NEW ORLEANS — Fair Grounds and Race Course trainer Michael Stidham knows how to win. He proved that this weekend when one of his fillies, Extravaganza, won the $75,000 Happy Ticket Stakes Saturday.
But observers aren’t giving Stidham and his prize 3-year-old, Ground Transport, much of a chance in the $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 30. That’s despite the fact Transport has won both of his starts this year, and that Stidham currently ranks a respectable seventh in the Fair Grounds 2012-13 trainer standings.
But as of Sunday, Transport hasn’t accumulated any points in Churchill Down’s new Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying system, pegging the 3-year-old as almost an afterthought for March 30 — and certainly for any shot at that Triple Crown races.
But being an underdog is fine with Stidham.
“I’ve been that many times, so I know the feeling, ” Stidham said with a wide smile Sunday. “It’s just great to have a horse race enough to be considered part of this kind of race (the Louisiana Derby). I think we have a good horse, and we’ll see what happens (March 30).”
Stidham and his team worked out Transport, who is owned by a quartet of investors, at the Fair Grounds Saturday morning, covering a bullet five furlongs in 59.40 seconds, an encouraging development for the mount.
Also boosting Stidham’s confidence is the assumption of the reins by seasoned jockey Mark Guidry, who replaced James Graham as the horse’s pilot when Stidham gave Guidry a test run.
“Mark was doing well with him, so we went with (Guidry) to ride him, and we’re going to stay where we’re at,” Stidham said.
Guidry said he’s also optimistic about Ground Transport’s chances March 30, even with the long odds.
“He’s a good horse,” Guidry said. “I like his chances. “He’s been doing everything we’ve asked him to do so far. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed.”
The Fair Grounds will hold its fourth annual crawfish boil Monday to benefit the Louisiana Horse Rescue Association’s efforts to rehabilitate injured or mistreated horses and find them new homes. The boil, to be held from 5-7 p.m., will include 800 pounds of crawfish, an eating contest led by the jockeys and an auction. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased in advance or at the door. E-mail Sandra.Salmen@fgno.com for more information or for tickets. A free screening of the award-winning documentary T-Galop: A Louisiana Horse Story will follow the boil at 7 p.m.