WITH the Pegasus World Cup and big money prizes in the Arab states coming up, top-quality racing in the US begins early and the card at Fair Grounds last weekend featured two of the top three-year-olds from last season along with an early trial on the road to the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon were meeting for the sixth time and the two four-year-olds served up a thriller as they battled down the stretch in the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes before Juddmonte’s Mandaloun edged away by three-quarters of a length.

Both horses are likely to use the race as a stepping stone to the $20 million Grade 1 Saudi Cup on February 26th.

Mandaloun improved his record to six wins in nine starts and may become the official winner of the Kentucky Derby, when or if Medina Spirit is disqualified for failing post-race drug tests.

“Hopefully took a big step forward today off the layoff to run down a very good horse who was on the lead, and we can build off this. The Saudi Cup is a mile-and-an-eighth and it’s something I definitely think he can handle,” said trainer Brad Cox.

Mandaloun is still lightly raced as his 2021 campaign ended with sore heels following July’s Haskell Stakes, where he was promoted to first after Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified for drifting in and causing Midnight Bourbon to clip heels and unseated his rider.

The son of Into Mischief has a 3-2 record over Midnight Bourbon in races when they both finished with a jockey on board.

Midnight Bourbon, second in the Preakness Stakes and Travers Stakes, took the lead over his five challengers under Joel Rosario.

Running for the first time since a third in the Clark Stakes in November, he led by two lengths after half a mile.

Mandaloun raced in third and jockey Florent Geroux moved to second on the final turn and the two battled up the stretch. Mandaloun wore Midnight Bourbon down late to cover the mile and half a furlong in 1m 42.52secs.

“I felt that last year there was a lot in him and sometimes he wasn’t willing to give it to me. But this time when I asked him and pushed the button, he was there for me,” Geroux said

Call Me in Lecomte

Irishman James Graham gained plaudits for his ride on Call At Midnight to win the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes, one of the first Kentucky Derby trials.

The victory was a surprise at odds of over 28/1, for the Keith Desormeaux trained son of Midnight Lute.

Graded winner Pappacap made a bid inside Epicenter up the stretch. Epicenter turned him back but couldn’t hold off Call Me Midnight, who closed down the centre of the track to win by a head.