Virginia-Bred Chess Chief Rallies to Grade 2 New Orleans Classic Win On March 20

  • By Bob Ehalt
  • The following appeared in March 21. Virginia-bred Chess Chief earned his fourth career victory March 20 at Fair Grounds in the $400,000 New Orleans Classic Stakes (Gr. 2) in nice come from behind fashion. The 5-year-old Into Mischief horse has now earned $632,084. He was bred by Morgan’s Ford Farm.   

When trainer Dallas Stewart looked over the past performances for the $400,000 New Orleans Classic (G2) and noticed a distinct lack of early speed, there was little he could do to boost the chances of his mid-pack runner, Chess Chief.

“You just have to put yourself in the hands of your jockey,” Stewart said.

Chess Chief (left) wins a $46,000 allowance at Fair Grounds over Owendale (right) to kick off his 2020 campaign. Picture courtesy of Hodges Photography.Chess Chief, b, 5/h
Into Mischief — Un Blessed, by Mineshaft

Owner: Estate of James J. Coleman, Jr. (James O. Coleman)
Breeder: Morgan’s Ford Farm (VA)
Trainer: Dallas Stewart
Jockey: Luis Saez

As it turned out, Chess Chief was in the highly capable hands of Luis Saez March 20 as a well-timed ride combined with the long stretch at Fair Grounds Racecourse & Slots carried the Estate of James J. Coleman Jr.’s Chess Chief from a narrow last-to-first victory over favored Owendale. It was the 5-year-old son of Into Mischief ‘s first graded stakes win.

“Luis thought the leaders moved a little soon and he caught them at the wire,” Stewart said about the head victory. “We needed every inch of that long stretch.”

The victory provided a rollercoaster of emotions for the Coleman family, who live in New Orleans and reveled in winning a major stakes named after their hometown. Yet there were also twinges of sadness in memory of the family patriarch, James J. Coleman Jr., who passed away in March 2019.

Since then, his son, Jamie, has been at the helm of the stable.

“It’s a special win for the family, being from New Orleans,” Stewart said. “It’s a shame how it came down with (James) who started the stable passing away and not being here, but it was a great moment for Jamie and everyone else.”

The victory was the fourth in 23 starts for Chess Chief, bred in Virginia by Morgan’s Ford Farm, and it washed away memories of last year’s New Orleans Classic when he finished third but was disqualified and placed sixth for interference.

Chess Chief (left) wins the 2021 Grade 2 New Orleans Classic by a head over Owendale (right). Photo by Amanda Hodges Weir.

Out of the Mineshaft  mare Un Blessed, he has blossomed at the current Fair Grounds meet, winning an allowance optional claimer and then finishing third in the Feb. 13 Mineshaft Stakes (G3).

Chess Chief wins his second career race in February, 2020 at Fair Grounds. Photo by Hodges Photography.

“He really acted like he picked up his game the last two weeks,” Stewart said.

Chess Chief, who has earned $632,048, is the lone stakes winner from five foals produced by his dam, three of whom have raced. Her latest offspring is a yearling son of Ghostzapper.

Breaking from the rail, it was Roadster who grabbed the early lead in the 1 1/8-mile New Orleans Classic with 4-5 favorite Owendale in closest pursuit. He led by a half-length after a half-mile in a comfortable :48.30, but a layoff of a little more than a year caught up with him in the stretch as Rapp Racing’s Owendale inched past him and seemed en route to victory until Chess Chief came charging into the picture from the outside.

Last in the field of seven after a half-mile and fourth with a furlong to go, Saez took Chess Chief to the outside in the stretch and won the bob at the wire over the Brad Cox-trained multiple graded stakes winner as Enforceable rallied strongly along the inside to take third.

Chess Chief covered the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.24 and paid $12 to win.

Owendale, who made it an exacta for sons of Into Mischief, had a half-length on John C. Oxley’s Enforceable, a son of Tapit  trained by Mark Casse.