200,000 Risen Star.
"That last race was disheartening, but I think that's just a throw-out race," Calhoun said Wednesday on a relatively frigid Fair Grounds backstretch. "I think he'll improve significantly this time."
Indygo Mountain is pretty gigantic, tall, long-legged and long-bodied. All the parts have taken time to work in tandem, but Calhoun is seeing progress.
"His legs used to go everywhere when he ran," Calhoun said, "but now he's getting them under him a lot better."
Indeed, when Indygo Mountain had a five-furlong work here Jan. 29, only Old Fashioned bettered his time of 1:00.
Calhoun also was enthused with the way Silver City, his other top 3-year-old prospect, worked last week. Silver City is headed back to Oaklawn Park, where he won a sprint stakes last month, to make his two-turn debut in the Feb. 16 Southwest Stakes. Calhoun said the colt would be shipped from Fair Grounds three days before the race.
Meanwhile, tough-luck Euroears - also trained by Calhoun - has come through surgery required to fix a previous operation in which screws were inserted into a broken bone in a hind leg. Away from the races from last winter until this past fall, Euroears made two starts in Kentucky before running into more problems. Calhoun said two screws were removed and one screw inserted into the injury site. Euroears will require four months of recovery time before he can start training again.
French Beret's split personality
The real French Beret showed up when the 6-year-old gelding won the Colonel Bradley Handicap over the Fair Grounds grass course last month. Of course, the real French Beret also had shown up in two prior allowance-race losses earlier in the current meet.
"You never know quite what to expect from him," said trainer Mark Frostad.
French Beret has started in 34 races, but won only four of them. On 16 other occasions, he finished second or third. Adult attention deficit disorder probably would be the psychiatric diagnosis, were French Beret human rather than equine.
"He's quirky," Frostad said. "He's dropped a lot of riders in the morning. Around the barn he's fine, except on race day, when he'll act up."
That means French Beret's handlers have to be on their toes Saturday morning, since the horse races that afternoon in the Fair Grounds Handicap, one of eight horses in an evenly matched 1 1/8-mile grass race. Last year, French Beret finished fifth in the Fair Grounds Handicap after winning the 2008 Colonel Bradley, but true to form - or to his lack of consistent form - French Beret was back the next month with a strong second in the $500,000 Mervin Muniz.
Mambo in Seattle works fastest of 20
Grasshopper's preparation for his 2009 debut is all but finished, with the 5-year-old set to start Saturday in the Mineshaft Handicap. Trainer Neil Howard's other hope for the handicap division, 4-year-old Mambo in Seattle, isn't nearly as far along, but he still posted the fastest of 20 half-mile works Wednesday at Fair Grounds, going the distance over a slow-playing surface in 49.60 seconds.
The breeze was Mambo in Seattle's second since returning to Howard's barn after a winter break. In December, Mambo in Seattle - who nearly won the Travers Stakes last summer - had a partially undescended testicle removed, though Howard said how much that will help the horse probably won't be determined "until he's under the duress of a race."
"He's a little ways off from us considering anything," Howard said. "There's no race penciled in for him yet."