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September Meet Stakes Topped by Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Pocahontas, Iroquois; Homecoming Classic Returns for Older Stars
The second September Meet in the 140-year history of Churchill Downs Racetrack will offer a eight stakes races with total purses of $925,000 during a 12-day run topped by a pair of important stakes events for 2-year-olds who have their eyes on the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and racing’s spring classics, and the return of the $125,000-added Homecoming Classic, a race for 3-year-olds and up designed as a prep for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I).
The first Saturday of the Sept. 5-28 meet will feature four of those stakes events in a program highlighted by the $200,000-added Pocahontas (GII) for 2-year-old fillies and the $100,000-added Iroquois (GIII) for colts, the 1 1/16-mile opening races of both the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points system for the 2015 Derby and Oaks, and the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” program for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) and $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI). The second running of the Homecoming Classic – a 1 1/8-mile race designed to be a prep for the 1 ¼-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic and November’s $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) at Churchill Downs – will share the stage on Saturday, Sept. 27 with the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII), a one-mile race for 3-year-olds on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
Along with an automatic berth in the starting gate for their respective Breeders’ Cup races, the Breeders’ Cup-nominated horse that wins the Pocahontas or Iroquois also will have their pre-entry and entry fees paid, receive a $10,000 travel stipend (if based outside of California) and the person who nominated either the foal or the horse will receive an award of $10,000.
Racing during the September Meet will be conducted on a Friday-through-Sunday schedule during each of its four weeks, with “Downs After Dark” night racing celebrations scheduled for Friday, Sept. 5 (Opening Night) and Friday, Sept. 19.
The races on the stakes schedule for this year’s meet are identical to the roster of events offered during last year’s inaugural September racing session, but total stakes purses have been reduced by $50,000 and individual purses have been changed for three races. The Pocahontas purse has been raised by $50,000 to $200,000-added. Purses for the Homecoming Classic and Iroquois were each reduced by $50,000. The value of the Homecoming Classic is now $125,000-added, while the Iroquois purse is $100,000-added.
The Pocahontas and Iroquois will be joined on that first Saturday program by the $100,000-added Ack Ack (GIII), a one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up, and the $100,000-added Locust Grove, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares.
The $100,000-added Open Mind, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares, will be the featured event on Saturday, Sept. 13, while the $100,000-added Dogwood (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 20.
The roster of winners of stakes events run during last year’s inaugural September Meet was impressive. It included:
- Mrs. Janis Whitham’s Fort Larned, the winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic that used a victory in the first Homecoming Classic as a final prep race for his defense of his Breeders’ Cup triumph. Fort Larned would finish fourth to Mucho Macho Man in the Classic at Santa Anita and end his career with 10 wins and nearly $4.5 million from 25 starts.
- Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Untapable, whose victory in the Pocahontas earned the 2-year-old daughter of Tapit a starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI). She finished eighth in that race, but is unbeaten in 2014 with four stakes victories that include the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) and the Mother Goose (GI) at Belmont Park. Another accomplished product of the 2013 Pocahontas is Landaluce Educe Stables’ Rosalind, who finished third to Untapable and went on to be the runner-up in Keeneland’s Darley Alcibiades (GI) on synthetic Polytrack and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies before winning this spring’s Central Bank Ashland (GI) at Keeneland and finishing fourth to Untapable in the Oaks.
- Donegal Racing’s Cleburne, who earned a starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with his victory in the Iroquois. He traveled to Santa Anita for the race, but suffered an injury and did not compete. Finishing behind Cleburne that day were third-place Tapiture, subsequent winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), Rebel Stakes (GII) and Matt Winn (GIII); fourth-place Ride On Curlin, third in the Champagne (GI), Southwest (GIII) and Rebel (GIII) and runner-up in the Arkansas Derby (GI) and Preakness (GI); and Rise Up, who finished sixth and later won the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (GIII).
- George and Lori Hall’s Pants On Fire, who won the $100,000 Ack Ack (GIII) and then competed in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI), where he finished seventh to winner Goldencents. Ack Ack runner-up Taptowne also traveled to Santa Anita for the Dirt Mile, but was scratched shortly before the race
- Preston Stable’s Flashy American, the winner of the Locust Grove who has since won the Sixty Sails (GIII) at Hawthorne, finished fourth to champion Beholder in the Zenyatta (GI) at Santa Anita and third in the recent Delaware Handicap (GI) to Belle Gallantey and 2013 Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar. Among her rivals in that listed stakes event were runner-up Wine Princess, who would return to win the Falls City (GII); and sixth-place finisher Molly Morgan, who would later finish second to multiple Grade I winner On Fire Baby in the La Troienne (GI) before defeating that rival in a rematch in the Fleur De Lis Handicap (GII).
Churchill Downs had conducted racing during the month of September during parts of various summer and fall racing meets during its long history that began in 1875. But last year was the first in which the track had offered both a third racing meet in a calendar year and a racing session conducted exclusively during September.
Seating for the Sept. 5 and Sept. 19 “Downs After Dark” celebrations and other racing programs scheduled during the first Homecoming Meet at Churchill Downs is available for purchase online at www.ChurchillDowns.com/tickets.
Reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan, fresh off his second consecutive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI), and Groupie Doll, the Filly & Mare Sprint champion of 2012 and a repeat winner in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (GI) at Santa Anita, are back in Kentucky following their early afternoon arrival at Louisville International Airport on a flight from Southern California.
The Sutton Forwarding Company flight carried those repeat Breeders’ Cup winners and had another repeat Breeders’ Cup winner on board in Mizdirection, winner of the Turf Sprint (GI) for a second consecutive year for Jungle Racing LLC, the stable of sports media personality Jim Rome.
Both Groupie Doll and Mizdirection are scheduled to pass through the auction ring in the coming days. The former traveled to Churchill Downs for a final night in trainer and co-owner/breeder Buff Bradley’s stable in Barn 14, while the latter traveled on to Lexington. Mizdirection is scheduled to sell as part of the Three Chimneys Farm consignment at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale.
Morton Fink’s homebred Wise Dan boarded a van for the short trip to Lexington and trainer Charlie LoPresti’s barn at Keeneland.
After spending the night at Churchill Downs, Groupie Doll will depart for Lexington on Monday for her Wednesday appearance in the Keeneland sales ring as hip #350. She was accepting visitors and peppermints at the barn, and the purple and gold floral mantle was draped over the shedrow’s wall just a few steps away. Her latest Breeders’ Cup triumph improved the homebred’s career record to 10-4-3 in 19 races with earnings of $1,908,850.
A second California-to-Kentucky flight set to arrive Sunday at 11:30 p.m. (all times EST) will include 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Fort Larned, fourth to Mucho Macho Man in yesterday’s 2013 Classic; horses trained by D. Wayne Lukas that include Classic runner-up Will Take Charge and Juvenile (GI) third Strong Mandate; four horses trained by Dale Romans that include 2012 Turf (GI) winner Little Mike, seventh in this year’s renewal; the Mark Casse-trained My Conquestadory, third in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (GI), and Sprint (GI) runner-up Laugh Track; Pocahontas (GII) winner Untapable, eighth in the Juvenile Fillies (GI) for trainer Steve Asmussen; and the Ron Moquett-trained Gentlemen’s Bet, third in the Sprint (GI).
DAISY DEVINE TOPS CARDINAL WEIGHTS, BUT STATUS UNCERTIAN BECAUSE OF POSSIBLE SALE – Millionaire and defending winner Daisy Devine has been assigned high weight of 121 pounds for Saturday’s $100,000-added Cardinal Handicap (GIII) on the Churchill Downs grass.
But the status of the Andrew McKeever-trained daughter of Kafwain for the 1 1/8-mile turf test is uncertain because of her presence in the catalog for this week’s November breeding stock sale at Keeneland. Eaton Sales is the consignor for owner James Miller, who hopes to sell the 5-year-old mare as either a broodmare or racing prospect. She is listed as hip #321 on Wednesday.
Along with her win in the 2012 Cardinal, graded stakes victories by Daisy Devine include a Grade I triumph in the 2012 Jenny Wiley and the Grade III Valley View at Keeneland and the 2011 Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) on dirt. She has won 10 of 21 races – including eight stakes triumphs – and earned $1,055,892 during her racing career.
If Daisy Devine does not defend her title, the likely co-starting high weights at 119 pounds would be Susan and Jim Hill’s Solid Appeal, winner of the Dance Smartly (GII) and Nassau (GII) at Woodbine for trainer Reade Baker, and Caroline Forgason’s Somali Lemonade, winner of the $250,000 Dr. James Penny Memorial (GIII) at Parx Racing and a close runner-up in the 2012 Garden City (GI) at Belmont Park for trainer Michael Matz.
Confirmed for the Cardinal is the Estate of Elaine Klein (Richard Klein) and Bertram Klein’s Miz Ida, winner of Churchill Downs’ Mint Julep (GIII) and fourth to Better Lucky in the recent First Lady (GI) at Keeneland. The Steve Margolis trainee has been assigned 118 pounds, the same impost given to Calumet Farm’s Starstruck, a 4-year-old Irish-bred daughter of Galileo trained by J. Larry Jones. She made her U.S. racing debut in May in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race over Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course and took the Matchmaker (GIII) at Monmouth Park before she ran a close fourth to Tiz Flirtatious and Marketing Mix in the recent Rodeo Drive (GI) at Santa Anita.
