Gigante Outduels Northern Invader, Adds Woodchopper to Resume

December 30, 2023

Even an outstretched neck didn’t get Northern Invader (#7 inside) the win over Gigante in the Woodchopper Stakes. (Hodges Photography/ Amanda Hodges Weir)

Tufani Dazzles to Win Pago Hop by Open Lengths

Virgina-breds on top in both of Saturday’s stakes at Fair Grounds 

Fair Grounds Press Release

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Saturday’s $100,000 Woodchopper at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots came down to a stretch duel as Gigante got the better of Northern Invader for the third time during the burgeoning turf stars’ sophomore campaigns. Winning by a neck, Iapetus Racing and Diamond T Racing’s Gigante made the Woodchopper the fifth stakes victory of his career.  

Beating out eight other 3-year-olds, Gigante clocked in at 1:36.70 going about one mile on the firm Stall-Wilson turf course with the portable rail set at nine feet. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the Virginia-bred son of Not This Time received the fine-handling of jockey Edgar Morales.

“This horse has really improved this year,” assistant trainer on the grounds, Scott Blasi said. “He won the Secretariat (G2) at Colonial. We were off the grass at Churchill last time and saw another big effort out of him. I really liked the trip he got today. Saved ground, got tipped out where he needed to be and ran hard to the wire.”

Deccan Prince led the pack through the first two calls of 23.75, 47.99 with Northern Invader engaging him into the first turn but then settling into a comfortable stalking trip just to his outside. After getting pinched by two foes out of the gates, Gigante traveled along the rail before being positioned in the far turn to tip out and kick home. As Northern Invader went to the front in the stretch, Gigante engaged that familiar foe and the two dueled to the wire. After checking in the far turn, Point Proven rallied for third.

“We got a little bump out of the gate, but after that we got a great trip,” Morales said. “I followed the favorite all around there, and when I tipped him out, he did his job and battled to the wire.”

Gigante returned $8.20, $3.40, $2.20. Northern Invader paid out $2.40 $2.20. Point Proven settled up at $3.20.

Boasting a lifetime record of 13-6-0-1, Gigante is poised to surpass the million-dollar career earnings mark with $975,475. 

Tufani Dazzles to Win Pago Hop by Open Lengths

Ben Curtis aboard Tufani pulls away from the field to win the Pago Hop Stakes. (Hodges Photography/Amanda Hodges Weir)
Ben Curtis aboard Tufani pulls away from the field to win the Pago Hop Stakes. (Hodges Photography/Amanda Hodges Weir)

Susan Moulton’s Tufani unleashed a dazzling turn of foot in the final stages to win the $100,000 Pago Hop on Saturday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots by two lengths. The 2-1 top preference in the market was followed home by longshot filly Condensation who was a head-best in the blanket finish for a piece.

Trained by Mike Stidham, the Virginia-bred daughter of Distorted Humor secured not only her first stakes victory with the Pago Hop score, but also her pilot Ben Curtis’ first stateside stakes win. 

“(Tufani) has always shown us a lot of talent since we first got her,” Stidham said. “She’s developed. She’s learned to relax. I think the arrow is pointing up for her. Ben (Curtis) has done a great job with getting her to settle and come running like that. I’m very pleased with what he’s done for us.”

Given a patient ride by Curtis, Tufani bested ten peers, covering about one mile in 1:37.82 on the firm Stall-Wilson turf course with the portable rail set at nine feet. 

“(Tufani) was impressive,” Curtis said. “The key to her is to get her to relax. When you’re rounding the final turn, she comes alive and you’re able to put her where you want. It’s easy to take gaps when they’re traveling as strong as she does, and she has an electric turn of foot. So, when I let her down I was confident coming to the last eighth pole.”

Quite accomplished overseas, Curtis entered his first meet at Fair Grounds having tallied over 1,000 winners in England as well as hundreds more in other countries.

“To get a first stakes win over here is fantastic,” Curtis said. “Thanks to Mike (Stidham) and the owners for the honor.”

An investment in Tufani’s Pago Hop success paid $6.80, $4.40, $2.80. Condensation rallied the rail to reward backers at $19.00, $11.60. Watch This Birdie was spotted on the toteboard at $3.40.

Having not debuted until April of this year, Tufani’s wins as 3-year-old outweigh her defeats at 7-4-1-0 and the ledgers read $173,942 for her efforts.

Racing resumes on Sunday with a 10-race program featuring two Louisiana-bred Futurity Stakes. First post is 12:45 p.m. CT. Fair Grounds concludes the week but kicks off the new year with nine races on Monday beginning at the regular time.

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