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Stirring Clark Handicap, 'Stars of Tomorrow' Performances Highlight Churchill Downs' Weather-Shortened 24-Day Fall Meet
Sizzling equine performances topped by a Hoppertunity victory in the Grade I Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare, dazzling performances by rising 2-year-olds in a pair of “Stars of Tomorrow” programs, and an early winter blast that forced the cancellation of back-to-back racing days for the first time in more than four decades were highlights of Churchill Downs Racetrack’s (“CDRT”) Fall Meet that concluded on Sunday, Nov. 30.
An unusually early winter combination of a three-inch snowfall and temperatures that plunged into single-digits combined to freeze the main track at Churchill Downs on Monday, Nov. 17 and ongoing below-average temperatures and a slow thaw prompted track officials to cancel live racing programs planned for Wednesday, Nov. 19 and Thursday, Nov. 20. There was no training over the one-mile surface from Tuesday, Nov. 18 through Thursday, Nov. 20.
The cancellation on Nov. 19 was the first winter weather-related cancellation since Nov. 13, 1986 and the back-to-back cancellations on Nov. 19-20 were the first since a frozen track forced cancellation Nov. 23-24, 1970. Track Superintendent David Lehr’s 26-person team worked around-the-clock throughout the week to get the one-mile surface back in shape for a resumption of training and racing on Friday, Nov. 21.
But the racing program during the meet that had been scheduled for 26 racing days remained strong, thanks in part to the track’s stellar program of 2-year-old racing highlighted by its pair of “Stars of Tomorrow” programs for juveniles and its attractive stakes program headed by the Clark Handicap, which was first run during the track’s inaugural meet in 1875 and, like the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), has been run annually without interruption since.
The average number of horses-per-race during the 24 days of racing was 8.56, which was down 2.4% compared to the average of 8.77 horses-per-race during the 25-day Fall Meet of 2013. Purses paid during the meet totaled $8,617,940, an increase of 4.8% from the total of $8,222,779 in 25 days of racing in 2013. There were 250 races with a total of 2,140 starters during this year’s weather-shortened Fall Meet, compared with 254 races run in 2013. Average daily purses totaled $359,081 compared to $328,911 a year ago – a 9.2% increase.
Although four races from the cancelled programs were added to the remaining racing programs during the meet, the cancellations reduced the number of races offered by 20. Those cancelled races offered purses of $558,000.
“We faced challenges – expected and unexpected – during the Fall Meet, but our racetrack team responded strongly in dealing with those issues and our fans continued to support us during the remainder of the meet that, as a whole, was very satisfying,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs. “We are deeply grateful to our horsemen for their patience and support during our uncommon stretch of winter weather, and to all of the teams at our track. David Lehr’s track crews got little to no sleep for a week as they battled the frigid weather and worked tirelessly to ensure that our track was safe and fair when racing resumed. Our group sales and events teams displayed the same level of commitment in working to satisfy patrons who had scheduled visits or special events at Churchill Downs during our cancelled racing programs.
“Our Fall Meet was solid from its opening day, but the support of horsemen and fans after our winter weather issues was most gratifying. Our closing weekend racing cards were very strong and fans responded in both their attendance and at the wagering windows on our traditionally popular programs on Thanksgiving Day, the ‘Black Friday’ Clark Handicap card and our final Saturday’s 'Stars of Tomorrow’ program, one of the most impressive in the 10-year history of that concept."
The Clark Handicap, the annual highlight of the Fall Meet, did not disappoint when Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Hoppertunity, a major contender for last spring’s Kentucky Derby who was knocked out of that race by injury, returned to Churchill Downs to win the $551,000 race for 3-year-olds and up by a half-length. The Clark victory was the third for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, the second for co-owner Pegram and the first for jockey Martin Garcia.
Hoppertunity led a 1-2-3 finish by 3-year-olds in which the Todd Pletcher-trained Protonico and Constitution, another Derby hopeful that had been sidelined by injury before the Run for the Roses, finished second and third, respectively.
The “Stars of Tomorrow II” program on the final Saturday of the meet produced dazzling performances by 2-year-olds that could emerge as contenders of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
Zayat Stables’ El Kabeir, Godolphin Racing’s Imperia and William S. Farish’s Eagle were separated by less than a length in a thrilling 1-2-3 finish in the $233,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII). Earlier, Mary and Gary West’s West Coast Belle held off No Fault of Mine to win the $233,400 Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies. It was the second stakes win of the meet for West Coast Belle, who had won the $58,000-added Rags to Riches overnight stakes for trainer Wayne Catalano on the meet’s opening day.
The Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod awarded points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points system to the respective top four finishes in those races. The points will determine the horses that participate in next year’s Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs and El Kabeir and West Coast Belle earned 10 points each for their respective races.
Other eye-catching “Stars of Tomorrow II” performances were turned in by unbeaten Dortmund, who traveled from California for three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert to take a one-mile allowance race by 7 ¾ lengths, and Taylor S, a 2-year-old filly whose 6 ¼-length win in a six-furlong allowance race was one of three winners on the day for trainer Dale Romans.
G. Watts Humphrey’s homebred Frivolous upset heavily-favored Don’t Tell Sophia in a 19-1 upset in the 99th running of the $222,600 Falls City Handicap (GII) for fillies and mares on Thanksgiving Day. Trainer Vicki Oliver, the owner/breeder’s daughter, collected her first Churchill Downs stakes victory in the race and Frivolous was ridden by 54-year-old jockey Jon Court, who scored his first stakes win since he suffered a serious injury to his right hand in a riding mishap in the spring.
Other notable stakes wins during the meet included victories by Sparkling Review in the $237,800 Mrs. Revere (GII) for 3-year-old fillies on the grass; Molly Morgan, who took the $237,210 Chilukki (GII) for her second Grade II stakes win of the year for owner Bill Cubbedge and trainer Romans; the 3-year-old Heart to Heart, who scored his second stakes win of the year on the Churchill Downs grass in the $115,300 Commonwealth Turf (GIII); the 5-year-old Villandry, who took the $114,000 River City Handicap (GIII) for trainer Charlie LoPresti; Strike Charmer, who scored the first stakes win of her career when she took the $119,700 Cardinal Handicap (GIII) and Conquest Tsunami, who won the $55,211 Street Sense on the opening day ‘Stars of Tomorrow I’ racing program.
Jockeys Julien Leparoux and Robby Albarado achieved career milestones during the Fall Meet. The 31-year-old Leparoux collected his 2,000th career win in a one-length victory aboard In My Time in an Oct. 29 allowance race. Albarado, 41, celebrated his 1,000th career victory at Churchill Downs when he guided Red Masserati to victory in a Nov. 13 claiming race.
Streaking Corey Lanerie rode 36 winners during the Fall Meet’s 24 days to collect his fifth-consecutive “Leading Rider” title at a Churchill Downs racing meet. It was the seventh title in the last eight Churchill Downs meets for Lanerie, who now ranks 11th in all-time victories by a jockey at the track. Shaun Bridgmohan finished second (25 wins) and Leparoux (24) was third.
Louisville native Dale Romans saddled 14 winners to earn his 12th title of “Leading Trainer” at his hometown track. Romans edged Wayne Catalano by one in a race that came down to the meet’s final day.
There was a tie for leading owner at 12 wins apiece between all-time Churchill Downs win leaders Ken and Sarah Ramsey and Gary and Mary West. The title for the Ramseys was their record-extending 23rd overall and 12th Fall Meet crown. The tie provided the Wests with their first “Leading Owner” title at the home of the Kentucky Derby.
It was a busy meet at the claiming box, with 139 horses claimed during the 24 days for a total of $2,732,000, which generated $163,920 in sales tax revenue for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
With an eye toward possibly spending another Thanksgiving Day at Churchill Downs, trainer and co-owner Phil Sims sent Juddmonte Spinster (Grade I) winner and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) runner-up Don’t Tell Sophia on a Saturday road trip from his Keeneland base to the Louisville track to workout in advance of a planned run in Thursday’s 99th running of the $200,000-added Falls City Handicap (GII).
The 6-year-old daughter of Congaree, who has been assigned high weight of 125 pounds for next week’s 1 1/8-mile race for older fillies and mares, breezed a half-mile over a fast surface in :49.60. Churchill Downs clockers recorded her first quarter-mile in :24.80 and she galloped-out five furlongs in 1:03.60.