Phipps Stable’s Abaco was assigned 116 pounds for the Cardinal. The Shug McGaughey-trained Giant’s Causeway mare was runner-up to Pianist in her most recent start in the Athenia (GIII) at Belmont Park.
Others considered likely to compete in Saturday’s final Churchill Downs stakes event of 2013 for older fillies and mares on the grass include Grandma’s Rules (115), Prissy (115) and Beijoca (114). Soft Whisper (115) is listed as a “possible” Cardinal runner.
Entries for the Cardinal Handicap will be taken on Wednesday.
NOMINATIONS FOR MRS. REVERE, COMMONWEALTH TURF OVERFLOWING WITH KITTENS – In a year during which owner-breeeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey have set records for victories at Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Saratoga – with many of them scored by the homebred offspring of the Ramsey stallion Kitten’s Joy, the nomination rosters for Churchill Downs final stakes races exclusive to 3-year-old fillies and colts are packed with Ramsey-owned “Kittens.”
The nominations to the 23rd running of the $175,000-added Mrs. Revere (GII) and the 10th running of the $100,000-added Commonwealth Turf (GIII) include a total of seven Ramsey-owned horses sired by their house stallion. The two races are scheduled to be run under the lights on the lone “Downs After Dark” program of the Fall Meet on Saturday, Nov. 16.
Three Ramsey “Kittens” are among the 32 fillies nominate to the 1 1/16-mile Mrs. Revere, the year’s final stakes event devoted to 3-year-old fillies on turf. That group includes Emotional Kitten, the Wesley Ward-trained runner-up to Emollient in the American Oaks (GI) at Betfair Hollywood Park and seventh, beaten just three lengths, by stablemate Kitten’s Dumplings in the Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup (GI) at Keeneland; Quality Kitten, a recent allowance winner at Keeneland for trainer Wayne Catalano who is unbeaten in two starts; and Always Kitten, winner of the recent Ta Wee at Indiana Downs for trainer Mike Maker.
Another prominent nominee is Sycamore Racing’s Nellie Cashman, winner of the Virginia Oaks (GIII) and disqualified from first-to-third in the Lake Placid (GII) at Saratoga. Trainer Francis Abbott III’s daughter of Mineshaft was second to Overheard in the recent Valley View (GIII) at Keeneland.
Other notable Mrs. Revere nominations include the Catalano-trained I’m Already Sexy, winner of Arlington Park’s Pucker Up (GIII); E B Ryder, the Martin Wolfson-trained winner of Frances A. Genter at Calder; Tapicat, winner of the Florida Oaks (GIII) and runner-up in the Belmont Park’s Pebbles for trainer Bill Mott; Effie Trinket, winner of the Ticonderoga and John Hettinger for New York-breds at Belmont Park; Frivolous, runner-up in the Arlington Park Oaks (GIII) for trainer Victoria Oliver; Black-Eyed Susan (GII) runner-up Marathon Lady; Nancy O, third in Woodbine’s 2012 Natalma(GII); Native Bombshell, the Chad Brown-trained winner of Woodbine’s Ruling Angel; Oscar Party, third to Kitten’s Dumplings in Churchill Downs’ Regret (GIII) and runner-up to Pure Fun on dirt in the Indiana Oaks (GII); and trainer Ken McPeek’s Regret and Virginia Oaks runner-up Praia.
The Commonwealth Turf has a quartet of Ramsey “Kittens” on its list of 28 nominated 3-year-olds, headed by Admiral’s Kitten, winner of the Secretariat (GI) at Arlington Park. The Mike Maker-trained Admiral’s Kitten finished a troubled runner-up in his most recent outing in the Jamaica (GI) at Belmont, and also finished second this season in Churchill Downs’ American Turf (GII) and Arlington’s American Derby (GIII) and Arlington Classic (GIII).
The remaining Ramsey nominees are Redwood Kitten, a close-runner up in the recent Jefferson Cup (GIII) in September at Churchill Downs, the Wesley Ward-trained front-running winner of the James W. Murphy at Pimlico and third in a division of the Del Mar Derby (GII); and Amen Kitten, winner of Calder Race Course’s Tropical Park Derby last time out for Ward; and Gentlemen’s Kitten, third in Churchill Downs’ Jefferson Cup (GIII) for Catalano.
Other notables among the Commonwealth Turf nominees include WinStar Farm LLC’s versatile General Election, the Kellyn Gorder-trained winner of the Jefferson Cup and the Arlington Classic who has career wins on turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces; War Dancer, the Ken McPeek-trained winner of the Virginia Derby (GII); McPeek’s Arkansas Derby (GI) runner-up Frac Daddy; Central Banker, third in Saratoga’s King’s Bishop for trainer Al Stall Jr.; His Race to Win, the Malcolm Pierce-trained winner of Woodbine’s Ontario Derby (GIII); Looking Cool, the Carl Nafzger-trained winner of the Iowa Derby (GIII); River Seven, runner-up in the Prince of Wales and Breeders Stakes, the final two legs of Canada’s Triple Crown; and Super Derby (GII) runner up Ruler of Love.
BARN TALK – Don’t Tell Sophia is set to run next in Churchill Downs’ $150,000-added Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28 following her impressive win in Churchill Downs’ Chilukki (GII) on Saturday evening. Trained by Phillip Sims, who owns the 5-year-old daughter of Congaree in partnership with Jerry Namy, Don’t Tell Sophia was a bit erratic in her run through the stretch as she blew past favored runner-up Wine Princess to win the Chilukki, but that did not concern her trainer. “She’ll do that from time-to-time,” said Sims. “She might have been looking at the grandstand lights and everything. It was the first time she had run at night.” Don’t Tell Sophia is unbeaten in two races at Churchill Downs, with the other triumph coming in a 6 ½-furlong allowance race on Nov. 22, 2012. … Trainer Rick Hiles hopes that George Kerr’s Good Morning Diva, a last-to-first rail-skimming winner of Saturday’s $60,000-added Bet On Sunshine Overnight Stakes, hopes the 4-year-old son of Lion Heart will run again at Churchill Downs before the Fall Meet concludes on Saturday, Nov. 30. If no suitable race pops up, Hiles will probably send Good Morning Diva to the Fair Grounds for the 88th running of the $100,000 Thanksgiving Handicap at six furlongs on Thanksgiving Day. … Kerr traveled from his home in Maine to watch his star win on Saturday at Churchill Downs. Also present in the winner’s circle following Good Morning Diva’s Bet On Sunshine victory was David Holloway, the owner of the Churchill Downs fan favorite for which the race is named. Bet On Sunshine won 22 of 47 starts and earned $1,449,882 for Holloway and trainer Paul McGee. He twice ran third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (1997, 2000) and ran in Churchill Downs’ Aristides (GIII) five times, winning the race in 2000 and 2001 and finishing third in 1996 and 1997. ... Jockey Leandro Goncalves entered Sunday’s racing at Churchill Downs off his best day ever beneath the Twin Spires. Goncalves won four races on Friday at the Louisville track, entering the winner’s circle with Phat Day (1st race, $3.60), Southern Dude (2nd race, $2.80), Hazards of Love (6th race, $3.20) and Boss Barney’s Babe (7th race, $15.60). Goncalves travelled to Santa Anita on Saturday for the Breeders’ Cup. He finished last of 12 aboard Sum of the Parts in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Janis Whitham’s Fort Larned, the reigning winner of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I), is set for a final pre-race tune-up on Monday at Churchill Downs before he boards a Tuesday flight to California for his bid for a rare second consecutive victory in the Championships’ main event on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
Trainer Ian Wilkes said the 5-year-old son of E Dubai, who has scored his pair of 2013 victories at Churchill Downs in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and the inaugural Homecoming Classic in September, would work under regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. would work shortly after the track opens for training at 6 a.m. (all times EDT).
The work will be the third in nine days. He breezed a half-mile in :49 on Oct. 19 and followed that move with a very sharp five furlongs in 1:00.60 over a fast surface on Oct. 22. Fort Larned worked in company with his stablemate Neck ‘n Neck, winner of the 2012 Ack Ack (GIII) and Indiana Derby (GII), in a drill that was the fastest of 32 at the distance.
“It was a very good work,” Wilkes said. “It was everything you wanted to see. The thing about it is he’s taking me where I want to go. I’m not taking him to the Breeders’ Cup – he’s taking me there.”
Wilkes is operating on the same shipping schedule as the successful one laid out a year ago for Fort Larned. He will board a flight for California on Tuesday for the journey to the West Coast. Fort Larned also was scheduled to leave on that day a year ago, but weather issues delayed his scheduled flight by a day.
The travel forecast looks clear for Tuesday and Wilkes hopes for clear sailing, both in Fort Larned’s journey west and in the 1 ¼-mile Classic.
“I’ve got no worries in the world that my horse is going to show up,” Wilkes said. “He’s going to run his ‘A’ game. It’s just a matter of whether he’s good enough. It’s a good race and it’s a quality field. They don’t just give this race to you, but I’m going in there very happy with my horse.”
