Monte Man winning the Costa Rising Stakes at Fair Grounds - Photo by Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges, Jr.

Monte Man winning the Costa Rising Stakes at Fair Grounds – Photo by Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges, Jr.

As of last October, #1 Monte Man was a nothing more than a decent claimer on the New York circuit. Fast forward a bit more than a year, and Monte Man is the 8-5 morning line favorite for Saturday’s $50,000 Heitai Stakes for Louisiana-breds at Fair Grounds.

What changed? Well, nothing really, except that Monte Man was claimed by trainer Ron Faucheux, who brought the gelding down to Louisiana to compete in allowance and stakes races restricted to Louisiana-breds. The result? Monte Man has gone unbeaten in six starts for his new connections, a streak that includes four straight stakes victories this year.

Monte Man has already beaten the majority of his rivals in the Heitai Stakes, and he’s done so while showcasing a wide variety of running styles. He’s won on the lead, he’s won while pressing the pace, and he’s won with late rallies from the back of the pack. If he brings his A-game, he’ll be tough to beat on Saturday.

Then again, Monte Man hasn’t run since August 4th, when he won the Louisiana Cup Sprint Stakes by just a neck over #5 Cheers to Berti, who endured a very wide trip while being compromised by a slow opening quarter-mile in :23.08 seconds, which gave an advantage to the front-running Monte Man. Under the circumstances, Cheers to Berti ran huge to finish as close as he did to Monte Man, and he reiterated his talent by coming right back to win a six-furlong allowance race at Louisiana Downs by 9 ¼ lengths.

Yes, Cheers to Berti was soundly beaten in a five-furlong allowance race last month, but that was over a muddy, sealed, six-furlong oval at Delta Downs, a stark departure from the fast one-mile tracks at Louisiana Downs and Evangeline Downs where Cheers to Berti was competing this spring and summer. Despite the change in footing and track size, Cheers to Berti was gaining ground at the finish over a distance shorter than he’s accustomed to, so I’m expecting him to rebound nicely while returning to a more familiar type of track on Saturday. If Monte Man needs a race off the layoff, Cheers to Berti might even post the upset, and if he goes off at his 8-1 morning line odds I think he’ll offer a lot of value in the wagering.

So what’s my strategy? Since I have questions about some of the other wagering favorites (Is #7 Win Lion Win better on turf? Is #3 Jockamo’s Song as good as he used to be?), I’ll simply box Monte Man and Cheers to Berti in the exacta while spending a bit more on the presumably lower-paying Monte Man over Cheers to Berti ticket:

$12 exacta: 1 with 5
$8 exacta: 5 with 1

Good luck!