“She went well,” Sims said. “We have not made final decision yet. But that’s kind of what we’re planning on right now, a run in the Falls City.”
Don’t Tell Sophia was the 122-pound high weight in the 2013 renewal of the Falls City. She finished second in that Thanksgiving centerpiece to Wine Princess. The Falls City was her final start before a 2014 campaign that has been the best so far in her increasingly-successful career.
The $1,000 Keeneland 2009 September Sale yearling purchase by Sims and co-owner Jerry Namy has won four of six races in 2014 with earnings of $866,413. Her career record after 23 races is now 11-5-3 with earnings of $1,339,295. She has a record of 3-1-0 in five races at Churchill Downs that include stakes wins in the 2014 Chilukki (GII) and September’s Locust Grove.
If Don’t Tell Sophia runs in the Falls City, she will concede three pounds to Bill Cubbedge’s Molly Morgan, whose successful 2014 campaign includes stakes victories at Churchill Downs in the Fleur De Lis Handicap (GII) and Chilukki (GII) and runner-up finishes to the now-retired On Fire Baby in the La Troienne (GI) on Kentucky Oaks Day and Don’t Tell Sophia the Locust Grove. The Dale Romans-trained daughter of Ghostzapper ran third to Don’t Tell Sophia in the Spinster and won the Gardenia (GIII) at Ellis Park.
Molly Morgan has a record of 5-3-2 in 13 races at Churchill Downs and has collected $454,851 of her career bankroll of $662,407 beneath the Twin Spires. One of her rare poor efforts at the Louisville track was a seventh-place finish in last year’s Falls City. Her career slate stands 7-4-5 in 26 races.
Horses known to be under consideration for the Falls City (with assigned weight and trainer): Don’t Tell Sophia (125 pounds, Sims), Molly Morgan (122, Romans), Strut the Course (119, Barbara Minshall), Flashy American (119, Kenny McPeek), Jojo Warrior (118, Bob Baffert), Teen Pauline (Todd Pletcher, 118), Frivolous (117, Vicki Oliver), Tiz Windy (117, Carl Nafzger), Imposing Grace (114, Wayne Catalano) and Mufajaah (114, Dan Peitz).
Frivolous and Imposing Grace were scratched from Saturday’s Cardinal Handicap (GIII) and both are considered “possible” for the Falls City. Entries will be taken Sunday morning.
RESPECTED VETERAN JOE KRISTUFEK JOINS CHURCHILL DOWNS TEAM OF RACING ANALYSTS
Churchill Downs Racetrack will strengthen its talented roster of on-track and simulcast racing television analysts and the track’s fan education efforts when the home of the Kentucky Derby and Oaks welcomes respected veteran Joe Kristufek to that team during the final week of its 24-day Fall Meet.
Kristufek will be part of a trio of Churchill Downs on-track and television racing analysts that also features Jill Byrne, the track’s senior racing analyst and director of programming who has handled duties at Churchill Downs since 2006 and has performed similar duties for the HRTV and TVG networks, and Kevin Kerstein, the newest member of that team will continue to handle occasional duties as an on-track analyst in the team’s new configuration.
As Kristufek joins that team, Byrne will be a less-frequent presence for on-track and simulcast television duties in order concentrate on the development and creation of special programming for Churchill Downs daily television product, its 4K Big Board video screen and the track’s web sites. She will remain an important member of the team of racing analysts and will be prominent on the track’s biggest racing days.
Kristufek’s first appearance as an analyst in the Churchill Downs Paddock will come next week during the track’s final five days of Fall Meet racing and he will return as a full-time presence during the track’s 2015 Spring Meet that begins with Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Week.
“I am very excited for this opportunity and to work closely with Jill, Kevin and the entire Churchill Downs staff,” Kristufek said. “As an ambassador of the game, I believe the job of the paddock host can be much more than just picking horses. Fan development should also be emphasized. I’m looking forward to sharing my passion with the masses.”
Kristufek is best-known to many fans for his work through the years as a handicapper and analyst at Chicago-area tracks that include Arlington Park and Hawthorne. He has also served as a fan education specialist at Arlington Park and as served as a handicapper/racing correspondent for the Daily Herald since 1999.
He currently serves as a horse racing ambassador with America’s Best Racing, (www.AmericasBestRacing.net) and served as the on-air talent and guided the production and development of its “Racing 101” features that can been seen on the ABR web site and have aired on NBC and the NBC Sports Network.
FIELDS FOR CLARK HANDICAP, 2-YEAR-OLD STAKES BEGINNING TO TAKE SHAPE
The fields for Friday’s $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) and Saturday’s pair of 2-year-old stakes on Stars of Tomorrow II – the $200,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and $200,000 Golden Rod (GII) – are beginning to take shape.
Horses known to be under consideration for the 140th running of the Clark Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles (with assigned weight and trainer): Departing (121 pounds, Al Stall Jr.), Pick of the Litter (121, Dale Romans), Constitution (119, Todd Pletcher), Hoppertunity (118, Bob Baffert), Prayer for Relief (118, Romans), Easter Gift (117, Chad Brown), Protonico (117, Pletcher), Midnight Aria (115, Nick Gonzalez), Knights Nation (114, Dallas Stewart) and Looking Cool (112, Murat Sancal). Entries will be taken Wednesday morning.
Horses known to be under consideration for the 88th running of the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles (in order of earnings with trainer): International Star (Mike Maker), W V Jetsetter (George Weaver), Imperia (Kiaran McLaughlin), The Truth or Else (Kenny McPeek), Lord Nelson (Bob Baffert), Lucky Player (Steve Asmussen), Danny Boy (Dale Romans), Academy Bay (Asmussen), Majestico (D. Wayne Lukas), Sky Hero (Mark Casse), Eagle (Neil Howard), Sharm (Lukas), Flashaway (Casse), Tough Customer (Wayne Catalano), War Point (Billy Gowan), Unblunted (Michael McCarthy), Keen Ice (Romans), Toasting Master (Catalano), Jumpin Frac Flash (McPeek), Instant Replay (Catalano), Moonlight Bandit (Casse), War Story (Tom Amoss), Chip Leader (Catalano) and Astounding (Catalano). A maximum 14 will be allowed to run. Entries will be taken Thursday morning.
Horses known to be under consideration for the 71st running of the Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles (in order of earnings with trainer): Cristina’s Journey (Dale Romans), Heart’s Song (Bill Connelly), Harlan’s Destiny (Wayne Catalano), Simply Confection (Jinks Fires), West Coast Belle (Catalano), I’m A Chatterbox (Kenny McPeek), Ancient Goddess-FR (John Terranova II), Movie Mystery (Catalano), Kathballu (McPeek), Lavender Chrissie (Romans), Keen Pauline (Romans), Martz (Ron Moquett), No Fault of Mine (Chris Block) and Super Saks (D. Wayne Lukas). A maximum 14 will be allowed to run. Entries will be taken Thursday morning.
KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB ODDS AND ENDS
Trainer Mike Maker on Grey Stakes (GIII) winner International Star: “He ran a good second on dirt against stakes-company at Belmont Park in his second start. So with the distance and the time of year we think it’s worth a shot. He’ll breeze on Monday or Tuesday in advance of Saturday’s race.”
According to assistant racing secretary and stakes coordinator Dan Bork it appears that W V Jetsetter, winner of $75,000 My Dandy Texas Stallion Stakes at Retama Park on Nov. 15, is on the fence for Kentucky Jockey Club.
The Truth or Else appears more likely to run in the Remsen. “It’s not set in stone but at this point we’re leaning that way,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. McPeek also has Jumpin Frac Flash nominated: “He’s a big solid horse,” McPeek said. “It looks like he’s got a lot of talent. He galloped out really strong the day he won. I’m flirting with running him (in the Kentucky Jockey Club) or an allowance race.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen said via text that he “might run both” California-based Lucky Player and locally-based Academy Bay.
Dale Romans’ chief assistant Baldemar Bahena said the Romans camp could run Danny Boy or Keen Ice in the Kentucky Jockey Club, although the latter is also under consideration for the Remsen.
Bork expects D. Wayne Lukas to enter one in the Kentucky Jockey Club, either Majestico or Sharm.
Trainer Mark Casse would like to enter three in the Kentucky Jockey Club: Sky Hero, Flashaway and Moonlight Bandit. “All three are pretty equal,” Casse said. “We’ll enter three but will likely only run two and wait to see how the draw goes. They all might be cross-entered in the Remsen, too. With a large field an outside post is a concern and can be disadvantageous.”