Fort Larned takes a career record of 10-2-1 in 24 races and earnings of $4,171,322 into his Classic defense. A victory on Saturday would make Fort Larned only the second horse to win the race twice. Tiznow won the Classic in back-to-back years in 2000 and 2001, with the former win coming at Churchill Downs in his 3-year-old season.
CHURCHILL DOWNS MOURNS PASSING OF TWO-DECADE TEAM MEMBER TRICIA AMBURGEY – The Churchill Downs family is mourning the loss Tricia Amburgey, a Louisville native and member of the racetrack team in several posts over two decades who died Saturday night.
Amburgey, 42, had endured a years-long battle with cancer. She was surrounded by family and friends in hospice care at Louisville’s Norton Health Pavilion when she passed Saturday evening.
She held the post of Vice President, Ticketing for the home of the Kentucky Derby at the time of her death. In recent years she had led the track’s efforts to integrate new technologies and reshape the ticketing process for the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and other major races and events. The result is an online ticketing process through which the public sale of Kentucky Derby and Oaks seating is conducted online and a system that provides all fans with an equal opportunity to purchase Derby and Oaks seating during an annual online sale. She also was closely involved the creation of new venues at the track, including The Mansion, The Paddock Plaza, the Section 110 seating offered on the track’s first turn for this year’s Derby and the Grandstand Terrace and Rooftop Garden development that is currently construction. That venue that will be completed prior to the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Oaks.
The graduate of Bellarmine University and Mercy Academy served in several departments at Churchill Downs since her arrival two days after the running of the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Championships as an intern in its Publicity Department. She was still enrolled at Bellarmine when she started her long service at Churchill Downs and, after working in publicity and serving on the communications team for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, Amburgey moved on to other opportunities at the world-famous track and rose through its ranks to the senior management post she held at the time of her death.
Amburgey was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago and her brave battle against the disease was an inspiration for Churchill Downs’ focus on women’s health care issues on Kentucky Oaks Day, which in recent years has included an on-track parade of cancer survivors prior to the Kentucky Oaks and a “Pink Out” fashion theme to focus on breast cancer outreach, research and prevention.
Prior to her passing, Amburgey requested a “Pink Out” theme for her funeral services, asking that all who attend incorporate the color pink into their attire. Her funeral mass is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. at St. Bernadette Catholic Church, 6500 St. Bernadette Avenue, Prospect, Ky. 40059.
Visitation is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 29 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Evergreen Funeral Home at 4623 Preston Highway in Louisville. Additional visitation is scheduled on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., followed by a procession to the church in Prospect.
Tricia Amburgey is survived by her husband, Don, and three children: Abby, Trevor and Luke.
GENTLEMEN’S BET SETTLED IN CALIFORNIA AFTER BUSY SATURDAY – After a hectic Saturday that started in Kentucky, ended in California and squeezed a final work for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) in between, Harry Rosenblum’s Gentlemen’s Bet is reported to be doing well as he awaits Saturday’s $1.5 million race.
The 4-year-old son of Half Ours, a close fourth as the favorite behind Sum of the Parts over synthetic Polytrack in the Keeneland’s Phoenix (GIII) in his most recent start, worked an easy half-mile in :50.80 at Churchill Downs on Saturday. Then trainer Ron Moquett loaded him on a flight to Southern California for his Breeders’ Cup race at Santa Anita.
“He came out of the work really good,” Moquett said. “I like him at this track. It’s his home track and I wanted to give him his last breeze here and then ship him out there.
“He loaded up, took off and landed there fine and the stall-to-stall trip was less than 4 ½ hours, so it was an easy trip.”
The easy work went according to plan for Gentlemen’s Bet, and Moquett heaped considerable praise on jockey Greta Kuntzweiler, who was in the saddle for the work and has been aboard for most of colt’s major training in the weeks leading up to the his bid for the Sprint.
"I’ve never seen anybody with a clock like she’s got,” Moquett said. “You can tell her :50-and-two and she does it exactly 50-and-two and if you tell her :47, it’s :47. I’ve never seen a rider with that a clock that good.
“She’s as good as it comes with that stuff. If we win this thing, she will have been instrumental in it.”
Gentlemen’s Bet will be Moquett’s only starter in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Championships. He had considered sending Livi McKenzie west for the Filly & Mare Sprint (GI), but decided to keep her at Churchill Downs for Saturday’s Chilukki (GII). He takes a career record of 5-0-2 in eight races and earnings of $266,700 into Saturday’s race.
Rosenblum’s colt will be Moquett’s second starter in a Breeders’ Cup race. He saddled Peppertree Farm’s Asher for a sixth-place finish in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Gulfstream Park won by Cash Run.
Moquett is looking forward to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint run by Gentlemen’s Bet, but was saddened by Saturday’s news of the fatal injury to Donnie Crevier and Charles Martin’s top Sprint contender Points Offthebench. The 4-year-old California-bred colt would have been trainer Tim Yakteen’s first Breeders’ Cup starter.
“That’s horrible,” Moquett said. “If you’re a fan of this sport you don’t want to see anything like that ever. I feel so sorry for those people to have a classy, good horse like that and to have something like that happen.”
While only two races appear to remain in her racing career, trainer William “Buff” Bradley believes champion Groupie Doll is poised to end her racing days in spectacular style.
The 5-year-old homebred daughter of Bowman’s Band tuned up for a run in next Saturday’s Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (Grade II) at Keeneland with a four-furlong work in :48.20 Saturday at Churchill Downs.
The Keeneland race will be a final prep for Groupie Doll’s bid for a second consecutive victory in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI) at seven furlongs on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
Exercise rider Jada Schlenk was up as the reigning Eclipse Award Filly and Mare Sprint champion breezed over a fast track in fractional times of :13, :25 and :36.60 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.20.
The work ranked as the 11th-fastest of 66 at the distance on a busy morning at Churchill Downs.
"The work was very good,” Bradley said. “She galloped out good and strong all the way, and Jada said that she’s ready.”
The Keeneland race will be only the third start of the year for Groupie Doll, who is owned by a partnership that includes the trainer and his 82-year-old father, Fred Bradley, and William Hurst and Brent Burns. She spent the early part of the year on the Bradley family farm near Frankfort, Ky. after she seemed lethargic in her training early in the year in Florida.
Groupie Doll returned to competition with a third-place run in the Gardenia (GIII) at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., a race she won as a 3-year-old in 2011, but returned to form earlier this month with a second consecutive victory in the Presque Isle Masters (GII) at Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Downs. She established a record of 1:08.36 for six furlongs with a comfortable 1 ½-length victory over the track’s synthetic Tapeta surface.
As good as Groupie Doll has been over her past three seasons, Bradley sees daily evidence that his star is still developing and maturing.
“I think I see a lot more in her – maybe not in speed out here, but her mind,” he said. “Watching her walk around the shedrow, she comes out of the stall and she’s on it. She used to walk out of the stall and just wander down the shedrow. No big deal, she’s just another horse.
"Now she’s kind of like, ‘Hey, I’m the queen.’ She goes out with a presence. It’s good for me to see her mentally develop that part of it.”
The homebred mare and the best horse of Bradley’s career will not return to the family farm when this year ends. She will be a headline attraction in Keeneland’s November Breeding Stock Sale and will pass through the auction ring on the Tuesday after her Breeders’ Cup run.
Bradley acknowledged that it will be difficult to see Groupie Doll head to a new home. But the decision is necessary for the future of the family farm and all associated with it.
“It doesn’t mean that I’ll never think of her – I’ll think of her every day of my life when she sells,” Bradley said. “I’ll guarantee that I’ll go out there teary-eyed, and I’ll be sad and it’s gonna hurt, but it’s the only thing that we can do.”
Since the news of Groupie Doll’s impending appearance in the auction ring broke, Bradley has received emails from fans who question how the family could possibly part with a star that has done so much for their operation.
Another Bradley star – Grade I-winning gelding Brass Hat – was retired to the farm after he completed his career with 10 wins in 40 races and earnings of $2,173,561. But Bradley said he and his father would have faced the same decision with Brass Hat if he had the prospect of a career as a stallion. And they would have reached the same conclusion in Brass Hat’s case.
“They don’t know the whole story,” Bradley said of the critics. “They don’t know what I have to go through at the farm and with my family. I have to take care of them first. Groupie Doll is going to be taking care of the rest of my horses, basically.”
And now, Groupie Doll will attempt to take care of business next week at Keeneland and five weeks later in the Breeders’ Cup. She will take a career record of 10-4-3 in 19 races and earnings of $1,908,850 with her when she boards a van next Saturday for the hour-long ride to Keeneland and the penultimate start of her career in the Thoroughbred Club of America.
ON FIRE BABY READY FOR SPINSTER BID AFTER CHURCHILL WORK – Anita Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby, winner of Oaklawn’s Apple Blossom (GI), tuned up for a bid in next week’s $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster (GI) with a five-furlong work over her home track at Churchill Downs.
The Gary Hartlage-trained 4-year-old daughter of Smoke Glacken had regular rider Joe Johnson in the saddle and completed the work in 1:01.40. The work ranked ninth among 30 at the distance, with internal fractions of :25.20 and :37.60 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.40.
