As the hordes of locals flock to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on Thanksgiving Day for one of the most beloved New Orleans traditions, nine barns will be preparing their top sprinter for the 99th running of the $200,000 Thanksgiving Classic. With a purse up $25,000 from last year, grandma’s turkey will take a back seat to the six-furlong dirt sprint for 3-year-olds and up. Slated as the ninth race of 10, post time is scheduled for 4:06 p.m. (all times central). The day’s festivities kick off at noon.
Checks have been coming in but wins have been elusive for Jay Em Ess Stable’s Miles Ahead in 2023. Finishing in the money in every outing as a 6-year-old, the gelded son of Competitive Edge trained by Paul McGee will have to overcome the far outside post in order to serve up the Thanksgiving Classic as his first win of the year.
“That ought to be alright,” McGee said. “I always like the outside draw for sprints.”
An honest racehorse who gives his all every outing, Miles Ahead rarely doesn’t fire, no matter where he draws or who he faces, and he has 12 wins and 22 top-three finishes to prove it. Eight of those scores have come at the Thanksgiving Classic distance. Oddsmaker Mike Diliberto believes the public will favor Miles Ahead over the rest of the Thanksgiving spread, making him 2-1 in the morning line.
A graded-stakes winner at the age of four, Miles Ahead almost racked up another in this year’s Grade 3 Whitmore, but ran second to Tejano Twist. That same foe stood between him and the winner’s circle on Nov. 4 in the Bet On Sunshine at Churchill Downs.
“I thought he ran really good in the Bet On Sunshine,” McGee said. “He was fresh off a little bit of a layoff, and he came out of it doing really well, so I figured we could wheel him back three weeks later in this race. I feel like he’s on top of his game. That horse always runs–he’s a hard-trying horse.”
With $812,313 in lifetime earnings, a win on Thursday would put him in striking distance of the millionaire milestone. As his trainer wraps up things at Churchill, Fair Grounds Hall of Fame trainer Neil Howard will saddle Miles Ahead for the Classic. It will be a homecoming for his pilot, as the Jefferson Parrish-native Joe Talamo gets the call.
“Miles Ahead has stalking speed, he doesn’t come from the clouds,” McGee said. “Talamo knows him. I feel we’ll be relatively close (to the leader).”
With a stark advantage over the field in terms of early pace figures, on paper Matriarca’s Super Ocho looks like he will get the early lead. Winless in five tries at 6 furlongs, the question on Thanksgiving will be whether or not he can hang on through the wire. The Chilean-bred has three wins since heading north as a 4-year-old and into Amador Sanchez’ barn. A winner of two Group 2 stakes in Chile, the 5-year-old horse has faced several fields of world-class sprinters. In 2022 he finished third in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2) ahead of entering the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) where he led through the first two calls before faltering and finishing sixth to Elite Power. He’s been lightly campaigned in 2023 after his connections sent him to the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) where he finished 11th of 14. In his only race since, Super Ocho powered away from the field to win by over six lengths in an allowance at Delta Downs on October 26. Jockey Vincente Del-Cid follows him from Delta and will look for a clean jump on his rivals from post No. 7.
Here’s the complete field for the $200,000 Thanksgiving Classic from the rail out (with jockey, trainer, and morning line):
- Chasing Time (Jamie Torres, Steve Asmussen, 9-2);
- Machine Gun Man (Juan C. Sanchez, C.J. McMahon, 10-1);
- Swift as I Am (Jareth Loveberry, Tanner Tracy, 20-1);
- Cowan (Deshawn Parker, Raymond Ginter Jr., 8-1);
- Minnesota Ready (Corey Lanerie, Neil Pessin, 6-1);
- Kavod (Mitchell Murrill, Chris Hartman, 8-1);
- Super Ocho (Chi) (Vicente Del-Cid, Amador Sanchez, 5-1);
- Gilcrease (Marcelino Pedroza Jr., Al Stall Jr., 8-1);
- Miles Ahead (Joe Talamo, Paul McGee, 2-1).
The holiday week of racing continues at Fair Grounds with a regular 12:45 p.m. first post on Friday and Saturday. Nine races have been carded each day, and the 58th running of the $100,000 Pan Zareta Stakes is slated as race 8 on Saturday.