On Sky Hero and Flashaway: “Both ran well that day. Sky Hero was better that day and finished with something left with his ears moving back and forth. Flashaway broke a little slow, was wide and got a little tired, which can be expected with horses making the switch from synthetic to dirt for the first time.”
Wayne Catalano plans to run Tough Customer in the Kentucky Jockey Club: “Tough Customer is going to run. We may enter something else, too. We need to see what allowance races go that day.” His other possible starters include Toasting Master, Instant Replay, Chip Leader and Astounding.
HORSES & HOPE RETURNS SUNDAY
“Horses and Hope,” the initiative created in 2008 by Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear with the Kentucky Cancer Program and the Pink Stable, will return to Churchill Downs on Sunday (Nov. 23) in Millionaires Row 4 and Skye Terrace 5.
The mission is to increase breast cancer awareness, education, screening and treatment referral among Kentucky’s horse industry workers and their families.
The color of pink will be scattered throughout Churchill Downs that day, including saddle towels for a featured race (Race 5 at 2:39 p.m.), jockey arm bands, groom’s vests, outriders, the bugler, flags, bunting and trophies for winning horse owners.
To help celebrate, Churchill Downs’ world famous Twin Spires will be bathed in pink light, as well.
Also, $1 will go toward Horses and Hope for each Grey Goose Oaks Lily sold on Sunday.
All guests are encouraged to incorporated pink into their wardrobe on Sunday.
Unforgettable Clark Handicap Finish Highlights Exciting, Challenging 2013 Fall Meet at Churchill Downs
A dramatic renewal of the $550,700 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I) won in heart-pounding fashion by Willis D. Horton’s Will Take Charge was the unquestionable highlight of a compelling racing season, but business levels during Churchill Downs’ 25-day Fall Meet that concluded on Saturday, Nov. 30 felt the impact of continued growth of competition from casinos and racetracks with purses that benefit from additional gaming revenues, along with a run of uncommonly damp and cold weather through the duration of the meet.
The three-day Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend that annually wraps up the Fall Meet disappointed few, with on-track highlights topped by the sizzling renewal of the Clark, a race that was founded along with the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks in 1875; an emotional farewell to the blue-blooded Wine Princess in the Falls City Handicap on Thanksgiving Day; and winning performances by promising 2-year-olds Vexed and Tapiture in stakes races on the popular “Stars of Tomorrow II” programs on Saturday’s closing day program.
But the overall Oct. 27-Nov. 30 meet had difficulty in building momentum, and the combination of continued growth and maturation of regional casinos, growing competition from racetracks with purses fueled by gaming revenues and the meet’s weather woes prompted track officials to enact a reduction in race purses during the meet’s final week.
“We had many highlights during our Fall Meet as our Thanksgiving Weekend racing and hospitality efforts were strong, and our ’Stars of Tomorrow’ programs for 2-year-olds remained popular,” Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery said. “But those successes were accompanied by challenges that impacted our product and our business levels. Along with ongoing competition from casinos in our market that have been part of the scene now for 15 years, competition for both horses and wagering dollars from racetracks that benefit from casino and gaming revenues continues to intensify.
“Those tracks are luring stables and horses from our Kentucky market and Churchill Downs meets, which puts pressure on our efforts to maintain large and competitive fields of horses. That competitive pressure was exacerbated this fall when we encountered unusually wet and cool weather that cost us several days of turf racing, which made it more difficult to maintain large and attractive field sizes. We could have been luckier with the weather, but given the strengthening of our ongoing competition, this meet would have been challenging if each day had been sunny and warm.”
Despite four additional racing days, total purses paid during the meet were down from a year ago. The daily purse total for 2013 was $8,222,029, down from $8,894,694 paid in the 21-day session of 2012.
The daily average for purses paid during the 25 racing days of Fall Meet 2013 was $328,881, a decline of 22.4% from the average of $423,557 over 21 racing days in 2012.
The size of the average racing field at Churchill Downs during the 25-day session was 8.84 horses, a decrease from the average of 9.56 horses-per-race during the 21-day meet of 2012.
Damp and cold weather was a consistent concern for racing scheduled for the turf during the meet, and more than one-third of the races scheduled for that surface were taken off the grass because of wet or frozen course conditions and moved to the main track. A total of 52 races were drawn for the Matt Winn Turf Course, but weather issues forced 20 to be transferred to the main track. Following the announcement of those changes, a total of 74 horses were scratched from those races.
While the performances of Clark Handicap winner Will Take Charge and some of the rising 2-year-olds on display in Fall Meet helped validate those horses as important rising stars in American racing, the winners the meet’s “human races” were established stars who had already enjoyed significant success beneath the Twin Spires.
Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey completed a historic year at Churchill Downs by earning the Fall Meet crown for “Leading Owner” to extend their record for titles at the track to 21 and become the first owners to collect three of those crowns in a calendar year. The Nicholasville, Ky. couple sent 19 of their horses into the winner’s circle to finish well ahead of runner-up Maggi Moss to earn their 11th Fall Meet title. Moss had nine winners from only 22 starts during the meet. The Ramseys earlier won the Spring Meet title and earned the “Leading Owner” award in the new September Meet.
Corey Lanerie collected 36 wins during the Fall Meet and cruised to his fourth “Leading Jockey” crown and his second straight Fall Meet title at Churchill Downs. The native of Lafayette, La. finished well ahead of runner-up Julien Leparoux, who closed strongly to finish with 20 wins. Shaun Bridgmohan (19), Miguel Mena (18) and Leandro Goncalves (17) also enjoyed strong meets. The Fall Meet crown was the latest in a two-year run during which Lanerie has won four of the last five “Leading Jockey” titles at Churchill Downs.
Dylan Davis collected 13 victories and was the meet’s top apprentice jockey. The 19-year-old Davis was also the top apprentice during the tracks 2013 Spring Meet and September Meet.
Mike Maker closed with a rush during the meet’s final week to surpass Bret Calhoun to take the Fall Meet’s “Leading Trainer” honors. Maker finished with 16 victories and Calhoun, who led the trainers’ race through the first four weeks of the meet, had 13 wins. Maker won the honor for the fifth time, with three of those coming in the Fall Meet. Dale Romans finished third in the “Leading Trainer” race with 10 wins, just ahead of Steve Asmussen (9), Chris Richard (8) and Tom Amoss and Ian Wilkes (tied at seven).
Any discussion of equine competition during the meet must start with the riveting 139th running of the Clark Handicap, won in dramatic fashion on the next-to-last day of the meet by Will Take Charge, who nipped the favored Game On Dude in the final jump of the 1 1/8-mile race. Luis Saez rode the winner for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won his second Clark Handicap and earned his first stakes victory at Churchill Downs since 2009.
The race was billed as a championship showdown between two of the biggest stars in American racing and it did not disappoint. Both horses had Eclipse Award championships on the line as Will Take Charge was bidding for the award that goes to the nation’s top 3-year-old, and Game On Dude was in the hunt for both “Horse of the Year” and champion older horse.
Two-year-old stars that could emerge as contenders for the 2014 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) were at center stage in a pair of stakes races on the “Stars of Tomorrow II” program devoted to racing’s juveniles that closed out the Fall Meet. The brightest of those young stars on closing day were Ron Winchell’s Tapiture, who earned his first victory in four tries for Asmussen with an authoritative 4 ¼-length victory in the $175,200 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), and Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Vexed, who established herself as an early favorite for the 2014 Longines Kentucky Oaks with her triumph in the $169,050 Golden Rod Stakes (GII) for fillies.
Both Tapiture and Vexed earned 10 points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” systems that will determine the eligibility of horses to complete in the maximum fields of 20 3-year-olds for the Kentucky Derby and 14 3-year-old fillies for the Kentucky Oaks. Each race is part of the “Prep Season” in their respective series and points were awarded to their Top 4 finishes on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
The Golden Rod win by the homebred Vexed was a milestone triumph for Claiborne Farm. It was the 32nd stakes win at Churchill Downs for the iconic breeding and racing farm in Paris, Ky., which pulled it into a tie with another Bluegrass legend – Calumet Farm – for the most stakes wins by an owner in the 139-year history of the Louisville track.