“We sharpened her up a little bit today,” Hartlage said. “She went five-eighths instead of the seven-eighths I’ve been working her. She’s been training a little bit harder now than she has into her other races. She’s acting like she’s really on top of her game. It’s hard for Joe to hold her in her morning gallops, so we just put five-eighths in her today and let her gallop out."
Hartlage said the goal was to put “a little edge” on the gray filly in the final major training move prior to the 1 1/8-mile Spinster, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
“I wanted to see her come down the lane and she if she’d get down on her belly, and she did,” he said. “She lowered her head and she came runnin’, and that’s everything we wanted. Now she’s got to show up over there.”
On Fire Baby, fourth to two-time champion Royal Delta in her most recent outing in the Personal Ensign (GI) at Saratoga, will make only her second career start over a synthetic surface in the Spinster. She ran fifth in Keeneland’s Alcibiades (GI) at two, but Hartlage considers that be a deceptively good race. The Alcibiades followed a win in her debut at Ellis Park, her first race at a two-turn distance and over the new surface, and she broke from the outside post in a field of 14 that day.
“That was a big, big race for her,” Hartlage said, “and she came out of that race super good.”
She followed that Polytrack race with wins in Churchill Downs’ Pocahontas (GII) and Golden Rod (GII), but she was uneven in four starts at three – including a fifth-place run behind Believe You Can in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) and went to the sidelines for nearly a year following a dull fourth-place run in the Acorn (GI) at Belmont Park.
On Fire Baby opened her 2013 campaign with her victory in the Apple Blossom, then suffered a narrow loss to Authenticity in the La Troienne (GII) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day prior to her Saratoga setback. Her efforts since that disappointing run in her training at Churchill Downs have Hartlage looking forward to next week’s journey to Lexington.
“She was super good this year at Oaklawn, and right now I think she’s back to that,” Hartlage said. “She would really fool me if she doesn’t run real good.”
One Fire Baby has a career record of 5-1-1 in 11 races with earnings of $750,308. A victory in the Spinster by On Fire Baby could earn Cauley’s filly a trip to Southern California for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but Hartlage said that a Breeders’ Cup run has not been a year-long goal for his filly.
“I think we probably would (go) if she won,” he said. “If we do, we do. The Breeders’ Cup is not a big deal to me. It would all depend on her, and how she comes out of the race.”
BARN TALK: Harry T. Rosenblum’s Gentlemen’s Bet, winner of the Iowa Sprint Handicap, prepped for a run in next week’s Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix (GII) at Keeneland with a half-mile work in :50.40. The Ron Moquett-trained 4-year-old son of Half Ours galloped out five furlongs in 1:04.40. … Magdalena Stable’s Hollywood Starlet (GI) winner Pure Fun, working toward a comeback in the Indiana Oaks (GIII) for trainer Kenny McPeek, breezed four furlongs with stablemate Kimberly Jean in 1:00.60. Internal fractions for the breeze were :24.80, :36.20 and she galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.40. … Bourbon Courage, winner of the 2012 Super Derby (GII) and third to Shackleford in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), breezed a half-mile in :50. It was his third work in as many weeks for trainer Kellyn Gorder’s star, who has not raced since a third-place finish to Take Charge Indy in Churchill Downs’ Alysheba (GII). … A. Stevens Miles Jr.’s Neck ‘n Neck, winner of the 2012 Indiana Derby (GII) and Ack Ack Handicap (GIII), breezed five furlongs in 1:01.40 under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. The 4-year-old son of Flower Alley, who has not run for trainer Ian Wilkes since he suffered an injury while training for last fall’s Clark Handicap, recorded internal fractions of :12.40 and :37.40 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.40.
Trainer Ian Wilkes has announced a change in the path that Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) winner Fort Larned will travel in his quest to defend his 2012 victory in the $5 million race in this year’s renewal at Santa Anita on Saturday, Nov. 2.
Wilkes said Tuesday that Janis Whitham’s homebred 5-year-old son of E Dubai would prep for his Breeders’ Cup defense in Churchill Downs’ first running of its $175,000-added Homecoming Classic during the track’s “Downs After Dark” night racing program on Saturday, Sept. 28. He had indicated earlier that Fort Larned would travel to New York’s Belmont Park to run in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) on the same day.
The adjustment in travel and racing plans was revealed following a sharp Tuesday workout by Fort Larned. He zipped five furlongs over fast footing on his home track in :59.80 under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.
Churchill Downs’ clockers recorded internal fractions in the five-furlong move of :12.40, :24.60 and :36.60. Fort Larned galloped out six furlongs 1:12.40 and seven furlongs in 1:25.60. The move ranked as second-fastest of 29 works at the distance.
Wilkes said the decision to stay home at Churchill Downs to prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the new 1 1/8-mile race rather than travel to New York was made during a discussion with Fort Larned’s owner/breeder.
"Our goal is to try and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic again,” Wilkes said. “We want to do what we feel is right for the horse. We keep him here and run him a mile and an eighth. He’s on his track with a one-race ship. Otherwise I’m going to ship to Belmont and ship back again.
“It just fit into our plans to run him here. If we didn’t have the September Meet and didn’t have this race, we would have gone to the Jockey Club.”
Tuesday’s work was the second by Fort Larned since he returned to Churchill Downs from Saratoga, where a muscle strain prompted Wilkes to scrap a scheduled run by his Breeders’ Cup Classic winner in the Woodward (GI) in late August. He breezed four furlongs over the Churchill Downs surface in :49.80 on Sept. 12.
“Brian said he felt great and didn’t feel any different,” Wilkes said. “He came off the track with authority. He walked off the track like he owned the place. That’s what I liked about it – he’s got that air of confidence about him.”
Fort Larned has had an uneven year to this point and his only victory in four races was a 6 ¼-length romp in the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs on June 15. He finished fifth to Cross Traffic in his most recent start on Aug. 3 in Saratoga’s $750,000-added Whitney (GI), a race that Fort Larned won in 2012. Other notable runs at Churchill Downs by Fort Larned include a runner-up finish to Successful Dan in the 2012 Alysheba (GII) and an allowance race win in November, 2011.
The Stephen Foster is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge series and Fort Larned’s victory assured him a spot in the starting gate for his Breeders’ Cup Classic defense.
His career record stands a 9-2-1 in 23 races with earnings of $4,053,917.
Nominations for the Homecoming Classic were announced last week. Horses considered “possible” for the race include trainer Mark Casse’s 2011 Stephen Foster winner Pool Play; Golden Ticket, the Ken McPeek-trained dead-heat winner of the 2012 Travers (GI), runner-up to Fort Larned in the Stephen Foster and winner of the recent Remington Park Handicap; Windswept, winner of a back-to-back allowance races at Churchill Downs and Saratoga for trainer Charles LoPresti; Agent Di Nozzo, winner of the Golden Bear Stakes at Indiana Downs for trainer Steve Margolis; and Worldly, runner-up to Golden Ticket in the Prairie Meadows Handicap and Prayer for Relief in the Remington Park Governor’s Cup in his two races for new trainer Brendan Walsh.
WORK TAB (Track: FAST) – Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s Schulyerville (GIII) dead-heat winner Bahnah breezed five furlongs in :49.20. Bahnah finished sixth in the Spinaway (GI) in her most recent outing for trainer Bret Calhoun. …
It is a newcomer on the racing calendar, but Churchill Downs’ inaugural running of the $175,000-added Homecoming Classic during its new September Meet has drawn a high-powered roster of nominations that includes the names of five winners of Grade I stakes events.
Topping the roster of 28 accomplished 3-year-olds and up made eligible for the new 1 1/8-mile race on the main track is Janis Whitham’s Fort Larned, reigning winner of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) and winner of the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs. The latter was a performance that ranks among the top efforts by an older horse in North America in 2013.
Fort Larned’s most recent start was a fifth-place finish behind Cross Traffic in Saratoga’s Whitney (GI). He missed a scheduled start in the Woodward (GI) with a muscle strain, and trainer Ian Wilkes has indicated that the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI), which will also be run on Sept. 28, would be the next start for Fort Larned.
The 5-year-old son of E Dubai returned to training a week ago with a gallop at Churchill Downs and breezed four furlongs in :49 on Thursday, Sept. 12.
Fort Larned, being pointed by Wilkes toward a run in the 2013 Breeders’ Classic at Santa Anita, has a 9-2-1 record in 23 races and career earnings of $4,053,917.
Other Grade I-winning stars on the roster of Homecoming Classic nominees include William S. Farish Jr.’s Pool Play, winner of the 2011 Stephen Foster Handicap for trainer Mark Casse; Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Golden Ticket, winner of the 2012 Travers (GI) for trainer Ken McPeek in a dead-heat finish with Alpha; Twin Creeks Racing Stable LLC’s Graydar, winner of the 2013 Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park and the New Orleans Handicap (GII) at Fair Grounds for trainer Todd Pletcher; and Stuart Janney’s Hymn Book, winner of the 2012 Donn Handicap for trainer Shug McGaughey.
