(Into Mystic / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
From the Fair Grounds Media Team:
In a “the gang’s all here” renewal of the $75,000 Nelson J. Menard Memorial, it’s Play On who will look to turn the tables on rivals Elle Z, Into Mystic, and Winning Envelope in a thrilling rematch of last month’s December 5 Pan Zareta. Run at 5 ½ furlongs over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course, the Menard offers Play On a chance at redemption, though it won’t be easy in a highly competitive field-of-8 in Saturday’s featured race at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Klein Racing’s Play On (post 8 at 3-1 on Mike Diliberto’s morning line with Shaun Bridgmohan to ride) won the Pan Zareta in 2019 for trainer Brad Cox but couldn’t pull off the repeat, though she entered last month’s renewal under much different circumstances. The 5-year-old daughter of Country Day was making the second start of her form cycle when she won the race in 2019 but entered her title defense without the benefit of a prep, as the Pan Zareta was her first start since running seventh in an optional-claimer at Churchill Downs in May. Play On still ran credibly, as she chased wire-to-wire winner Elle Z early before tiring late to finish fourth, just 1 ¼ lengths behind the winner. That effort has Cox believing she can move forward.
“There’s always that question mark when they come off the layoff if they are as good as last year,” Cox said. “I thought her last race was good but maybe she got a little tired at the end. I think we’re going to see a really good version of her.”
Play On has been very tactical in a 5-for-12 career that also includes a win in the Melody of Colors at Gulfstream Park in February 2019 and a second in last year’s Menard. She typically settles a few lengths off the pace early in her races, and an outside attack post, along with a strong 59 3/5 bullet 5-furlong move over the local main track January 2 has Cox feeling good about a rebound.
“I think the post is OK, as she’s always forwardly placed,” Cox said. “I think we’re going to get a good read on her this weekend. Her work this past weekend was really, really good, so I’m expecting a big run.”
M Bar O LLC’s Elle Z (post 4 at 7-2 with Mitchell Murrill) wired the Pan Zareta at 13-1 for trainer Chris Hartman but she will be a fraction of that price in the Menard. The 4-year-old daughter of City Zip broke running and never looked back in what was her stakes debut, while moving to 4-for-7 lifetime in the process. Elle Z, who won an allowance at Keeneland two-back in October, again looks like the one to catch, though she may not secure a loose lead with her rivals likely to take her much more seriously this time.
George Chris Coleman and Brad King’s Into Mystic (post 4 at 9-5 with Florent Geroux) got run off her feet a bit early in the Pan Zareta and found herself fifth after a quarter-mile, yet the classy mare ran on well to be second as the 8-5 favorite. The 5-year-old daughter of Into Mischief was second, beaten a nose, in the Buffalo Franklin Trace County (G3) at Keeneland in October. That effort prompted trainer Brendan Walsh to run her in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint there a month later, but after dueling early she faded to finish 12th. Into Mystic is 4-for-15 lifetime and she figures to be much closer to Elle Z during the early stages, as the often-aggressive early Geroux picks up the mount on a mare that has plenty of early speed at her disposal.
Lothenbach Stables Inc’s Winning Envelope (post 1 at 5-1 with Brian Hernandez, Jr.) closed from 10th in the 12-horse Pa Zareta to be third for trainer Chris Block. The stretch running 5-year-old daughter of More Than Ready, who is 4-for-20 lifetime, was second in the Ladies Sprint (G3) at Kentucky Downs in September and she would benefit from a livelier pace than she got last month.
Completing the Nelson J. Menard Memorial field from the rail out: Suzanne M. Mundy’s On Probation (post 2 at 30-1 with Adam Beschizza), 12th in the Pan Zareta for trainer Neil Pessin; Roddy Harrison’s Change of Control (post 5 at 10-1 with Colby Hernandez), sixth in the Pan Zareta for trainer Michelle Lovell; Tin Roof Farms LLC’s Snowball (post 6 at 20-1 with James Graham), who won the Louisiana Cup Filly and Mare Sprint for state breds on the dirt at Louisiana Downs in September for trainer Samuel Breaux; and Gary Barber’s Eyeinthesky (post 7 at 8-1 with Gabriel Saez), second in the Royal North (G2) in July at Woodbine for trainer Mark Casse.