Vexed had finished second to Tony Holmes, Breffini Farms and Indian Charlie Syndicate’s Clever Beauty in the $62,700 Rags to Riches overnight stakes on Oct. 27, the first “Stars of Tomorrow” program of racing for 2-year-olds in the Fall Meet. The companion race for males on that day was the $61,800 Street Sense overnight stakes, which was won by John C. Oxley’s Coastline.
Becky Winemiller’s regally-bred Wine Princess won the 98th running of the $165,300 Falls City Handicap (GII) for older fillies and mares on Thanksgiving Day and the Steve Margolis-trained daughter of Horses of the Year Ghostzapper and Azeri made the final start of her career. In that victory she reversed the order of an earlier Fall Meet loss when she was runner-up to Phil Sims and Jerry Namy’s Don’t Tell Sophia in the $165,200 Chilukki (GII).
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Emotional Kitten, trained by Wesley Ward, charged from far back under Victor Espinoza to win the $205,100 Mrs. Revere Stakes (GII) for 3-year-old fillies on turf during the Nov. 16 “Downs After Dark” program. It was the only stakes win during the fall racing session for the meet’s leading owners. The daughter of Kitten’s Joy shared the evening’s spotlight with Tucci Stable’s Canadian invader River Seven, who won the $115,400 Commonwealth Turf (GIII) for 3-year-olds under Shaun Bridgmohan and gave Toronto-based trainer Nick Gonzalez his first stakes victory at Churchill Downs.
Phipps Stable’s Abaco charged from last under jockey Rosie Napravnik to win the $112,800 Cardinal Handicap (GIII) for fillies and mares three-and-up on the turf for trainer Shug McGaughey, the Kentucky-born Hall of Fame conditioner who won his first Kentucky Derby with Stuart S. Janney III and Phipps Stable’s Orb on the first Saturday in May.
The turf course was the scene of one of the meet’s biggest upsets when Maribel Ruelas’ 45-1 shot Potomac River won the $116,300 River City Handicap (GIII) for older horses on turf by two lengths under jockey Juan Vargas and trainer Sergio Baez. The surprise win by Potomac River was the first stakes win at Churchill Downs for the owner, trainer and jockey.
Racing will return to Churchill Downs on Saturday, April 26, 2014 – the date for the “Opening Night” celebration under the lights that starts both Kentucky Derby Week and the track’s April 26-June 29 Spring Meet. The 140th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands is scheduled for Saturday, May 3, while the 140th Longines Kentucky Oaks will be run one day earlier.
After dusk-to-dawn work in bone-chilling temperatures by Churchill Downs’ track maintenance team, there was a small window for training activity over the main track early Thanksgiving morning, and California-based visitor Game On Dude made the most of it.
The 8-5 morning line favorite for Friday’s 139th running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I) galloped one mile over a fast track, which opened for one hour of training between 6-7 a.m. (all times EST) following the long night of work by Churchill Downs’ Track Superintendent David Lehr’s experienced crew.
The Bob Baffert-trained Game On Dude arrived at Churchill Downs early Wednesday afternoon, but the opportunity to get a jog or gallop over the track on Thursday seemed at least a 50-50 proposition at that point. The weather forecast called for temperatures to dip into the teens, and the track crew was most concerned with keeping the track from freezing and endangering the 12-race Thanksgiving Day racing program – a task made more delicate because of the day’s early 11:30 a.m. post.
But Lehr was comfortable with the one-hour training window, which was especially valuable for horses entered to compete on Friday’s “Black Friday” card topped by the Clark Handicap and Saturday’s closing day “Stars of Tomorrow II” program devoted exclusively to 2-year-olds.
So Game On Dude got a feel for the track under regular exercise rider Dana Barnes, his first journey over the Churchill Downs oval since his runner-up finish to WinStar Farm’s Drosselmeyer in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). Baffert assistant Jim Barnes was, in the spirit of the day, thankful for the opportunity to get Game On Dude out of the barn.
“We’re happy as can be,” Jim Barnes said. “It makes us feel much more comfortable getting him out. We had our work day (on Sunday) and we had our walk day. We did jog (on Tuesday), then we walked again because we shipped. We’ll probably just stay in the shed tomorrow and do something light.”
Game On Dude was eager to check out his surroundings immediately following his arrival on the grounds, and Barnes said Friday’s jog was a good way to keep him from being a little too eager.
“He was just fresh – he’s like a baby,” Barnes said. “He was just feeling way too good and we just wanted to let him stretch his legs.”
The 1 1/8-mile Clark is expected to be the final race of a spectacular season for Game On Dude, but one that is tainted, at least at this point, by a disappointing ninth-place finish as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. The loss snapped a six-race win streak, with five of those wins coming in 2013 and three in Grade I competition: the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic.
The 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding has been frisky and curious since his first minute at Churchill Downs. If there is any hangover from his successful year and the Breeders’ Cup run, it has not been evident to those at Churchill Downs who have seen him since his Wednesday arrival.
“He’s doing super-good,” Barnes said. “He’s very young-at-heart and we’re expecting big things from him (Friday).”
Game On Dude has a career record of 28-15-5-1 and earned $2,470,000 of his career winnings of $5,602,158 in 2013. He will break from the rail post under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith when he faces eight rivals in Friday’s Clark.
Baffert won the 1998 Clark with Silver Charm, winner of the 1997 Kentucky Derby. Smith earned a Clark win in 1993 aboard the Peter Vestal-trained Mi Cielo.
OUR DOUBLE PLAY, BAUER BID FOR HOME RUN IN CLARK HANDICAP – He’s named for a defensive gem in baseball, but the frame of reference will change significantly should Rigney Racing’s Our Double Play pull off a major upset of favorites Game On Dude and Will Take Charge in Friday’s $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) at Churchill Downs.
A Clark win by Our Double Play would definitely put the improving colt on offense. It would be nothing less than a home run, which is fitting since the best horse in the young training career of trainer Phil Bauer is a 3-year-old son of Grand Slam.
A win would be a huge step for both Our Double Play and his young trainer, a former assistant to trainer Kenny McPeek who went out on his own last spring with the support of Richard and Tammy Rigney, the Louisville couple who entrusted the horses that they solely own in Bauer’s care.
Our Double Play has won four of nine starts at three, including a victory in the Prairie Mile at Prairie Meadows in June. But his most impressive win might have come in a Halloween allowance race at Churchill Downs in which he defeated Clark rival and 2012 Super Derby (GII) winner Bourbon Courage. Our Double Play led all the way over sloppy footing that day, took the best shot that Bourbon Courage could offer in upper stretch and pulled clear under Francisco Torres to win by 3 ¾ lengths.
After searching for another allowance race for the colt, Bauer and the Rigneys decided to take a big swing and drop Our Double Play into the entry box for the Clark.
“We’re all systems go,” Bauer said. “He’s as ready as he’s gonna be. We’ll try him.”
Our Double Play’s record heading into the Clark is 11-4-1-1-with earnings of $162,572. All four wins have come this year and he enters Friday’s big league race in the Clark with one more career win than his trainer, who earned his third career victory last week with the Rigneys’ Cookie.
One of Our Double Play’s victories was a 4 ½-length romp in a seven-furlong allowance at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. With the exception of an eighth-place finish in the $400,000 Researcher at West Virginia’s Charles Town, he’s run well since and his ongoing improvement has earned the colt a shot at the big boys in the Clark.
“The horse seemed to wake up on Derby Day here,” Bauer said. “We always thought he had a lot of talent and I worked with him even when we had him with Kenny. I was thrilled when the Rigneys gave me an opportunity and he was coming with us.
“If you put a line through that Charles Town race, he’s just getting better and better. That last race, hopefully, is a sign of what’s to come. With the way he crossed the wire at 7 ½ furlongs in his last race, we all thought that as he matures, he’s going to be able to go longer. With horses it sometimes takes a while for them to catch-on mentally, and he seems to be doing that.”
Bauer knows that Our Double Play, a 20-1 shot in Mike Battaglia’s morning line odds for the Clark, will be one of the outsiders in the Clark. But he also knows that when his colt breaks from post eight he should have a clear path to use his early speed and get the position he wants in the early stages of the race.
Then Bauer and the Rigneys will see what happens.
“With our post position and how the race lines up, I see us second into the first turn, right off the hip of Game On Dude,” Bauer said. “If we do outbreak him, we’ll be able to cross over in front of him. I definitely see us being involved in the early pace. The last thing I want to do is get involved in a speed duel and use him up early, but coming out of a one-turn race and the history of his past performances, he’s going to show early foot. So, I’m not going to take anything away from him.”