Other accomplished nominees include Mort Fink’s homebred Successful Dan, runner-up in the Whitney and winner of Keeneland’s Ben Ali (GIII) and the 2012 Alysheba (GII) at Churchill Downs; Southern Equine Stables LLC’s 3-year-old Moreno, runner-up to Will Take Charge in the 2013 Travers; John D. Gunther’s Last Gunfighter, owner of a trio of Grade III wins in the Monmouth’s Iselin Handicap, the Pimlico Special and Aqueduct’s Excelsior; Zayat Stable’s multiple graded stakes winner Prayer for Relief, winner of the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker (GIII); Clovertowne Farm’s Taptowne, runner-up in the recent Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) along with the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) and Prairie Meadows Cornhusker; and the Estate of Elaine Klein, Richard and Bert Klein’s Windswept, a winner of two of three races at Churchill Downs.
The Homecoming Classic will share the spotlight on the Sept. 28 “Downs After Dark” night racing program with 37th running of the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII), a one-mile race for 3-year-olds on the Matt Winn Turf Course that had previously been run during the track’s Spring Meet.
The list of 24 horses nominated to the Jefferson Cup is topped by Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Admiral’s Kitten, winner of the Secretariat (GI) at Arlington Park last time out for trainer Mike Maker. The homebred Kitten’s Joy colt has a 3-4-0 record in eight races with earnings of $459,080. The Ramseys’ Redwood Kitten, third in the Del Mar Derby (GII), also is nominated.
Other nominees include Arlington Classic (GIII) winner General Election; Shadwell Stable’s Sayaad, winner of the Dance of Life at Saratoga; Long Island Racing Stable’s New York Derby winner West Hills Giant; Westrock Stable’s Den’s Legacy, runner up in the La Jolla (GII), Sham (GIII), Robert B. Lewis (GII) and Affirmed (GIII); Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Arkansas Derby runner-up Frac Daddy, who finished 18th in the Kentucky Derby (GI); Copper Penny Stable’s 2012 Laurel Futurity winner Tate’s Landing; and Serena’s Dream Catcher Farm’s Balino, winner of Calder’s Naked Greed last out.
CHAMPION GROUPIE DOLL RETURNS TO TRACK – She got a little extra rest following her first victory of 2013, but champion mare Groupie Doll returned to the track Saturday at Churchill Downs to continue her quest for a repeat in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI) at Santa Anita.
The reigning Eclipse Award filly and mare sprint champion, who set a track record in winning the six-furlong, $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters (GII) at Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Downs on Monday night, jogged a mile and galloped mile with exercise rider Jada Schlenk in the saddle.
Trainer William “Buff” Bradley said Keeneland’s $200,000 Thoroughbred Club of America (GII) on Oct. 5 remains the next objective for Groupie Doll, who won both the Presque Isle Downs Mile and the TCA during her championship season.
But this year’s campaign is vastly different than the January-to-late-November schedule of 2012. She made her first start of 2013 with a third-place run behind Devious Intent in the Gardenia (GIII) on Aug. 10 at Ellis Park.
“She shedrowed yesterday and went back to the track today and she was really good,” Bradley said. “She was pulling Jada pretty good today, so it was good to see her back. She was into the bit good and she was feeling good.”
Bradley – who is the co-breeder of daughter of Bowman’s Band with his father, Fred Bradley, and co-owns the champion with his father, Carl Hurst and Brent Burns – was very pleased, but not surprised, by her return to form on Monday over the Pennsylvania track’s synthetic racing surface.
“We’re definitely back on track, and I thought coming out of the Gardenia that we were on track,” he said. “So everything has worked out.”
A victory in the TCA would push the Bradley homebred past the $2 million mark in career earnings. Monday’s victory improved Groupie Doll’s racing record to 10-4-3 in 19 races and boosted her earnings to $1,908,850.
PURE FUN NEARS COMEBACK FOR MCPEEK – After taking the summer off following a dull effort in the Longines Kentucky Oaks, Magdalena Racing Stable’s Pure Fun continues to train sharply for her return to competition.
The 3-year-old daughter of Pure Prize, who finished sixth to King of Prussia Stable’s Princess of Sylmar in the Oaks, worked a sparkling four furlongs in :47.40 on Friday. The move tied with the work by Strong Mandate, the 2-year-old winner of the Hopeful (GI), as the fastest of 44 moves at the distance. It was the third “bullet” fired by Pure Fun in the last four works by trainer Kenny McPeek’s winner of the 2012 Hollywood Starlet (GI).
“It was a really good breeze,” McPeek said Saturday. “She’s been reeling off the workouts and this is the best one she’s had yet. We’re feeling good about her.”
McPeek will soon be looking for a race for Pure Prize, who has yet to win in three 2013 starts. She opened her campaign with a third-place run in Turfway Park’s Bourbonette Oaks (GIII) at Turfway Park and then ran seventh against males in the Coolmore Lexington (GIII) at Keeneland.
"I wish we had a 3-year-old filly race for her at Churchill,” McPeek said. “We’ll probably point her toward the Indiana Oaks.”
The $200,000 Indiana Oaks (GII), a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies, is set for Saturday, Oct. 5 at Hoosier Park.
BARN TALK – A couple of likely starters in the first running of the $175,000-added Homecoming Classic worked over a fast Chruchill Downs racing strip on Saturday. Golden Ticket, dead-heat winner of the 2012 Travers, breezed five furlongs in a brisk 1:00.80, which was the day’s second-fastest work at the distance. Trainer Kenny McPeek confirmed that the Homecoming Classic was the near-term objective for the 4-year-old son of Speightstown, who last two starts have been a runner-up finish to Fort Larned in the Stephen Foster and a victory in the Prairie Meadows Handicap. But 2011 Foster winner Pool Play grabbed the morning’s spotlight as he worked the same distance for trainer Mark Casse in 1:00.60, the fastest of 26 moves. ... Priscilla Vaccarezza’s Little Mike, winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) and Arlington Million (GI), breezed five furlongs in 1:03.20. Trained by 2012 Eclipse Award winner Dale Romans, Little Mike ran sixth last time out in the 2013 Arlington Million.
Veteran Gary Hartlage has long been one of the most popular trainers at Churchill Downs, especially with longtime friends and residents of the nearby neighborhood of Shively, where the man affectionately known as “Red Dog” grew up.
Saturday night’s “Downs After Dark” program featured a wild finish in the Iroquois (Grade III) in which a pair of Donegal Racing longshots trained by Louisville-native Dale Romans – the victorious Cleburne (34-1) and runner-up Smart Cover (26-1) finished a head apart in an exacta that returned $500.
But given his local esteem, a $15.80 win mutuel on a promising Hartlage-trained 2-year-old named Wry in the evening’s 11th race was just as surprising. Anita Cauley’s homebred son of Distorted Humor out of a half-sister to Grade I winner On Fire Baby cruised by three lengths under Joe Johnson in his second career start.
Wry had finished fourth in a six-furlong race in his debut on Aug. 3 at Ellis Park. The chestnut colt stretched out to seven furlongs Saturday night and stalked the pace in fourth before he coasted to the lead in upper stretch and quickly drew clear. The winner covered seven furlongs in 1:24.08 over a fast track.
For the legion of Hartlage’s local fans, that $15.80 win payout was a gift on a horse that won so impressively. Wry is also a colt that has Hartlage thinking of bigger conquests down the road.
“He was no cinch or anything like that, but he acts like he’s a good horse,” Hartlage said on Sunday morning. “He’s going to be okay. We’re thinking pretty big about him.”
Wry is out of High Heels, who won the 2007 Grade II Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn before she ran third in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) to champion 3-year-old filly Rags to Riches, who would defeat future two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in her next start when she faced males in the Belmont Stakes (GI).
High Heels was produced by Cauley’s mare Ornate, who is the dam of On Fire Baby, winner this year’s Apple Blossom (GI) at Oaklawn Park and the 2011 Pocahontas (GII) and Golden Rod (GII) at Churchill Downs. She has won five of 11 career starts with earnings of $750,308 following a fourth-place run behind two-time champion Royal Delta in her most recent race in Saratoga’s Personal Ensign (GI).
"It’s all there,” Hartlage said of Wry’s female side of the pedigree. “Having Distorted Humor on top it didn’t hurt anything.”
Hartlage has no immediate plans for Wry, but is assessing his options after the colt’s emphatic victory over a group of well-regarded 2-year-old maidens.
“I’m sure we’ll try to stretch him out next time,” he said. “We’ll see where we go from there.”
Hartlage had a busy night on Saturday as he saddled other 2-year-olds in the Iroquois and the Pocahontas, a Grade II race for 2-year-old fillies. Harlan’s Special finished fifth to Untapable in the Pocahontas, while Stonecrusher finished seventh of 10 behind the Romans duo in the Iroquois. Both are owned by Ten Grand Stable, a partnership that includes Hartlage’s daughter, Jennifer Riggs.
"They all came back good,” Hartlage said. “I feel pretty good about most of my babies. Hopefully we’ll have a good fall and a real good 3-year-old year. We’re happy.”
Wry’s family will be a point of focus for Hartlage on Sunday when he saddles Cauley’s homebred Grit and Grace, a 3-year-old Tapit filly and the first foal of High Heels, in the 8th race. Grit and Grace is in search of her first victory in the 1 1/16-mile maiden race for fillies and mares.
Hartlage also is mulling over future plans for On Fire Baby, who challenged Royal Delta in the early going of the Personal Ensign before fading to fourth. She came out of her Saratoga race well and Hartlage has lost no faith in her talent and ability, but he’s puzzled by her most recent outing.
