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Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. will be on a plane shortly after Friday’s Churchill Downs race card, headed to Santa Anita Park where he will ride in his second Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Saturday.
The 21-year-old Panama-native will ride Jerry Durant’s Lucky Player in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade I) and Bourbon Lane Stables’ Bourbon Courage in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI).
Santana has ridden Lucky Player in three of his four starts, most recently to a victory in the Sept. 6 Iroquois (GIII) under the Twin Spires where he won by a neck.
“He’s such a nice horse,” Santana Jr. said. “He was a little green in those first couple of races, but now he’s a grown man. The first day I rode him and he broke his maiden, I had a lot of confidence in that horse. He’s worked well since and he always gives his best.”
Santana’s only defeat on Lucky Player came as a runner-up finish in the Aug. 9 Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile, where Santana said the 2-year-old colt may have been slightly distracted by running under the lights for the first time.
“When I rode him at Prairie Meadows, going a mile, he ran well starting off and I thought he might open up,” Santana said. “That was his first race at night, too. He looked up and saw the lights and then a horse came up on his side and passed us. When he realized the horse was passing he picked up a little bit but it was too late. But he’s matured since then and I think he’ll be ready to go.”
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Lucky Player will break from post position six in the Juvenile and has been given odds of 30-1 on the morning line.
Santana’s first mount on Bourbon Courage also was the colt’s first race at a sprint distance since October 2013. The 6 ½-furlong allowance optional claiming contest resulted in a 3 ¼-length win for Bourbon Courage and Santana at Keeneland on Oct. 3.
“I really think that horse is better off going a little shorter,” Santana said. “I worked that horse twice before going to the Breeders’ Cup. The last time he worked on Monday, he worked three furlongs in :34 like it was nothing. The time before that he worked five furlongs in :59 so he’s been working just so nicely and I have a lot of confidence in him, too.”
Breaking from the far outside in the 14-hole, Bourbon Courage also has been given odds of 30-1 for trainer Kellyn Gorder.
“My two horses are 30-1, but horses don’t know that; they don’t watch TV,” Santana said.
Santana said his favorite part of the Breeders’ Cup was the high level of competition and the excitement of the fans.
“It’s a great experience, seeing so many people there, screaming your name; it’s a big deal,” Santana said. “It’s the best horses, the best trainers and the best riders, which also makes it fun.”
While Santana is confident, he hopes to have luck on his side facing such stiff competition.
“I’m really excited to be there,” Santana said. “Santa Anita is amazing. It’s not going to be easy though, so hopefully I can get some luck on my side. But like I said, I have confidence in my horses, so we’ll see what happens.”
BLOCK WEIGHS IN ON MY OPTION AHEAD OF SATURDAY’S CHILUKKI
Trainer Chris Block will saddle Timothy Keeley’s multiple Grade III winner My Option in Saturday’s $200,000-added Chilukki (GII) at Churchill Downs with rider Eduardo Perez up.
The 4-year-old filly by Belong to Me is coming off a third-place effort in the Oct. 4 Mari Hulman George at Indiana Grand, which was her first dirt start since April.
While Block said that the one-mile Chilukki probably is the ideal distance for My Option, he acknowledged the filly has made her best efforts on synthetic surfaces.
“She’s probably best going a mile on synthetic,” Block said. “I think if you look at her results it’s pretty obvious but we thought we’d give her a try again on the dirt here Saturday.”
In My Option’s only previous start under the Twin Spires, she finished fourth in the 2013 Falls City Handicap (GII) beaten four lengths going 1 1/8 miles on dirt.
“I thought she ran really well at Churchill last year all things considered,” Block said. “She was kind of coming down at the end of her season there and probably wasn’t necessarily at her best. I feel like I had her peaking last year when she went into Keeneland in her start prior to that, but I thought she ran very credible in the Falls City against some good fillies and she seemed to handle the surface there well.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s Chilukki, Block said he thinks the cooler temperatures probably would work in My Option’s favor, but would have preferred a post position closer to the middle than the far outside.
“I don’t think the cold will affect her at all,” Block said. “Actually, I think horses like running in the cold a little better. As far as the post position, I’d probably rather have been in the six, seven or eight but there’s a long run out of the chute and up the backstretch there. We should be able to get over into a proper position that will hopefully give her a shot when she approaches the quarter pole to make her run. But she’s been doing great and we’re excited looking ahead to Saturday.”
My Option has been made the 6-1 co-third choice for the Chilukki, the ninth of 10 races on Saturday’s Churchill Downs card, with an approximate post time of 7:25 p.m.
Coming off a fourth-place effort in the Futurity (Grade II) at Belmont Park, Harry T. Rosenblum’s Far Right looks to return to his winning ways in the $58,000-added Street Sense at Churchill Downs for trainer Ron Moquett.
The one-mile Street Sense is one of two stakes races on Sunday’s 10-race “Stars of Tomorrow I” program that showcases nothing but 2-year-olds to open the track’s 26-day Fall Meet.
Far Right broke in fifth and last position in the Futurity and could not make up enough ground late to catch the leaders.
“He was off the pace where they were going in fractions of :23, :46 and 1:09; you can’t give those types of horses 23-second quarters and think that you can catch them at the end,” Moquett said. “He made a mental move to try and make up some of it and he was able to make up about five lengths toward the end but it just wasn’t enough to punch on through after giving those guys that kind of easy first half.”
Moquett thought that Far Right stood a better chance against a five-horse field in the Oct. 5 Futurity versus staying in his home state and running in the Oct. 4 Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland, a race that attracted a full field of 12.