Regardless of the ultimate Clark Handicap result for Our Double Play, the 28-year-old Bauer has no problems finding reasons to smile on his first Thanksgiving holiday on his own as a Thoroughbred trainer. He has the support of enthusiastic and supportive owners in the Rigneys, he has enjoyed on-track success with their horses in the early months of his career and now will saddle a horse he trains in an important Grade I race for older horses.
And then there are family developments. Bauer missed being in the winner’s circle when Our Double Play downed Bourbon Courage on Halloween because he was at Louisville’s Norton Hospital, where his wife, Ashley, gave birth that day to their first child. Young Philip Wyatt Bauer is just about ready to celebrate the one-month anniversary of his birth and his father said life with his son has been a wonder.
"I keep telling my wife to pinch me because of the way everything has gone,’ Bauer said. “We kind of got the picture developed with the Rigneys back in May, and if you had told me that at the end of November we’d be running in a Grade I, it would have been hard to believe it. I couldn’t be happier where we’re at.”
The only thing that might make Bauer and his connections happier would be to make international racing headlines with an upset by Our Double Play in the Clark. But despite his youth, Bauer has been around horse racing enough to take race, dreams and home runs one step at a time.
“There are no expectations going into to it,” Bauer said. “He’s earned this, so we’re going to let him try it. We won’t hang our heads if it ends in defeat. We’ll move forward, regardless.”
WISE DAN TO BE PARADED ON SATURDAY – Reining Horse of the Year Wise Dan, a leading contender to repeat that honor after a second straight win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI), will be paraded in the paddock at Churchill Downs on closing day, Saturday.
Trainer Charlie LoPresti will van Wise Dan from his Keeneland barn in Lexington to Churchill Downs so local fans can show their appreciation to the 6-year-old gelding. His special appearance will occur with horses for Race 3 between 1:15-1:45 p.m.
Wise Dan, owned and bred by Mort Fink, won six of his seven starts this year, including a pair of stakes at Churchill Downs: the $546,400 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on Kentucky Derby Day and the $168,450 Firecracker Handicap (GII) in late June.
His three-quarters of a length victory over Za Approval in the $1,840,000 Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 2 improved his overall record to 19 wins in 27 starts. His $6,293,610 career bankroll ranks 22nd on the North American all-time earnings list.
Wise Dan, a six-time winner at Churchill Downs dating back to 2010, ranks third on the most current “Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings” – behind Black Caviar-AUS and Treve-FR – which ranks 3-year-olds and up that raced between Jan. 1 and Oct. 6.
BARN TALK – Churchill Downs-based Taptowne got the Thanksgiving Weekend off to a good start when he journeyed to Penn National on Wednesday evening and won the $150,000 Swatara Stakes by 5 ½ lengths under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. Trained by Tim Glyshaw for Clovertowne Farm, Taptowne concluded his most successful season with a record of 10-3-5-1 and earnings of $466,916. His career slate stands at 29-7-8-3 with earnings of $637,788 … Jockey Corey Lanerie held a commanding lead in the Fall Meet race of leading rider heading into the 12-race Thanksgiving Day program and the 26 races over the meet’s final three days. Lanerie held a 30-18 lead over Miguel Mena, who was followed by Leandro Goncalves (17), Julien Leparoux (16) and Shaun Bridgmohan (13) … After being atop the battle for leading trainer of the Fall Meet for the first month of the five-week session, Bret Calhoun has given way to Mike Maker, who had surged to a 15-13 leading heading into the Thanksgiving program. It’s far back to Chris Richard (8) in third and a three-way tie between Tom Amoss, Steve Asmussen and Ian Wilkes for fourth … Ken and Sarah Ramsey are home free in their bid to become the first to earn three Churchill Downs “leading owner” titles in a single year. The Ramseys, the record-smashing titlist in the Spring Meet and leading owner of the track’s first September Meet, led Maggi Moss 16-9. Midwest Thoroughbreds is third with four wins, and is followed by William Stiritz and Marylou Whitney, who are tied at three wins … HRTV will be on-site at Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday for coverage of the Clark Handicap and Stars of Tomorrow II programs … Friday’s HRRNLive! Show from 3-7 p.m. ET on XM 208 and www.horseracingradio.net will include live coverage of the Clark Handicap … Reserved indoor premium seating at Churchill Downs is still available for Saturday.
Willis D. Horton’s Will Take Charge, a top contender for the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I) on Nov. 30, was on the Churchill Downs track the instant it opened at 6 a.m. (all times EST) on Friday for his final work for next week’s race.
The D. Wayne Lukas-trained son of Unbridled’s Song breezed five furlongs in 1:01 over a good racing surface to complete his major training for the Clark. The move by runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and winner of the Travers (GI).
Regular exercise rider Rudy Quevelos was up for the move, which ranked as seventh-fastest of 23 at the distance on a misty and cool morning.
Will Take Charge covered the distance in fractional splits of :12.40, :24, and :35.40 and he galloped out six furlongs in 1:16.40.
A weather forecast that included rain and tumbling temperatures over the next three days prompted Lukas to move the work up a day from Saturday, to Friday. The Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Kentucky Derby winner was happy with the result.
“He just ran,” Lukas said. “It’s 27 days from the Breeders’ Cup to the Clark, so he really didn’t need a lot.”
The work made Friday another good in in what Lukas has described as a strong week for the improving colt who is a contender for the Eclipse Award that honors the nation’s best 3-year-old.
“He’s really thriving and it’s kind of surprising,” Lukas said. “I thought maybe the Breeders’ Cup would set him back and we might have to give him a month or so to fill up, but that hasn’t been the case. I don’t know if it’s because he’s home here and he’s eating better, but he’s really had a good three or four weeks.”
The Clark will be the second meeting between Will Take Charge and the Bob Baffert-trained Game On Dude, who remains on the short list of contenders for the Eclipse Award for top older male and was the favorite for Horse of the Year prior to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
\Will Take Charge was beaten by a nose by Mucho Macho Man in the Classic, while Game On Dude faltered to finish ninth.
With a week remaining before the Clark, the roster of known probable starters for the race includes (with trainers): Bourbon Courage (Kellyn Gorder), Easter Gift (Chad Brown), Finnegans Wake (Romans), Game On Dude (Bob Baffert), Golden Ticket (Kenny McPeek), Prayer for Relief (Steve Asmussen) and Will Take Charge (D. Wayne Lukas). Possible: Jaguar Paw (Stephen Lyster).
GAME ON DUDE ASSIGNED HIGH WEIGHT FOR CLARK – Game On Dude and Will Take Charge were assigned high weights for next Friday’s 140th running of the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
The Bob Baffert-trained Game On Dude, a three-time Grade I winner this year, was assigned high weight of 126 pounds for the Clark by Churchill Downs Racing Secretary Ben Huffman, three pounds more than the 3-year-old Will Take Charge, winner of the Travers (GI) and runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).
Baffert said Game On Dude would work over the weekend at Santa Anita. He’ll consider that work and the weight assignments in making a final decision on the trip to Churchill Downs for the Clark.
“They’ve weighted him like he’s Horse of the Year, so I guess that’s a compliment,” Baffert said by telephone. “I’m glad Ben Huffman is not down on the horse, like everyone else is.”
Assigned weights for other likely or possible starters in the Clark include: Golden Ticket, 120; Prayer for Relief, 118, Bourbon Courage, 117; Easter Gift, 116; Finnegans Wake, 116 and Jaguar Paw, 115.
OAKS WINNER BELIEVE YOU CAN GETS CHECK-UP; WINE PRINCESS ‘LEANING TOWARD’ FALLS CITY RUN – Brereton C. Jones’ homebred Believe You Can, winner of the 2012 Kentucky Oaks (GI) is getting a little rest at Jones’ Airdrie Stud and will undergo a medical check-up after trainer J. Larry Jones declared her out of a planned run in the $150,000-add Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day. Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Larry Jones had been enthusiastic about Believe You Can’s planned return to racing in the Falls City following a five-furlong work in 1:00.80 at Churchill Downs last Saturday. Believe You Can last competed in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (GI) on May 27 at Belmont Park, where she ran sixth to Tiz Miz Sue. She has a career record of 14-8-0-2 and has earned $1,280,324.
