By Ben Massam
A mainstay near the top of the Fair Grounds trainer standings, Michael Stidham will make full use of the track’s lucrative stakes-laced card Saturday, sending out two promising sons of Candy Ride (Arg) in the GIII Mineshaft H. and GII Risen Star S. Godolphin’s Cedartown has elevated himself to the status of a stable star in his brief career, finishing in the exacta in all seven tries and recently capturing his 4-year-old debut with authority in the Listed Louisiana S. in New Orleans Jan. 13.
Although Cedartown did not debut until June of his sophomore year, Stidham said the colt always gave him the impression of a horse who would do better with time. He graduated from the maiden ranks in his first try over a route of ground at Monmouth in August and ultimately wrapped up his 2017 campaign with a breakthrough win over GIII Oklahoma Derby winner Untrapped (Trappe Shot) in the Zia Park Derby Nov. 22.
“He was kind of a later developer,” said Stidham, who has divided his stable up with strings at Fair Grounds and Tampa Bay Downs this winter. “I didn’t get him in as a 2-year-old at all because he was a big, growthy horse who they wanted to give a chance to grow up and mature. When we got him, we took our time getting him ready, and our patience has paid off.”
Cedartown rewarded Stidham and company in a big way in the Louisiana, tracking the pace and pouncing en route to a two-length score. He earned a career-top 100 Beyer Speed Figure for his victory, giving Stidham confidence that the colt could be a major player in the handicap division going forward. As such, Saturday’s Mineshaft will serve as a useful barometer.
“From a numbers standpoint, he’s certainly going the right way,” the trainer commented. “He fits with these kind of horses pretty well. We’d like to wind up running in the [Mar. 24 GII] New Orleans H.–that’s our goal and we hope we can make it.”
Stidham picked an ambitious spot in the Risen Star for Supreme Aura, undefeated in two starts at six furlongs. The 3-year-old son of Candy Ride, owned by Stallionaire Enterprises, captured his Aug. 9 debut at Delaware Park and returned from a lengthy layoff to make it two-for-two in a Fair Grounds allowance Jan. 5. While Supreme Aura possesses ample talent, the question remains whether the $165,000 KEESEP purchase will successfully navigate a route of ground.
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Stidham said. “From a numbers standpoint, he’s solid sprinting–but until you can run those numbers routing, you don’t really know. We’ve put a lot into him work-wise to have him as well-prepared as we can get him. He’s handled it well physically and mentally. So we’re ready to step up and see if he can handle it.”
Stidham has spent recent years building a wide portfolio of clients who have entrusted the trainer with high-end stock. Saturday’s card will see the New Jersey native saddle horses for prominent owners such as Godolphin, Robert Evans and Pin Oak Stable.