LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen October  20, 2018

GEARING UP FOR THE MARDI GRAS FUTURITY

The $310,466 Mardi Gras Futurity (RG2) will take place on Saturday, March 17 at Louisiana Downs. As the first "official" futurity of the calendar year, it has a rich history and has produced some amazing champions!

To Run Early or Wait

When owners and trainers chart a course for their 2-year-olds, they must grapple with a fundamental question. Should we run in the early futurities or save our horse for the later events in the year?

In recent years, several notable horses have been able to fare well in both the first futurity of the Louisiana circuit as well as the LQHBA Louisiana Million, which runs in December at Evangeline Downs.

Tate Farms and trainer Lanny Keith had that good fortune in 2016 with Tf Racee Runaway.

"He won his trial for the Mardi Gras Futurity, but faced a stiff head wind so he did not qualify for the final," said Keith. "But it didn't take too much out of him as he won the Million later that year."

That same year was held similar good fortune for Rdd Lajollanfastdash. The son of Heza Fast Dash qualified for four futurities in Louisiana, winning the $273,054 Mardi Gras Futurity (RG2) as well as the $323,488 LQHBA Sale Futurity (RG1) on September 3 at Fair Grounds. On Friday, October 28, he set the fastest qualifying time to the $1 million LQHBA Breeders Futurity at Evangeline Downs, running third to Tf Racee Runaway in the final.

"This horse has given me many firsts," admitted breeder Richard Dale Domingue. "He was my first graded stakes winner as a breeder and the win in the LQHBA Sale Futurity was a first as well. By far, he is my once in a lifetime horse!"

Two of the most successful Louisiana-breds, Vals Fortune and Jet Black Patriot, captured both the Mardi Gras and LQHBA Breeders Futurity (now called the LQHBA Louisiana Million). Vals Fortune won the 2003 edition of the Mardi Gras Futurity and the Heath Taylor trainee went on to win 20 of his 23 starts, becoming the first Louisiana-bred millionaire. Five years later, Jet Black Patriot, bred and owned by Richard and Janelle Simon, stamped his name in the record books, winning the Mardi Gras, Lee Berwick and LQHBA Breeders Futurity, with a runner-up finish in the All American Futurity (G1) at Ruidoso Downs as well!

And a very special mention to 2015 Mardi Gras Futurity champion Magic Black Jack. While he did not win another futurity, he set a new world record in the 2017 Flying Breed Stakes at Delta Downs and became the first Louisiana-bred in AQHA history to accomplish that feat.

Tough Choices for Jockeys

It's always a difficult choice for jockeys who qualify multiple horses for a futurity and bypass the winner. That was the case for young Eddie Sanchez last year in the Mardi Gras Futurity, who rode multiple trial winners and settled on Shesa Diamond Diva in the final. She weakened and ran fourth.

However, it can be a thrill for a rider who gets a call to ride one of the other qualifiers and win the final with a career best effort. That was the case last year for jockey Francisco Calderon. Trainer Jose Sanchez qualified three fillies for the $271,738 Mardi Gras Futurity (RG2) at Louisiana Downs. He phoned Calderon to see if he would ride the seventh- fastest qualifier, Blue Eyed Fance in the March 18th final.

"I think I said yes before the phone rang," Calderon recalled with a smile.

Blue Eyed Fance was dismissed by the betting public at odds of 15-1. She won and paid $33.40.

Trainer, Jockey and Owner Success

The late Steve Vanbebber and Heath Taylor each saddled three Mardi Gras Futurity winners and Miguel Rodriguez won the championship twice.

Veteran jockey Raul Ramirez, Jr. has the record for wins with four victories; all in the last nine years. Alvin Brossette and Gilbert Ortiz have each won the Mardi Gras Futurity three times and Donald Watson is a two-time champion.

Teddy Abrams, Jr. is the only owner in the history of the race with three wins.

Big Payouts as Fastest Qualifiers Have Struggled

For handicappers looking to make some plays on the race, recent history suggests that favorites have not fared well and that going deeper into the field is a wise choice. Upsets have ruled in four of the last five runnings of the Mardi Gras Futurity, with Rdd Lajollanfastdash in 2016 as the lone favorite to capture the 300-yard championship. As noted, Blue Eyed Fance sprang the upset last year, coming into the final as the seventh-fastest qualifier. In 2015, Magic Black Jack won, also with the seventh-fastest time. 2014 winner Hemps Jumpn Lajolla ($25.80) was the sixth-fastest qualifier and in 2013, Sandra Sue Blue, at 33-1, was the gate-to-wire spoiler. She was the ninth-fastest qualifier.

Floods Forced Rescheduling in 2016

On Thursday, March 10, 2016, Louisiana Downs officials ordered an evacuation of the track's backside, urging all horses to be out by 10 am the next morning.

Kenneth Roberts, Sr. qualified Heisa Hot Ticket and An American Outlaw for the $86,190 Mardi Gras Derby, and had sent them back to his farm following the trials. However, he still had 44 horses stabled at Louisiana Downs and had to mobilize very quickly.

"I called owners, friends and everybody I could think of to come help," explained Roberts. "The support was amazing; I didn't think we could get all the horses out, but we did!"

It just reinforced the adaptability of people in the Quarter Horse industry, as just ten days later, the finalists returned, and another championship went into the history books.

The Mardi Gras Futurity had its first running in 1988 and has an impact, not only in Louisiana, but on the national Quarter Horse radar as the first "official" futurity of the year. This year's event, set for Saturday, March 17, boasts a record purse of $310,466 and St. Patrick's Day festivities. Racing fans will see another group of promising juveniles as well as the $87,506 Mardi Gras Derby.

Follow the LQHBA Facebook page for updates on the Mardi Gras Futurity and Derby as well as special events on the March 17th program.

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The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen for www.lqhba.com. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.