“She just really didn’t fire as good as I thought she would,” he said. “If she had fired, I thought the worst we would be was second or third. But she came out of the race good.”
Keeneland’s Juddmonte Spinster (GI), which will be run over the Lexington track’s synthetic Polytrack surface on Oct. 6, is one option Hartlage is considering. On Fire Baby ran fifth after breaking from the outside post in Keeneland’s 2011 Alcibiades (GI), the filly’s only career outing over synthetic footing.
ALL FOUR ‘DOWNS AFTER DARK’ STAKES WINNERS COULD BE BOUND FOR BREEDERS’ CUP – It appears that each of the quartet of stakes races featured on Saturday night’s “Downs After Dark” racing program at Churchill Downs could have an impact on the fields for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita on Nov. 1-2.
The most obvious are the winners of the night’s pair of races for 2-year-olds: the $150,000-added Pocahontas (GII) for fillies and the $150,000-added Iroquois (GIII) for males. Both of the 1 1/16-mile races, which had previously been run during Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet, were races in the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
Both Steve Asmussen, who saddled Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s Untapable to win the Pocahontas, and Dale Romans, trainer of Donegal Racing’s Iroquois winner Cleburne, said after their races that they planned to take their winners to the Breeders’ Cup. Both winners will receive a travel stipend of $10,000 for their respective trips to Southern California.
Romans said he hopes that Iroquois runner-up Smart Cover would be able to compete in the Juvenile.
Trainer Kelly Breen could send two horses to the Breeders’ Cup following strong efforts in Saturday night races at Churchill Downs.
George and Lori Hall’s Pants On Fire could be headed to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) after notching his second consecutive stakes victory in the Ack Ack Handicap (GIII). Pants On Fire, who finished ninth in the 2011 Kentucky Derby in his only previous race at Churchill Downs, won the one-mile Ack Ack in a stakes record time of 1:33.78 that narrowly missed the track record of 1:33.31 for the one-turn mile distance.
Breen said the Halls are also looking an invitation to run their colt in Japan to end his 5-year-old season.
A Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies bid will be considered for Stoneway Farm’s Stonetastic, the runner-up in the Pocahontas who finished a half-length behind the victorious Untapable. Stonetastic won a Monmouth Park maiden race by 12 1/2 lengths in her only previous race.
"She’s a game horse and that’s the most tired I’ve ever seen her,” Breen said. “It’s a shame to run that hard and get beat, but she’s a nice filly.”
Flashy American won the $100,000-added Locust Grove and trainer Ken McPeek said afterward that Preston Stable LLC’s 4-year-old daughter of Flashy Bull was being considered for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI).
McPeek’s filly ran in five maiden claiming races in 2012 before she final scored her first victory in a $25,000 maiden claiming race at Saratoga. Since then she has won six of 11 races, a run that include stakes victories in the Locust Grove, the Alada at Saratoga and the Iowa Distaff at Prairie Meadows. She has won four of her last five starts, with the only blemish being a runner-up finish to Authenticity in the Shuvee (GIII) at Saratoga.
“She just keeps getting better and better,” McPeek said. “Thank goodness they didn’t claim her off me.”
McPeek is considering Santa Anita’s $250,000 Zenyatta (GI) on Sept. 28 as a possible Distaff prep for the Kentucky-bred Flashy American, who has now won seven of 22 starts and $392,129.
BARN TALK – Nominations close Wednesday for the final two September Meet stakes races: the $175,000-added Homecoming Classic for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles and $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds at one mile on turf. Both races will be run during the “Downs After Dark” night racing program on Saturday, Sept. 28. The 12-day September Meet will close Sunday, Sept. 29 … Naveed Chowhan’s Seaneen Girl, an easy 8 ½-length winner of the Monmouth Oaks (GIII) in her most recent start, breezed five furlongs on Sunday morning at Churchill Downs. The Bernie Flint trainee covered the distance in 1:01.20, which ranked ninth among 19 works at the distance. Seaneen Girl won the Golden Rod (GII) last fall at Churchill Downs.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby and Road to the Kentucky Oaks kick-off in prime time under the lights Saturday at Churchill Downs as the legendary Louisville racetrack enters into its a first foray of September racing since 1890.
A new chapter in Churchill Downs’ storied history began today (Friday) in earnest with the start of the new 12-date September Meet. The four-week flurry of weekend horse racing will mark the first time in the track’s 139 years that three race meets will be conducted in a calendar year.
Ten-race programs with be staged every Friday (1:45 p.m. EDT), Saturday (12:45 p.m. EDT) and Sunday (12:45 p.m. EDT) in September, with two 11-race “Downs After Dark” night racing programs scheduled for this Saturday (Sept. 7) and Sept. 28.
The special “Downs After Dark” racing begins at 6 p.m. EDT.
Over the course of the boutique meet, horsemen will have the opportunity to compete for a daily average of $407,000 in prize money, which includes eight stakes events cumulatively worth $975,000.
More than $500,000 in stakes prizes will be awarded Saturday as Churchill Downs’ hosts a stakes quartet, led by two important $150,000 juvenile fixtures at 1 1/16 miles.
The 32nd running of the Iroquois (Grade III) for 2-year-olds, which was previously staged during the Fall Meet in late October, was moved to September, received a $50,000 purse increase and the distance was elongated by a sixteenth of a mile so it could launch the 18-race “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” at the home of the America’s greatest race.
Meanwhile, the Pocahontas (GII), which will be staged for the 45th time, launches the “Kentucky Oaks Prep Season” series.
Points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers in both races – 10 points for first, 4 for second, 2 for third and 1 for fourth. The top point-earners at the series’ conclusion next spring will ultimately determine which horses have preference to start in the 140th renewals of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI).
A dozen colts and geldings were entered in the Iroquois – the most since 13 ran in the 2005 renewal – and eight fillies were lured to the Pocahontas. Each race also is a part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series, and the winners will earn starting positions in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) in early November at Santa Anita.
Dan Dougherty’s Ride On Curlin, a dazzling 7 ¾-length maiden winner at Ellis Park in mid-July, was made the Iroquois’ 5-2 morning line favorite by veteran oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. The son of 2008-09 Horse of the Year Curlin made a favorable impression in his second career start for trainer Billy Gowan while clocking 5 ½ furlongs in a track record 1:03.00 under recently-inducted Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner. The victory appeared to be validated when clear runner-up Union Hall returned to win his maiden by 4 ¼ lengths on Aug. 17 at Remington Park. However, the colt returned to finish fourth Thursday night at Remington Park against allowance competition.
Ride On Curlin’s promise could be prosperous for Dougherty. He bought the Kentucky-bred colt for $25,000 as a yearling and recently entertained a lofty $1 million offer to sell. Ultimately, he declined to sell when a deal couldn’t come to terms.
Ride On Curlin, who will break under Borel from post No. 9, may receive his biggest challenge from a colt that has yet to win a race. Arguably, Ron Winchell’s promising maiden Tapiture exits the strongest race, a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga on Aug. 17. Tapiture was second and beaten 4 ½ lengths by Strong Mandate , but the winner returned Monday to romp in Grade I Hopeful by 9 ¾ lengths.
Other top contenders are Andrena and Paul Van Doren’s 4 ¾-length Mountaineer Juvenile winner Rise Up, and George and Lori Hall’s Solemnly Swear, who drew off to win a one-mile maiden race at Monmouth Park by 8 ½ lengths.
The Iroquois field (with jockey and morning line odds) from the rail out: Laddie Boy (Jesus Castanon, 20-1); All Cash (Miguel Mena, 15-1); Rise Up (Rosie Napravnik, 5-1); Tapiture (Ricardo Santana Jr., 7-2); Cleburne (Corey Lanerie, 10-1); Honorable Judge (Joe Rocco Jr., 12-1); Solemnly Swear (Joe Bravo, 6-1); Jimmy Connors (Elvis Trujillo, 12-1); Ride On Curlin (Calvin Borel, 5-2); Smart Cover (Shaun Bridgmohan, 12-1); Stonecrusher (Joe Johnson, 20-1); and Cee ’n O (Alan Garcia, 20-1).
The Iroquois will go as Race 7 at 9:05 p.m. EDT.
Joseph Sutton’s Milam, who won at first-asking on Aug. 4 at Ellis Park, is the 3-1 early choice in the Pocahontas, which will go as Race 6 at 8:30 p.m. EDT. Trained by Eddie Kenneally and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., Milam went gate-to-wire in her debut, repulsed a bid and drew away to beat J J Julep by 3 ¾ lengths while clocking six furlongs in a swift 1:09.72. The runner-up returned a week ago to win a maiden special weight on turf by 6 ¼ lengths.
Stoneway Farm’s Stonetastic invades from Monmouth Park fresh off a scintillating 12 ½-length career debut. The gray/roan daughter of Mizzen Mast raced on the outside of a rival to the quarter pole and then drew away in hand to clock 5 ½ furlongs in 1:04.45. Joe Bravo has the mount for trainer Kelly Breen and will break from the outside post.
Notable entrants also include Winchell’s Untapable, the half-sister to Grade I-winner Paddy O’Prado who won her only start at Churchill Downs in June, and Stonestreet Stables LLC’s Elena Strikes, who was third in Schuylerville (GIII) at Saratoga in late July. John Velasquez will be in town to ride the latter for trainer Todd Pletcher.
