(Ninety One Assault / Photo Courtesy of the Fair Grounds)

From the Fair Grounds Media Team:

If it’s a Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots Louisiana-bred turf stakes for older males, Ninety One Assault will be there, and he’ll be the horse to beat. The state-bred star will look to repeat in Saturday’s $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace, when he starts as a likely prohibitive favorite in the about 1-mile test over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course.

Paul Braverman and trainer Tom Morley’s Nine One Assault (post 2 as the 5-2 favorite on Mike Diliberto’s morning line with Shaun Bridgmohan to ride) has cast a dauting shadow over the local Louisiana-bred turf ranks the past few seasons. The 8-year-old son of Artie Schiller won the Louisiana Bred Champions Day Turf and the Dixie Poker Ace in 2019 and he’ll look to complete the double again this year, as he won the December 12 Champions Day Turf in his last start. Ninety One Assault has come a long way since Morley and Braverman bought him privately after a maiden win at Belmont Park in October 2017 for trainer Bill Mott.

“He was a big immature horse with lots to do physically still, and thought we would have a good chance at having a good run with him,” Morley said. “But I never thought he’d turn out to be the star that he’s turned into. You never think that but he’s just been fantastic and straight forward.”

Ninety One Assault won a pair of optional claimers at the meet in March 2018, and won another in February 2019, and really got rolling when he doubled up in the Champions Day Turf and Dixie Poker Ace at the meet last year. He made it 7-for-10 over the expansive Stall-Wilson course after his win in December, to further confirm his affinity for the local lawn.

“He’s a very big horse and a very long horse and some of his slightly lesser efforts have been around tighter courses like one at Aqueduct,” Morley said. “At Fair Grounds he’s got the full 2 furlongs of the straight and he travels very sweetly. But it can take him a stride or two to get, but generally in the last 50 to 100 yards he’s going faster than any other horse.”

Rivals looking for a little heat to come off Ninety One Assault’s fastball have been disappointed for the past few years. And though he’s now 8, and has met the starter 35 times, Morley doesn’t see anything changing any time soon.

“I said before he ran at Laurel (when second in the Henry Clark in September) that his works were better and I thought he looked physically better than he ever had before,” Morley said. “His numbers were good going into the meet and he really showed up on Champions Day and we’re looking forward to much the same Saturday.”

Lane Cortez’s Afleet Ascent (post 7 at 8-1 with Gabriel Saez) was second in the Champions Day Turf and should be a pace player throughout. The 6-year-old so of Northern Afleet made his first start for trainer Ron Faucheux and nearly pulled off the upset, leading until deep stretch before being reeled in by Ninety One Assault, and figures to once again get first run on the heavy favorite.

Jana Wagner and Paradise Farm Corp.’s Relentless Dancer (post 10 at 9-2 with Brian Hernandez Jr.) is the wildcard, as he’s a multiple stakes winner on dirt for trainer Mike Maker but just 0-for-2 on turf. The 4-year-old son of Midshipman won the Robert Hilton Memorial at Charles Town in August and was third in the Chick Lang (G3) at Pimlico in October but has yet to hit the board in either turf start.

Snake Racing’s Treys Midnite Moon (post 8 at 8-1 with Marcelino Pedroza) has won two straight starter-optional claimers at the meet for trainer Bunky Richard. The 6-year-old son of Neko Bay was a close fifth in the Champions Turf after closing from 10th and looks clearly improved since then.

Completing the Dixie Poker Ace field from the rail out: Whispering Oaks Farm’s Maga Man (15-1 with James Graham), who beat state breds in an off-the-turf optional-claimer here February 6 for trainer Steve Flint; Ken Standlee’s In the Navy (post 3 at 10-1 with Miguel Mena), third in last year’s Dixie Poker Ace for trainer Scotty Gelner; Roger Rashall’s Mr. Four Seasons (post 4 at 20-1 with Jose Riquelme), who won an off-the-turf $20,000 claimer over state breds here January 22 for trainer Keith Desormeaux; owner-trainer Gerard Perron’s Grand Luwegee (post 5 at 6-1 with Colby Hernandez), upset winner of the Louisiana Champions Day Classic in the mud in December but winless in six turf; Pine Knoll Farm’s Jus Lively (post 6 at 8-1 with Adam Beschizza), a state-bred stakes performer on the dirt but just eighth in last year’s Dixie Poker Ace for trainer Steve Asmussen; and Jack Randall’s Budro Talking (post 9 at 8-1 with Declan Carroll), who won the Louisiana Cup Turf Classic at Louisiana Downs in September but was just sixth to Ninety One Assault in the Louisiana Bred Champions Day Turf for trainer Keith Austin.