Adding the opening double with Half Magic and Comanche Warrior, Ron Faucheux has now won five races in a row, beginning with the hat trick on Wednesday, March 9. (Fair Grounds Photo)
Race for Trainer’s Title Heats Up at Fair Grounds
Kevin Kilroy, Fair Grounds Media
NEW ORLEANS, La. – With less than two weeks to go in the 2022-23 meet at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, there is a new leading trainer as Ron Faucheux has caught fire in the month of March. The Faucheux barn won their 33rd race of the meet in the finale on Sunday, March 12, capping off an eight-win week and claiming the lead for most wins for the first time this meet.
After winning with Janisthebeauty in the lid lifter on Wednesday, March 15, Faucheux leads all with 34 (24%), Bret Calhoun is one win back at 33 (25%), and Brad Cox has 32 (40%). (All stats are through the end of the day 3/15/23). Either of these three high-percentage barns could seal the deal in the closing days.
Faucheux has gone 15 for 32 since Ash Wednesday (Feb. 22) with a $4.08 ROI, a hot streak that could be the storybook cornerstone to three trainer titles in a row.
“Once I got the one title, just to compete and be in the conversation is enough for me,” Faucheux said. “Sure, I’d love to win another, but if it doesn’t happen, I’m not going to be upset about it. If it didn’t happen the first year, I was going to be upset, I can promise you that. Even last year I just took it as it came. If it happens it happens, but I’m not stressed about it.”
One of the biggest successes for the Faucheux barn this meet has been the 3-year-old Allnight Moonlight. His win in the $75,000 Half Ours Stakes was a shift in the meet for a barn that didn’t have things go their way to start the year. Whether drawing poorly or having horses with minor setbacks, at first it seemed a three-peat was unlikely. On Feb. 25 Allnight Moonlight scored what would be the barn’s fifth tally from six starts in a week that began with Faucheux in third with 19 wins. He trailed Calhoun’s 29 and Cox’s 27.
“I wouldn’t say that I am shooting for the title,” Faucheux said. “I’m going to place them where they belong and see how it pans out. If it looks like I’m close the last couple of weeks maybe, we’ll try to shoot for it a little stronger. Trust me, I’m content having two titles. If I don’t get another, I’m fine. That’s two more than I ever thought I’d get.”
Besides Allnight Moonlight, Faucheux has a strong cast of sophomores and four of them were integral to the recent success: Not On Herb, Comanche Warrior, De Saix and Veterans Day each rung one up for the barn in March. Besides 3-year-olds getting it done, five of the eight wins last week came from class-droppers, often a sign the barn is getting aggressive to win the title.
“Honestly I always kinda do that,” Faucheux said. “With the way the purses are here at Fair Grounds, I always try to unleash a lot of horses. I open the stalls up for the babies we’ve got coming in, and you’d rather run for the decent money here than for half price over there (at other tracks in Louisiana).”
Prior to March, the story had belonged to Bret Calhoun and Brad Cox. Calhoun has landed in the top ten of the Fair Grounds standings 16 consecutive years and he finished as the runner-up three times (most recently in 2014-15), but he has never won the title.
“It would be nice to win, but it’s not our main objective,” Calhoun said. “The main thing is to try to win as many races and the most money as you can. To win a title you really have to do a lot of different things. You’ve got to have horses that fit in certain categories that you know those races will go all the time, condition horses, and cheaper horses. And you need to claim to run back, but we’re not going to do all that. It’s not that important to me, but I understand people doing it, but that’s not really what we’re trying to do.”
Calhoun’s first win at Fair Grounds came in 1996, and 576 of his 3,507 career victories have come in New Orleans.
“There’s no financial incentive, that’s why I try to run our horses in places where they can make the most money for the owners and us,” Calhoun said. “Making money for the owners, they’re likely to stay with you and keep sending you some more, so claiming and dropping and losing them money might look good in the win column but at the end of the day it doesn’t work out as well.”
Already with four training titles at Fair Grounds, the main focus of the meet for Cox is kicking off the campaigns for the Derby and Oaks contenders, and the barn has been second to none in terms of that. Ten open company stakes races written for the crop of 2020 have been run so far this meet at Fair Grounds, and the Cox barn has won seven of them, most recently with Wonderful Justice in the Black Gold. Before that they scored with Angel of Empire in the Risen Star (G2), Instant Coffee in the Lecomte (G3), The Alys Look in the Silverbulletday, Jace’s Road in the Gun Runner, Corona Bolt in the Sugar Bowl, and Dazzling Blue in the Letellier.
“It’s been a great team effort throughout the meet with good riders, good grooms, and good hot walkers,” barn foreman Trace Messina said. “Everyone shows up every day and does what they have to do. It’d be great to win (the title) but right now the goal is to win the Louisiana Derby, the New Orleans Classic, the Fair Grounds Oaks. The trainer’s title is in the back of our heads, we do think about it, but we’re not going out of our way to win it. Ron (Faucheux) is catching fire so it could be hard. Still, we’ll give it our best shot.”
Messina is in his second year working with the Cox barn, but the New Orleans native knows the significance and history of winning the Fair Grounds title.
“I grew up coming to Fair Grounds as a kid,” Messina said. “Tom Amoss was running a clinic down here when I was growing up. Asmussen, too, every year. Growing up I remember Keith Bourgeois had a lot of business and did really well as far as Louisiana guys before Ron (Faucehux) took over the scene. There have been many great trainers who have come through here over the years. It’s not an easy trainer’s title to win.”
There are still a lot more races to sort out whether the 2022-23 title becomes Faucheux’s third in a row, Cox’s fifth, or Calhoun’s first. Already having drawn the races through Thursday, March 23, the Faucheux barn has 17 horses entered at Fair Grounds, the Cox barn has 10 entered (including potential sophomore stars Bishops Bay and Merlazza), and Calhoun leads all three with 18 entered to run.