“I just thought he might have had a better shot in a five-horse field as opposed to a full field in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland,” Moquett said. “We were just trying to hit them when they weren’t looking.”
Moquett expects the Notional colt to improve going the one-mile distance versus only six furlongs in the Futurity.
“I would hope that he should improve going an extra couple furlongs, especially over a track that he’s already won on and ran well over,” Moquett said.
Prior to the Futurity, Far Right scored his first win in his third start with a five-length romp in 1:17.18 over 6 ½ furlongs.
Far Right will break from post position two Sunday’s Street Sense, which goes as Race 4 at approximately 2:06 p.m. ET. The first race is 12:40 p.m. ET.
CARVE LOGS FINAL BREEZE FOR BREEDERS’ CUP DIRT MILE
Michael Langford’s Carve completed his final work ahead of next week’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Santa Anita with a half-mile breeze in :49 Friday morning at Churchill Downs.
“His work this morning was great,” trainer Brad Cox said. “He went a half-mile in :49 and galloped out really well.”
Carve is scheduled to fly to Southern California on Saturday morning, and 34-year-old Cox said he’s eager to start his first horse in the Breeders’ Cup.
“It’s exciting,” said Cox, who has won with 23.7% of his career starters since 2004. “The horse is doing as well as he can do and we expect him to run well. Obviously we’re running to win, but I will be happy as long as he shows up. I honestly think he has what it takes to compete with these horses.
“I think we ran him back a little too quickly from the (Sept. 6) Ack Ack to the (Sept. 27) Homecoming Classic, so hopefully giving him an extra week or so should ensure that he’ll be at his best.”
Carve finished second in the $107,300 Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Down but was fifth in the $135,500 Homecoming Classic three weeks later. Prior to the Ack Ack, Carve won three straight races including the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII) and $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes. The other victory was an allowance on June 14 at Churchill in which Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith was at the reigns. Smith will ride Carve for the second time in the Dirt Mile.
“It’s a huge advantage to have Mike Smith as our rider,” Cox said. “He rode him to a victory here at Churchill in June and just the fact that he knows Santa Anita so well makes me feel a little better since our horse has never seen that track before.”
Smith’s leads all jockeys in career Breeders’ Cup wins with 20.
UNBRIDLED FOREVER, TOP DECILE POST FINAL PRE-BREEDERS’ CUP WORKS FOR STEWART, STALL
Friday morning at Churchill Downs marked the final preparations for Charles Fipke’s Unbridled Forever, who is pre-entered in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Grade I) for trainer Dallas Stewart, and Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence’s Top Decile, pre-entered in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) for trainer Al Stall Jr.
Coming off a runner-up effort in the $204,400 Indiana Oaks (GII), Unbridled Forever covered five furlongs in 1:02.20.
“She had a great work,” Stewart said. “She was cruising at a high speed and galloped out nicely. One of her great qualities is that she doesn’t own her track. Whether it’s Churchill, Fair Grounds, Saratoga or Belmont she’s run well. So I expect her to run really well at Santa Anita.”
Stewart acknowledged that while facing older fillies and mares for the first time would be no easy feat, he has confidence in Unbridled Forever’s abilities to compete.
“She ran well in Indiana, too,” Stewart said. “We ended up second best (to Tiz Windy) that day but she seems like she’s improved every day since. She’s more up on it every day on her gallops and hasn’t backed out of the feed tub a bit. We’re in good shape.”
Stewart said Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez would get the Distaff mount on Unbridled Forever. Velazquez’s 12 Breeders’ Cup victories are the third most of any rider and second among active jockeys.
“She’s got a great rider in Johnny Velazquez so we’ll leave the trip up to him,” Stewart said. “But I’d guess she’d be somewhere in the middle; you can’t get too far back at Santa Anita.”
Top Decile, who was second to Peace and War in the $400,000 Alcibiades (GI) at Keeneland on Oct. 3, breezed a half-mile in :49.80 Friday.
“She went in :49 and change, galloped out (five furlongs) nicely in 1:03 and just did it the right way,” Stall said.
Stall seemed pleased with Top Decile’s last effort despite having a little trouble getting out of the gate.
“She came up big to get second in that last race, especially since she didn’t really break at all,” Stall said. “Seeing that she’ll likely face another full field in the Breeders’ Cup we can’t let that happen. I believe she’ll break better. Ideally we’d like her to lay off the speed a little bit. There’s a lot of speed in that race so hopefully she sits tight behind the leaders and can close late. We’ll see what happens but we’re excited.”
Stall said Rosie Napravnik would ride Top Decile in the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Napravnik’s lone Breeders’ Cup victory came in the 2012 Juvenile aboard Shanghai Bobby.
OPENING DAY AT CHURCHILL DOWNS
Sunday, Oct. 26 – Opening Day / Stars of Tomorrow I
- 10 races from 12:40-5:16 p.m. (Gates: 11:30 a.m.)
- Co-Feature (Race 4 at 2:06 p.m.): $58,000-added Street Sense, 2yo, 1 M
- Co-Feature (Race 9 at 4:44 p.m.): $58,000-added Rags to Riches, 2yo, f, 1 M
- Trick or Treat Parade: Children are encouraged to dress in Halloween costumes and join Churchill Charlie in a trick-or-treat journey around the track to collect candy. Registration will begin at 1 p.m. and the parade will start at 2:30 p.m.
- Box Office hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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).