The field for the Pocahontas from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Untapable (Napravnik, 4-1); Elena Strikes (John Velazquez, 4-1); Milam (Brian Hernandez Jr., 3-1); Rosalind (Victor Lebron, 5-1); Harlan’s Special (Johnson, 6-1); Nevada Deputy (Santana, 12-1); Redheaded Witch (Lanerie, 20-1); and Stonetastic (Bravo, 7-2).
Saturday’s 11-race “Downs After Dark” program also will showcase top milers in the $100,000-added Ack Ack Handicap (GIII), and fillies and mares in the $100,000-added Locust Grove over 1 1/16 miles.
Churchill Downs’ new September Meet not only provides horsemen with lucrative racing opportunities at an important time on the racing calendar, but it creates a new product offering and experience for area sports fans and entertainment seekers.
Fans are encouraged to express their passion and dress in support of their favorite school Saturday night as Churchill Downs is transformed into Louisville’s ultimate nighttime hot spot for “Downs After Dark: College Rivalry Night” Presented by Finlandia Vodka. Each fan that passes through admission gates will be asked which collegiate team they support. At night’s end, the school with the most votes will be awarded $5,000 in scholarships. Additionally, the runner-up will receive $3,000 in grants, while the third-place finisher will get $2,000.
Churchill Downs’ celebration under the lights is sure to have the atmosphere of a tailgate party in its spacious 30,000-square-foot Plaza, complete with live music, unique food and drink offerings, corn hole games, a football toss, cheerleaders, marching bands and more. Admission gates will open at 4 p.m., the final live race will be 11:10 p.m. and the on-track party will continue in the Plaza until 11:30 p.m.
Cover charge (general admission) to all Downs After Dark events is $10. Holders of shareholders passes or horsemen licenses and children age 12 and under (when accompanied by an adult) will be admitted free of charge. No one under the age of 18 will be admitted to the track unless they are accompanied by a parent or responsible adult. Indoor dining packages in Millionaires Row are $59.90 per person and include a delectable buffet dinner, reserved seat and official program. Outdoor third-floor box seats are $20 and include general admission, a box seat in the third-floor clubhouse and an official program.
“College Rivalry Night” is the centerpiece of opening week activities. Churchill Downs will launch the meet Friday and host the “City’s Best Happy Hours!” with drink specials, food trucks and live music in the Plaza from 4-7 p.m. The first of 10 races on Fridays will be 1:45 p.m. Meanwhile, Sundays are Family Fun Days Presented by Kroger. The 10-race programs, which begin at 12:45 p.m., will showcase family-focused activities on the Plaza Balcony throughout the day from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Kids 12 and younger are invited to enjoy games, crafts, visits from the popular mascot Churchill Charlie and special weekly events.
Racing at Churchill Downs in September is rare but not unprecedented. The track’s Fall Meet, which will be held for the 124th time from Oct. 27-Nov. 30, was staged exclusively during September on nine occasions: 1875-76, 1879, 1884, 1886-90. Churchill Downs’ most recent September racing dates occurred in the mid-1980s when a pair of extended Spring/Summer meets stretched into the month. The April 30-Sept. 5 Fall Meet of 1983 consisted of 93 racing days, and the 1984 meet, also 93 days, ran from April 28-Sept. 3. Prior to those mid-’80s meets, the most recent September racing dates were conducted at Churchill Downs during back-to-back Fall Meets of 1966 (Sept. 10-Oct. 8) and ’67 (Sept. 2-Oct. 7).
Morton Fink’s high-powered homebreds Wise Dan and Successful Dan join Pimlico Special (GIII) 1-2 finishers Alternation and Nehro atop a glittering roster of 16 older stars nominated to compete in the $400,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I), the main event on a spectacular night of racing at Churchill Downs on Saturday, June 16 that will feature four graded stakes events with purses that total $750,000.
The 31st running of the Stephen Foster for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the main track will make history as it will be run under the lights for the first time as part of the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program. For the first time, the Stephen Foster Handicap is part of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships’ “Win and You’re In" series and its winner will earn an automatic starting berth in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita.
Nominations for the three stakes races on the Stephen Foster Handicap undercard include 2011 Eclipse Award champions Royal Delta, the top American 3-year-old filly after her win in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI), and Hansen, the nation’s 2-year-old champion who capped an unbeaten season in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). Those races include the 37th running of the $150,000-added Fleur De Lis Handicap (Grade II) for fillies and mares ages 3 and up at 1 1/8 miles; the 15th running of the $100,000-added Matt Winn (GIII), a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds; and the 43rd running of the $100,000-added Regret (GIII), a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies.
Trainer Charles Lopresti has listed Wise Dan, winner of last fall’s Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) at Churchill Downs and a dazzling 10 ½-length winner on Polytrack in Keeneland’s Ben Ali (GIII) in his only start of 2012, as “definite” for the Stephen Foster. Successful Dan, on the other hand, is listed as “possible” for the race after overcoming traffic problems to score a one-length victory in the $200,000-added Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables (GII) on Kentucky Derby Day.
Lopresti’s stars are half-brothers who have earned more than $1.5 million between them. A three-race winning streak for Wise Dan, a 5-year-old gelding by Wiseman’s Ferry, has boosted his career record to 9-0-0 in 15 races with earnings of $1,009,601. Successful Dan, a 6-year-old gelding by Successful Appeal, has won both of his 2012 races after he returned from 18 months on the sidelines He was disqualified and placed third in the 2010 Clark Handicap at the end of his 2010 campaign and did not race in 2011 because of a tendon injury. Successful Dan’s career record stands 7-1-1 in 10 races and he has earned $596,608.
Pin Oak Stable LLC’s Alternation and Nehro were nominated to the Stephen Foster Handicap following a memorable showdown in the Pimlico Special on the eve of the Preakness at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.
Alternation, a winner of a string of four consecutives stakes races that also includes the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) and Razorback (GIII) at Oaklawn Park, held on to win by a nose over Zayat Stables LLC’s Nehro, the runner-up to Team Valor’s Animal Kingdom in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
All 16 horses nominated to the Stephen Foster Handicap are stakes winners, and all but one has earned graded stakes victories during their careers. Three nominees are Grade I winners, but their status in regard to the Foster is unknown. That group includes Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge’s Shackleford, the Dale Romans-trained winner of the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) and Churchill Downs (GII) in 2012, along with the 2011 Preakness (GI); Live Oak Plantation’s To Honor and Serve, winner of the 2011 Cigar Mile (GI) and this year’s running of the Westchester (GIII) for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott; and Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable and Jack T. Hammer’s Ron the Greek, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) and runner-up in the Oaklawn Handicap.
Other distinguished nominees include Windy Hill Farm’s Nates Mineshaft, winner of the New Orleans Handicap (GIII) at Fair Grounds and the recent Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII); Janis R. Whitham’s Fort Larned, runner-up in the Alysheba and winner of Gulfstream Park’s Skip Away (GIII); Casner Racing LP’s Endorsement, third in the Pimlico Special and winner of the 2012 Lone Star Derby (GIII); C R K Stable’s Gladding, winner of the 2011 San Antonio (GII) for trainer John Sadler; Twin Creeks Racing Stables LLC’s Mission Impazible, runner-up in both the 2011 Stephen Foster and Clark Handicaps at Churchill Downs and the 2010 Louisiana Derby (GII) for trainer Todd Pletcher; Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton’s Astrology, winner of the 2010 Iroquois (GIII) at Churchill Downs and third in last year’s Preakness; Catesby W. Clay’s homebred Rogue Romance, winner of the 2010 Bourbon (GIII) at Keeneland and a recent allowance winner at Churchill Downs; Frank Calabrese’s Where’s Sterling, winner of the 2011 Philip Iselin (GIII) at Monmouth Park; and Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s homebred Cease, winner of the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park.
Last year’s running of the Stephen Foster Handicap was won by William S. Farish Jr.’s Canadian-bred Pool Play, who rallied from last in a field of 11 at odds of 36-1 to win by a neck for trainer Mark Casse.
The 2010 Stephen Foster Handicap was won by Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Blame, who returned to Churchill Downs later that year to defeat eventual Horse of the Year Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Blame was the fourth horse to take the Stephen Foster and the Classic in the same year. Others to complete the Stephen Foster-Breeders’ Cup Classic double were Black Tie Affair (1991), Awesome Again (1998) and Saint Liam (2005).
Black Tie Affair and Saint Liam won their respective renewals of the Stephen Foster on their way to Horse of the Year honors. Two other horses competed in the race during their respective Horse of the Year campaigns. They were 2003 champion Mineshaft, who finished second to Perfect Drift in that year’s Foster, and Curlin, who won the Foster his second consecutive Horse of the Year campaign in 2008, but did not win the Classic.
Besilu Stables’ Royal Delta heads a list of 18 fillies and mares ages three and up nominated to the $150,000-added Fleur De Lis Handicap, which returns to the 2012 stakes schedule after a one-year hiatus. The Mott-trained daughter of Empire Maker also won the Alabama (GI) during her championship season, but has not competed since a troubled ninth-place run against males in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI) at Meydan Race Course on March 31. Mott also nominated Carolyn Wilson’s Arena Elvira, winner of Churchill Downs’ 2011 Falls City Handicap (GII).