Jones felt good about Believe You Can’s progress until Monday, when he was in the saddle when she returned to the track for a gallop.
“She galloped out a mile (in the work) and I was very pleased with it,” Jones said. “The next day she ate and did everything right, but she was knocked out. She wouldn’t hang her head out of the stall, but it was okay – there was no heat or anything. Then the next day I galloped her and she galloped okay, but boy, when horses would come by her she had nothing. She wouldn’t even try to go with them and that’s not her.
“Then when she did that a second day in a row, I told Brery that she’s not going to be ready to run Thursday.”
Jones is awaiting results of the tests performed on Believe You Can, which he hopes will explain her lack of enthusiasm in her training and what it could mean for her future.
“We’ll find whether its broodmare time – they’re going to do some blood work,” he said. “She’s perfectly sound. Maybe she was getting sick. It’s just one of those deals – you know that she was not going to be racing in 10 days. Hopefully, she’s just got a little bug.”
Meanwhile, Becky Winemiller’s Falls City candidate Wine Princess breezed five furlongs in 1:02.60 over the good Churchill Downs surface on Friday, and trainer Steve Margolis said his 4-year-old filly was now “leaning toward” staying at her home track for a Falls City run that would likely be the final race of her career.
Margolis is also considering a trip to Woodbine by the daughter of Horses of the Year Ghostzapper and Azeri for the $150,000 Bessarabian Stakes (GII), a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up to be run on Sunday, Dec. 1.
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan was aboard for Friday’s work in which Wine Princess covered the distance in fractional splits of :13.20, :25.80 and :38.20 and galloped-out six furlongs in 1:15.60.
“She worked good,” Margolis said. “Shaun just kind of gave her a maintenance work.
“After hearing that Believe You Can won’t run, we’re kind of leaning more now toward staying here,” Margolis said. “The beauty is we’ve got a little time on our side. We’ll make sure she comes out of the work good. We might even enter in the Falls City and take a look. We wouldn’t have to leave until late afternoon on Monday.”
So Margolis will keep a close eye on his regally-bred filly and work to make the best possible choice what will likely be her farewell to the track before she launches a new career as a broodmare at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm.
"We know she likes this racetrack, we know she’s here,” Margolis said. “I think we’re leaning toward running here, but we’ll make an official decision on Sunday.”
Also appearing on the work tab was G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s Ice Cream Silence, who breezed a quick half-mile in :47, the best of 63 training moves at the distance. The Rusty Arnold-trained daughter of Street Sense is listed as “possible” for the Falls City.
Known starters for the 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares on Thursday, Nov. 28 (with trainers) include: Don’t Tell Sophia (Philip Sims), Flashy American (Kenny McPeek), and Magic Hour (Ian Wilkes). Possible: Ice Cream Silence (Rusty Arnold), My Option (Chris Block), Street Girl (Eddie Kenneally), Molly Morgan (Dale Romans), Owl Moon (Romans) and Wine Princess (Steve Margolis).
LUKAS LOOKING AT KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB – Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is considering a run in the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) for a pair of colts in his barn, both of which are searching for their first career victories.
Lukas said Friday that he would consider the 1 1/16-mile race for Calumet Farm’s All Cash and Tom Van Meter II and Rickey Stivers’ Bro Rodrigeaux.
All Cash is an English Channel ridgling who raced five times without a win, but two of those outings have been in stakes competition. He ran fourth on turf to Poker Player in Keeneland’s Bourbon Stakes (GIII) on Oct. 6, then finished last of 12 behind Outstrip (GB) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) at Santa Anita.
Bro Rodrigeaux is a son of Tale of the Cat with three starts on his resume. The most recent was a runner-up finish to possible KJC entrant Sheikinator on last Saturday’s Downs After Dark racing program.
Known probable starters for the 87th running of the $175,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), a 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-olds on Saturday, Nov. 30 (Stars of Tomorrow II/Closing Day) (with trainers): Almost Famous (Pat Byrne), Awesome Sky (Mark Casse), Dobra Historia (Bill Mott) and Laddie Boy (Chuck Peery). Possible: All Cash (D. Wayne Lukas) Bro Rodrigeaux (Lukas) Culprit (Dale Romans), Financial Mogul (Rick Violette Jr.), and Ichiban Warrior (Todd Pletcher), Sheikinator (Ken McPeek).
MADLY TRULY SHARP IN WORK FOR GOLDEN ROD – John C. Oxley’s Madly Truly, winner of the Mazarine (GIII) over Woodbine’s Polytrack surface in her last start, was sharp on Friday at Churchill Downs in her final work for the $150,000-added Golden Rod (GII) on the “Stars of Tomorrow II” program on Saturday, Nov. 30.
The Mark Casse-trained daughter of Malibu Moon zipped five furlongs in :59.60 over a good track, a move that ranked as third-fastest of 23 at the distance.
“It was a fast work,” said Norman Casse, the son of Mark Casse and the assistant trainer who oversees his Churchill Downs stable. “I thought she did it fairly easily and it went very well.”
Madly Truly rallied from last to win the Mazarine and to finish a close fourth in her previous start in Woodbine’s Natalma Stakes (GII). But the Golden Rod will be the first race on dirt for Madly Truly since her June 20 debut at Churchill Downs, where was much closer in the early going before she finished fourth to eventual Pocahontas (GII) winner Untapable.
“We’ve always held her in high regard as one of our better fillies, so we know she likes the surface,” Casse said. “It may be that she’s better on the dirt than she is the ‘Poly.’”
Known probable starters for the Golden Rod (with trainers) include: Bird Maker (Ian Wilkes), Canaryinacoalmine (Steve Margolis), Madly Truly (Casse), Naïve Enough (Ignacio Correas IV), Playful Love (Wilkes), Stonetastic (Kelly Breen), Streethomealabama (McPeek) and Vexed (Al Stall Jr.). Possible: Daddy’s Memory (Cecil Borel), Room Service (Wayne Catalano) and Spangled Banner (Eoin Harty).
HORSES & HOPE RETURNS SUNDAY – “Horses and Hope,” the initiative created in 2008 by Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear with the Kentucky Cancer Program and the Pink Stable, will return on Sunday (Nov. 24). The mission is to increase breast cancer awareness, education, screening and treatment referral among Kentucky’s horse industry workers and their families. The color of pink will be scattered throughout Churchill Downs that day, including saddle towels for a featured race, jockey arm bands, groom’s vests, outriders, the bugler, flags, bunting and trophies for winning horse owners. To help celebrate, Churchill Downs’ world famous Twin Spires will be bathed in pink light, as well. Also, the 2014 Kentucky Oaks Lily glasses will debut that day.
BARN TALK – Jockey Joe Rocco Jr. missed a fourth consecutive day of riding on Friday. He was injured in a starting gate mishap on Sunday. … Little Mike, winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) and Arlington Million (GI) and this year’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (GI) at Belmont Park, returned to the work tab on Saturday with a five-furlong breeze for trainer Dale Romans in 1:03.20. The move over a good track was the first work for Little Mike since a seventh-place finish behind Magician (IRE) in his Breeders’ Cup Turf defense on Nov. 2. … Another Breeders’ Cup veteran on the Saturday work tab was Gary Barber and WinStar Farm’s Laugh Track, the runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) for trainer Mark Casse. The son of Distorted Humor work five furlongs in 1:00, the fourth-fastest breeze of 23 at the distance. … Reserved indoor premium seating at Churchill Downs is going fast for closing weekend. Thanksgiving Day is nearly sold out. Some $37.50 seats with Chef’s Table dining in Skye Terrace 6 and the Winn Show Place Lounge on the second floor clubhouse remain for Friday, Nov. 29. Inventory is still available for Saturday, Nov. 30, which doubles as Stars of Tomorrow II and Closing Day … A reminder: Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager will be held Wednesday, Nov. 27 through Saturday, Nov. 30. The 23 individual wagering interests will be announced Monday (Nov. 25). The pool will open Nov. 27 at noon and close Nov. 30 prior to post time for either the Remsen at Aqueduct or Kentucky Jockey Club, whichever comes first … Sunday’s final Family Fun Day Presented by Kroger of the Fall Meet will feature a petting zoo, pony-pulled sleigh rides and a special appearance by Santa Claus. Kiddos also can decorate holiday ornaments. The activities will take place in the Plaza and Plaza Balcony from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A year after experiencing the heartbreak inflicted by the disqualification of Successful Dan from an apparent victory in the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I), owner Morton Fink and trainer Charles Lopresti are back to take another shot at winning the premier race of Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet with another talented “Dan.”
