Virginia-Bred Chess Chief Edges Happy American in the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds

The following appeared in the Daily Racing Form was written by Marcus Hersh. Chess Chief, bred by Morgan’s Ford Farm, was making his 30th career start. With the stakes win, the 5-year-old Into Mischief gelding’s bankroll rose to $810,338.

Something – a dazzling spell, a sense of lightness and well-being – must descend upon the 5-year-old horse Chess Chief whenever the horse trailer in which he’s riding crosses into Orleans Parrish and makes its way onto the Fair Grounds backstretch. 

In 20 starts outside New Orleans, Chess Chief never has won. Zero, zilch, nada. But at Fair Grounds, his beloved Fair Grounds, Chess Chief ran his record to five wins from 10 starts with the slimmest of scores over Happy American in the $100,000 Tenacious Stakes on Sunday.  

Chess Chief, in the post parade of the Blue Grass Stakes in 2019.

Chess Chief got a sweet ride from Reylu Gutierrez and was home by a head-bob over Happy American, who came flying up the inside after lagging in last much of the Tenacious under James Graham.  

“I was worried. That horse really came running in the lane. What a battle,” Gutierrez said.  

Pirate’s Punch, who disputed splits of 23.75 and 47.20 with Ebben and Warrior in Chief, both of whom faded out of contention, gamely held third. Chess Chief was timed in 1:43.39 over a fast dirt track and paid $22.20. 

Chess Chief broke well from post 10 but wound up pulling a stalking trip that found him in heavy traffic for much of the backstretch run.

Chess Chief (inside) edges Happy American (#12) in the Tenacious Stakes (Hodges Photography).

“It was tight on the backside; I had to point my way into the clear,” Gutierrez said. In the homestretch, Chess Chief loomed on the far outside as Happy American, finishing with a flourish, hit holes on the inside, looking like a winner at the sixteenth pole. In live action, it appeared Happy American had gotten his head down on the wire, but it was Chess Chief who had the fortunate bob at his favorite racecourse. 

Dallas Stewart, born and raised in New Orleans East and long ago a valet at Fair Grounds early in his racing career, trains Chess Chief for the Estate of James Coleman Jr. Chess Chief, a 5-year-old son of Into Mischief and Un Blessed, by Mineshaft, won the Grade 2 New Orleans Classic this past March and was dropping in class Sunday from a pair of Grade 1s and a Grade 3.  

“He ran against the best trying to win a Grade 1,” Stewart said. “Maybe we’ll try again next year.” 

Halo Again glows in turf debut  

Less than a half-hour after winning the Tenacious on dirt, Reylu Gutierrez steered Halo Again to a front-running upset in the $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Stakes on turf.  

It was the third win on the Sunday card for Gutierrez and his second on the day for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.  

“It means the world to me,” said Gutierrez, riding his first Fair Grounds meet.  

On paper there were other speed horses in the Diliberto, but Gutierrez came out firing aboard Halo Again, a Canadian-bred who had run well on synthetic surfaces but never had raced on turf. Halo Again made a comfortable lead, going his half-mile in a manageable 47.96 seconds and, after taking a deep breath from the five-sixteenths to the quarter pole, Halo Again spurted clear in upper stretch and never came close to being caught.

Pixelate, a half-length behind the winner, won the photo finish for second, beating out Mike Maker-trained stablemates Monarch’s Glen and Forty Under for the place. Big Dreaming, surprisingly favored at 9-5, got a good trip just behind the speed but had no finish, checking in fifth. 

Halo Again, a 4-year-old son of Speightstown and Halo’s Verse, by Unbridled’s Song, finished last of 14 in the 2020 Queen’s Plate and then went more than a year between starts. Solid facing graded stakes competition in a pair of post-layoff Tapeta stakes runs at Woodbine, Halo Again, owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing, took to turf in his first try. 

“He ran well before on the synthetic,” assistant trainer Scott Blasi said. “It just worked today.” 

Gutierrez, too, had it working.