Other Fleur De Lis nominees include Dede McGehee’s St. John’s River, runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Oaks and the 2012 La Troienne (GII); William S. and Graydon Patterson’s La Troienne winner Juanita; Flaxman Holdings Ltd.’s Pachattack, winner of Keeneland’s Doubledogdare (GIII); Cresran LLC’s Tiz Miz Sue, winner of Oaklawn’s Azeri (GIII); and Lauffer and Cubbedge’s Afleeting Lady, the Romans-trained 2012 Falls City runner-up.
Dr. Kendall Hansen and Sky Chai Racing’s Hansen tops 21 3-year-olds nominated to compete in the Matt Winn, a race named in honor of Col. Matt Winn, the legendary president of Churchill Downs regarded as the architect of the Kentucky Derby’s status as America’s greatest race and one of the world’s top sports and entertainment events.
The reigning 2-year-old champion finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) behind I’ll Have Another. Prior to the Derby, Mike Maker’s Tapit colt won the Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct, finished second to both Dullahan in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) at Keeneland and Algorithms the Holy Bull (GIII) at Gulfstream Park. Hansen’s Kentucky Derby run was the only time in Hansen’s seven-race career in which he finished worse than second. He has earned $1,623,305 while compiling a 4-2-0 record.
Other possible contenders for the Matt Winn include Stonestreet Stables LLC’s Hierro, the Steve Asmussen-trained winner of The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII) for his second victory in as many starts at Churchill Downs; John C. Oxley’s Stealcase, third in the Derby Trial and winner of a recent Churchill Downs allowance race for trainer Mark Casse; Casner Racing LP and Sam B. Pollock’s Right to Vote, runner-up in Belmont Park’s Peter Pan (GII); F. Thomas Conway, Jack Conway, Trey Thornton and Gary Carter’s Illinois Derby (GIII) runner-up Morgan’s Guerrilla; Bourbon Lane Stable and Wayne Lynn’s Bourbon Courage, who suffered his first loss in three races in a fourth-place run in the Derby Trial; Fred Seitz’s Rushaway Stakes winner Flashy Dresser; A. Steven Miles Jr.’s Neck and Neck, winner of a recent allowance race at Churchill Downs; and Preston Madden’s Whiskey Rebellion, third for trainer Akiko Gothard against older rivals in last week’s Aristides (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
Multiple stakes winners Stephanie’s Kitten, Karlovy Vary and On Fire Baby top 32 3-year-old fillies nominated to the Regret, a race named in honor of the filly who in 1915 became the first of only three members of her gender to defeat males in the Kentucky Derby.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s hombred Stephanie’s Kitten is unbeaten in two starts over Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course and would likely be the Regret favorite if she were to run. But the Ramsey filly is being pointed toward a run in the Coronation Stakes (Group I) on June 22 at Britain’s Royal Ascot. Stephanie’s Kitten won last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GII) at Churchill Downs for trainer Wayne Catalano and returned on Kentucky Oaks Day to win the 1 1/16-mile Edgewood on the grass in stakes-record time.
Alex G. Campbell Jr.’s Karlovy Vary, a homebred daughter of Dynaformer, failed to threaten when she ran 12th among 14 starters in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI), but prior to that she won the Ashland (GI) over synthetic Polytrack at Keeneland. Anita Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby won the Golden Rod (GII) and Pocahontas (GII) last fall at Churchill Downs and earlier this year won the Honeybee (GIII) at Oaklawn Park for trainer Gary Hartlage, but disappointed in the Kentucky Oaks, where she finished fifth, and Belmont Park’s Acorn (GI), where she ran fourth.
Other Regret nominees include Augustin Stable’s Coup, winner of Pimlico’s Hilltop for trainer Graham Motion; Judy the Beauty, who has not raced since a runner-up finish to Grace Hall in Saratoga’s Spinaway (GI) for owner-trainer Wesley Ward; John C. Oxley’s Churchill Downs allowance winner Funny Proposition; Hurstland Farm Inc. and James H. Greene Jr.’s Heart of Destiny, runner-up to Stephanie’s Kitten in last fall’s Alcibiades (GI) at Keeneland; and William J. Butler’s Valdale and Cincinnati Trophy winner Lotta Lovin.
Veteran trainer and retired jockey Mitch Shirota, whose training career spanned more than three decades and included stakes triumphs in the Grade I Top Flight at Aqueduct and a memorable Kentucky Derby Day stakes win at Churchill Downs, died early Wednesday, Jan. 4 at Norton Suburban Hospital in Louisville.
The Hawaiian-born Shirota had been hospitalized since Monday, but had endured a lengthy illness. He was 78.
Visitation and a memorial service are scheduled for Christ Chapel in the Churchill Downs stable area on Saturday, Jan. 7. Visitation will be conducted in the chapel from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (all times Eastern), with the service set to follow at 2 p.m. Access to the chapel is available via Churchill Downs’ Gate 5 off Longfield Ave.
The diminutive Shirota was a gregarious resident of the Churchill Downs stable area known by friends for his sharp, and occasionally biting, wit. But he possessed considerable talent as a horseman. Equibase statistics, which have been compiled since 1976, show that Shirota saddled 236 winners from 1,637 career starters, and his horses collected career earnings of $5,692,466. He won 79 races from 676 starts at Churchill Downs with earnings at his home track of $2,065,573.
His years as a trainer were preceded by a 15-year run as jockey that began in 1958 at Agua Caliente in Tijuana, Mexico. Shirota eventually became a riding fixture at Churchill Downs, Louisville’s Miles Park and other Kentucky tracks in the 1960s and early 1970s. Statistics on his years as a jockey are not available.
Shirota is survived by his wife, Lynda; their daughter, Lori Gowen (Greg); grandchildren Whitney Gowen and Tyler Gowen; brothers Seiko and Hiro Shirota; and sisters Kay Tada, Sumi Martin and Tomi Shirota. He was preceded in death by a brother, Seiyu Shirota, and a sister, Evelyn Tan.
Born and educated through high school in Maui, Shirota moved to the United States in the mid 1950s (Hawaii did not become a state until 1959) to attend Brigham Young University, where he graduated in three years with a degree in political science. He became involved with Thoroughbreds when he worked at a California farm following his graduation from BYU, and decided to pursue a riding career when a friend suggested he had the perfect stature for the job.
After the conclusion of his career in the saddle, Shirota obtained a trainer’s license in the mid 1970s and saddled his first winner at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 18, 1977. His final victory was provided by Holy Dixie at Churchill Downs in a maiden race for $15,000-to-$12,500 claiming horses on June 29, 2007. His last recorded start occurred a few weeks later at Arlington Park, when Mutadda finished fourth in a Maiden Special Weight race on Aug. 25, 2007.
Between those career bookends, Shirota saddled winners of 21 stakes races – including five graded events – headed by a win by Gainewsay Stable’s Firm Stance in the $200,000, Grade I Top Flight at Aqueduct on April 17, 1992. The daughter of 1978 Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winner Affirmed also won the $150,000 Red Bud Breeders’ Cup at River Downs in a three-year racing career in which Firm Stance compiled a record of 7-3-0 in 17 starts and earnings of $443,771.
Another stakes highlight was provided by Andrena Van Doren’s Shaconage when she won Churchill Downs’ Grade III Argent Mortgage (now the Grade II Distaff Turf Mile) by a nose over heavily-favored Etoile Montante on the 2004 Kentucky Derby Day program. The win was Shirota’s first in a stakes race at Churchill Downs and its timing made the long-awaited triumph even sweeter.
"Cha-Ching! I've been coming to Churchill Downs for 20 years now and this is my first stakes win here," Shirota said after the milestone win. “To do it on Derby Day is even more special.”
Shirota’s initial stakes success at the Louisville track was followed a few weeks later by another stakes victory by Shaconage over the Matt Winn Turf Course in the Grade III Locust Grove Handicap. The homebred daughter of El Prado also won Woodbine’s Ontario Colleen in 2003 and the Ellis Park Breeders’ Cup Turf in 2005, additional high points in a four-year career during which Shirota’s star ran 29 times with a record of 6-3-7 and earned $534,051. Later that year Shaconage provided Shirota with his only start in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, where she ran sixth to Ouija Board in the Filly & Mare Turf at Lone Star Park.
Other notable Shirota trainees include Van Doren’s Jadada, a half-brother to Shaconage by Jade Hunter and a career earner of $449,088 who counted the Grade III Fayette Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland and Ellis Park’s Governors Handicap among seven wins from 52 starts; Gainesway’s Wicked Mama, winner of Ellis Park’s Dade Breeders’ Cup Turf Classic in 1995; Warren Kemper’s Madam Bear, who won the 1992 Queen Breeders’ Cup at Turfway Park before a runner-up finish to Ifyoucouldseemenow in the Grade III Brown & Williamson (now Grade I Humana Distaff) at Churchill Downs; and Maramour Stable’s Limanda, who took the 1995 running of the Queen Breeders’ Cup. Shirota notched his first career stakes win with Note of Victory in the 1977 Sallan Cup Handicap at Detroit Race Course.