Bradshaw’s Graydar holds on in N.O. Handicap

NEW ORLEANS — Terry Bradshaw obviously knows football.

He knows horses, too.

When the Pro Football Hall of Famer and co-owner Steve Davison of Ruston first purchased Graydar, they were unable to get him on the track as a two-year old and only three times last year because of various illnesses and injuries.

“I told Steve we’ve got to be careful with this horse because he’s so big,” Bradshaw said Saturday.

“That’s given him time to mature and grow into his body, which ultimately would be to our advantage.”

Indeed, the Todd Pletcher four-year-old made another major statement Saturday, holding off Mark Valeski to win the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap at the Fair Grounds.

Bourbon Courage, who finished second to Graydar in the Grade I Donn Handicap last month, also at 11⁄8 miles was third.

It was the fourth victory in five career starts for Graydar, who was racing for the first time at the Fair Grounds.

Graydar was the favorite but had to work for the victory.

He and Mark Valeski, the runner-up in last year’s Louisiana Derby both made their moves past Bourbon Courage at the too of the stretch, and Mark Valeski seemed to have the advantage on the inside with 75 yards left.

But Graydar, ridden by Edgar Prado, made the final closing move to win by a length.

“He was getting a wide trip, which is new dimension for him,” said Davison, an old Louisiana Tech buddy of Bradshaw’s. “But he’s a pretty well-behaved horse with good speed and stamina.

“Today, he showed he can come from off the pace, and that’s why he’s such a good horse.”

Bradshaw said that being an owner is difficult for an athlete, even one who’s been in the horse business for 30 years.

“Now I know what my parents felt like sitting in the stands watching me play,” he said. “But I get an exhilaration from this, because having a horse like Graydar has me all jacked up.

“Once you get one like this, it’s a pleasure just watching him race.”

New Rider, No Problem

Maybe it doesn’t matter who’s riding Unlimited Budget.

With her third rider in four starts, the Todd Pletcher-trained filly remained undefeated by winning the $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks.

The victory made Unlimited Budget one of the favorites for the Kentucky Oaks, the distaff Kentucky Derby that will be run in May in Louisville.

Javier Castellano was Unlimited Budget’s jockey Saturday, subbing for Rosie Napravnik who had guided her to victory in the Rachel Alexandra.

J.R. Valazquez had ridden Unlimited Budget in her first two starts last year at Aqueduct.

“Where we go from here will be up to the owners,” Ulimited Budget’s assistant trainer Whit Beckman said. “The way she’s running, just about anybody can ride her at this point.”

Challenged for the first time in her four starts, Unlimited Budget made a smart move at the head of the stretch and won by 1¾ lengths over Flashy Gray.

“A beautiful trip,” Castellano said. “That’s what I was looking for today.

“I mean — phenomenal.”

Changes for the Better

Lee’s Spirit, with first time rider Shaun Bridgmohan, was the longest shot in the $60,000 Costa Rising. But he held off favored Populist Politics in the 11⁄16-mile event to win for the third time in his career and for the first time at the Fair Grounds, where he had three previous starts. Bridgmohan also proved to be a wise move for trainer Brett Brinkman when he guided Sittin’ at the Bar to victory in the $75,000 Crescent City Oaks over a mile and 70 yards. Sittin’ at the Bar, a Louisiana-bred filly owned by Dale Ladner, had slumped to fifth at the Honeybee at Oaklawn Park three weeks after scoring three victories as a two-year-old, two of them at the Fair Grounds.

But the biggest change for the better came in the $400,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap where Irish-bred and raced Amira’s Prince took the victory in his first race in North America.

Mack the Hawk

First race winner Mack’s Blackhawk had made only one start in 2013 after winning four times in 2012 — a disappointing sixth in a 11⁄16 miles in his first race for new trainer Gorder Kellyn, But the seven-year-old reverted to form, winning easily over a field of 11.

Little Louie Wins One

Louis Roussell III hasn’t had a Louisiana Derby winner since 1994. But the co-owner of Risen Star was in the winner’s circle Saturday with his self-trained Dead Own, who followed a seven-furlong victory in February with a mile turf victory against a field of 13.