Wise Dan is this year’s Clark hope for the Fink-Lopresti team and the 3-year-old son of Wiseman’s Ferry is a major player in a strong and competitive 13-horse field for the 1 1/8-mile race for older horses. Like the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and the Kentucky Oaks, the Clark has been run annually without interruption since the 1875 debut racing meet of the track then known as the Louisville Jockey Club.
“I don’t think we could have him any better than he is right now,” Lopresti said Thursday morning by telephone from his training base at Keeneland. “We had him out grazing this morning and he was such a handful we had to put him in. He’s really good.”
Wise Dan will break from post 11 as the 4-1 third choice in the Clark behind Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) winner Flat Out and Belmont Stakes (GI) winner Ruler On Ice, who ran fifth and third, respectively, behind WinStar Farm’s Drosselmeyer in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5. While that high-powered duo will attempt to keep their names in the discussion for Eclipse Awards in their respective division, Lopresti is anxious to see how Wise Dan will handle his newest challenge.
The Clark will be the 4-year-old gelding’s first attempt to win a major stakes race over traditional dirt at a two-turn distance. He ran a respectable sixth over the Louisville track in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI), where he finished just 2 ½ lengths behind the victorious Big Drama. He has two wins in four dirt starts at Churchill Downs, both victories coming last year in allowance races on sloppy tracks at six furlongs and a mile.
Wise Dan comes into this year’s Clark in exactly the same manner as the last two first-place finishers in the Clark. He romped to a four-length victory over Polytrack at the Clark distance of 1 1/8 miles in Keeneland’s Fayette (GII), just as Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s future Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame did in 2009 and Successful Dan accomplished a year ago.
Prior to the Fayette, Wise Dan enjoyed significant success at shorter distances, including 2011 wins in the one-mile Firecracker Handicap (GII) in his turf debut at Churchill Downs and an impressive win from an outside post in the $250,000 Presque Isle Downs Mile over the Pennsylvania track’s synthetic Tapeta surface.
Wise Dan tuned-up for his Clark bid with a sharp six-furlong work in 1:!2 on Nov. 15 at Keeneland. That move encouraged Lopresti, but he believes Wise Dan has questions to answer in Friday’s race.
"I feel pretty confident, but I still have a question about the mile and an eighth on the dirt,” Lopresti said. “That’s my big concern. He got it on the ‘Poly’ and it looked like he was running away from them at the end, but this is a lot tougher field, too. I’m realistic about it – the Fayette was a lot lighter bunch than he’s running against here.”
Lopresti points to the presence of Breeders Cup Classic contenders Flat Out and Ruler On Ice as primary Clark contenders, and said the efforts of both in the 1 ¼-mile Classic merit respect.
“Flat Out only got beat three lengths in the Breeders’ Cup and Ruler On Ice got beat two lengths,” Lopresti said. “If those horses had finished up the racetrack, I wouldn’t have as much respect for them. But they didn’t run bad races.”
Wise Dan’s resume of three wins in seven 2011 races, which also includes a close third fourth-place run on the Keeneland turf behind three-time Eclipse Award champion Gio Ponti in the Grade I Shadwell Mile, provides ample fuel for Lopresti’s optimism. But that impressive six-furlong work at Keeneland strengthened Lopresti’s confidence that Wise Dan will run well in Friday’s race, and possibly ease the painful memory of the stewards’ decision that deprived Successful Dan of a victory in last year’s Clark.
“He worked three-quarters in (a minute) twelve and he was in the middle of the racetrack when he did it,” Lopresti said. “If we had put him down on the fence, there’s no telling what he would have done. We were talking him out of it.”
Lopresti’s star will have a new rider for the Clark as John Velazquez will travel from New York to substitute for Julien Leparoux. The leading rider of the Churchill Downs Fall Meet will be in California on Friday to pilot Vinery First Lady (GI) winner Never Retreat in the Grade I Matriarch at Hollywood Park.
“He’s a good strong rider,” Lopresti said of Velazquez. “I know he’s talked to Julien about him (Wise Dan). I know when I called him, it didn’t take two minutes to tell me he would come to ride him. It’s a compliment when a guy like Velazquez comes in to ride him. I know he’s watched his races and he knows him.”
Wise Dan brings career record of 7-0-0 in 13 races and earnings of $593,047 into Friday’s 137th Clark.
DICKEY PLEASED WITH POST DRAW FOR CLARK FAVORITE FLAT OUT – Trainer Scooter Dickey entered Tuesday’s post position draw for the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I) with hopes that Preston Stables LLC’s favored Flat Out would not draw the rail. His wish was granted when the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) winner drew post six in the field of 13 for Friday’s race at Churchill Downs.
“I like the post and it should be good for him,” Dickey said. “He’s gotten beat three times this year when leaving from the one-hole. The post might not have had anything to do with him losing, but maybe it did. I’d rather not take the chance.”
In his most recent start, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), Flat Out drew post two, but still broke further inside than all other horses after Prayer for Relief, who had drawn post one, scratched out of the race. Post position one was left open in the Classic, where Flat Out finished fifth behind Drosselmeyer.
Now that Dickey is happy with his post position, he is hoping to get the type of track that best suits the 5-year-old son of Flatter: fast and dry.
“I want the sun to come out and dry this track out some more,” Dickey said. “The track had a little water in it for the Breeders’ Cup and the Stephen Foster (GI) and he doesn’t seem to like it when there’s only a little water. He’d rather run over a muddy track than a “good” track or a fast track with some water. I don’t really know why that is, though.”
Flat Out, whose two off-the-board finishes this year have come on the main track beneath the Twin Spires, has been installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. Flat Out was also the post-time favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“Being the favorite makes you worry more because you don’t want to let people down,” Dickey said. “But the horse is doing really well. He went out early (Thursday) morning and galloped down the stretch. We’re ready for tomorrow.”
Flat Out will be guided in the Clark by Alex Solis, who has been aboard him for his last five starts. Solis is scheduled to arrive in Louisville on Thursday night.
OXLEY, CASSE TAKE TWO SHOTS AT SATURDAY’S $150,000 GOLDEN ROD – Owner John Oxley and trainer Mark Casse will take two shots in Saturday’s $150,000-added Golden Rod (GII) with 2-year-old fillies Golden History and Spirited Miss, and hope that one of those rising stars will land them in the winner’s circle following the 68th running the 1 1/16-mile race for juvenile fillies on the main track.
The Golden Rod will be the co-feature with the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) on Churchill Downs’ Stars of Tomorrow II program devoted exclusively to races for 2-year-olds. The Golden Rod will be run as race nine with a scheduled post time of 4:42 p.m. (all times EST).
"It looks like a real competitive field and there doesn’t appear to be a standout, with maybe the exception of the horse that won the Pocahontas (On Fire Baby),” assistant trainer Norman Casse said. “I like both of our horses’ chances.”
Golden History, a $450,000 purchase earlier this year at Florida’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Selected 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale, has been pointed to the Golden Rod since she won her career debut by 2 ¾ lengths on the synthetic Polytrack surface at Toronto’s Woodbine. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro arrived at Churchill Downs in mid-October and made her second career start over the main track in a fifth-place run in the one-mile Pocahontas (GII), where she finished three lengths behind On Fire Baby.
“We were hoping to run her in an allowance race here but the race didn’t go, so our hands were tied and we had to go in the Pocahontas,” Casse said. “The Golden Rod has been the target all along.”
Golden History will break from post nine under Shaun Bridgmohan in the Golden Rod.
Unlike her stablemate, Spirited Miss did not have a Golden Rod bid on her long-range radar. The Oxley homebred broke her maiden on the Woodbine turf in August, and then finished fourth on turf to Northern Passion in the Natalma (GIII). She moved to the Polytrack course at the Toronto track for a runner-up finish to Blue Heart in the Mazarine before the daughter of Sky Mesa was pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GII). Mark Casse ultimately decided against entering the filly in that race.
The Golden Rod will be the first race on traditional dirt for Spirited Miss, who will break from post three under Javier Castellano.
“She’s always been one of the horses that we’ve really liked,” Casse said. “The Juvenile (Fillies) Turf just came up too tough and we didn’t want to put her in there. She’s been at Churchill Downs for several weeks and has had four good works over the (main) track. With the Golden Rod coming up the way it has and her working so well over the dirt, we decided to give it a shot.”
The Casse barn experienced success this year with a horse trying dirt for the first time when 36-1 shot Pool Play won Churchill Downs’ $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (GI) in June after running on synthetic and turf courses in 27 previous starts.
WHO’S HOT – The hottest jockeys over the last five racing days (Nov. 17-23) are Corey Lanerie (7-for-40), Julien Leparoux (6-for-24) and Jesus Castanon (6-for-25). Wayne Catalano (3-for-5) and Mike Maker (3-for-12) are the hottest trainers over the same period. Ken and Sarah Ramsey (2-for-11) are the hottest owners.
BARN TALK – A local memorial service for the late trainer Robert Holthus is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 26 at 10:30 a.m. (EST) at Christ Chapel on the Churchill Downs backside. Holthus saddled 211 winners beneath the Twin Spires, including 11 stakes wins. Holthus, who died in Louisville on Nov. 22 at the age of 78, started five horses in the Kentucky Derby.
Churchill Downs will host a “Stache Bash” on Saturday during the races to honor and celebrate all of the Mo Bros and Mo Sistas who participated in Movember. Churchill Downs will donate $1 per attendee who is sporting a mustache to the Movember Foundation with a minimum guaranteed pledge of $5,000 given through the Churchill Downs Foundation. The day’s festivities will include between-race live music by popular Cincinnati-based My Sister Sarah in the paddock area and Happy Hour drink specials from 3-5 p.m.
Lothenbach Stables’ Mister Marti Gras rallied in deep stretch to overtake Alma d’Oro to win the 19th running of the $109,700 Ack Ack Handicap (Grade III) for 3-year-olds and up by a half-length.
Trained by Chris Block and ridden by Julien Leparoux, Mister Marti Gras raced near the back of the seven-horse field as Gladding
The Virginia H Tarra Trust’s Giant Oak, winner of Churchill Downs’ $500,000 Clark Handicap (GI) in 2010 and this year’s Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park, and Spendthrift Farm LLC’s Crown of Thorns, winner of the recent Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (GIII) at Hollywood Park, head a roster of 31 horses nominated to compete in the 30th running of the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on June 18.
The 2010 Stephen Foster Handicap was won by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Blame, who would return to Churchill Downs in November to down previously unbeaten Zenyatta in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Blame was the fourth horse to take the Stephen Foster and the Classic in the same year. Others who completed that sweep were Black Tie Affair (1991), Awesome Again (1998) andSaint Liam (2005). Black Tie Affair and Saint Liam also won their respective renewals of the Stephen Foster on their way to Horse of the Year honors. Two other horses competed in the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up on their way to being honored with the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year: Mineshaft, who finished second toPerfect Drift in the 2003 Stephen Foster, and Curlin, who won the race as a 4-year-old in 2008 on his way to his second consecutive Horse of the Year award.
Churchill Downs also released nomination lists Monday for the three other graded stakes races set for Stephen Foster Handicap Day. Those races are the $125,000-added Matt Winn (GIII), formerly known as the Northern Dancer, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the main track; the $125,000-added Regret (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course; and the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on turf.
Giant Oak, a 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway trained Chris Block, is expected to make his second bid for the Foster after finishing fourth to Blame in the 2010 renewal. He returned to Churchill Downs in the fall to win the 136th running of the Clark Handicap via the disqualification of Successful Dan, and then kicked off his 2011 campaign with an impressive two-length victory in the Donn. The Illinois-bred Giant Oak would bring a two-race losing streak into the Foster after finishing third in the New Orleans Handicap (GII) at Fair Grounds and a close fifth in the Alysheba (GIII) on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs.
His career record stands at 5-5-4 in 26 races with earnings of $1,307,001.
Crown of Thorns, a 6-year-old son of Repent trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, was headed to Churchill Downs for a run in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) last fall, but was sidelined by injury. He returned to the winner’s circle last month with his victory over Sidney’s Candy in the Mervyn Leroy on Hollywood Park’s synthetic Cushion Track surface. The lightly-raced Crown of Thorns won the Robert B. Lewis (GII) at Santa Anita at three, but injury knocked him out of consideration for that year’sKentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI). On his return to racing more than a year later, Crown of Thorns notched four consecutive runner-up finishes in Grade I races. The string included the Ancient Title and Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita at four, and last year’s Pat O’Brien and Goodwood at Santa Anita.
Crown of Thorns has a career record of 3-4-1 in 10 races with earnings of $777,080.
Other nominees considered possible for Foster include: Adele Dilschneider’s Apart, winner of Pimlico’s William Donald Schaefer Memorial (GIII) – a race won last year by stablemate Blame prior to his Foster triumph; Alex and Joann Lieblong, Marilyn McMaster and Fawkes Racing, Inc.’s Duke of Mischief, winner of the $1 million Charles Town Classic and career earner of $1,662,546; Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable’s Equestrio, a narrowly beaten third in his stakes debut in Churchill Downs’ Alysheba; Donald Dizney’s Alysheba winner First Dude, runner-up in the 2010 Preakness (GI) and third-place finisher in the Belmont Stakes (GI) who has earned $1,142,140; Preston Stables LLC’s Flat Out, runner-up in the recent Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII); Twin Creeks Racing Stable’s Mission Impazible, winner of the New Orleans Handicap and the 2009 Louisiana Derby (GII), but seventh as the Alysheba favorite; William S. Farish Jr.’s Pool Play, winner of the Dominion Day (GIII) at Woodbine and runner-up in the recent Elkhorn (GII) on the Keeneland turf; Godolphin’s Regal Ransom, the Alysheba runner-up, winner of 2009’s UAE Derby (GII) and Super Derby (GII) and a career earner of $1,887,972; and Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Headache and Jay Em Ess Stable’s Worldly, impressive recent winners of allowance races at Churchill Downs.
With the Triple Crown series set to conclude on Saturday with the running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes (GI), the second half of the racing season for 3-year-olds kicks off in the Matt Winn, formerly known as the Northern Dancer but now named in honor of Churchill Downs’ legendary president and general manager. Col. Matt Winn, who arrived at Churchill Downs in 1902 and led the track until his death in 1949, is credited with lifting both the Kentucky Derby and its historic home to their status as world-renowned sports icons.
Several prominent 3-year-olds are listed among the 33 nominees to the Matt Winn, including Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro; Astrology, third in the Preakness; andPrime Cut and Santiva, Derby runners scheduled to compete in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. But this year’s renewal is setting up as launching pad for under-the-radar 3-year-olds that could prove to be important horses during the second half of 2011.
Horses considered likely to run in the Matt Winn at this early stage include Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Bind, a highly regarded son of Pulpit who would make his stakes debut after he suffered a narrow loss to older rival Worldly in a Kentucky Derby Day allowance race; George Bolton, Stonestreet Stables LLC andSpendthrift Farm LLC’s Dominus, a narrow runner-up to Machen in the $200,000-added The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII) on April 30; and Mike Pegram’s unbeaten C J Russell, a homebred son of El Corredor who has scored a pair of dazzling wins during the Spring Meet at Churchill Downs.
Bobby Flay’s More Than Real, winner of the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf (GII); Five D Thoroughbreds and Wind River Stables’ Kathmanblu, winner of Churchill Downs’ Golden Rod (GII) and the Rachel Alexandra (GIII) at Fair Grounds; andZayat Stable LLC’s Edgewood winner Diva Ash top a list of 25 3-year-old fillies nominated to the 42nd running of the $125,000-added Regret (GIII) at 1 1/16 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
Trainer Todd Pletcher’s More Than Real, a daughter of More Than Ready who has won two of three starts, has not competed since her Breeders’ Cup victory, but has returned to serious training at Belmont Park. The Ken McPeek-trained Kathmanblu has not competed since a disappointing eighth-place run behind Plum Pretty in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI). She displayed her turf prowess in a victory in last year’s Jessamine on the Keeneland grass, a troubled third-place run behind More Than Real in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and a win in Gulfstream Park’s Sweetest Chant earlier this year.
Other Regret nominees include Right Time Racing LLC’s Bouquet Booth and Street Storm, who finished fifth and eighth, respectively, in the Kentucky Oaks for trainerSteve Margolis.
The nomination roster for the 36th running of the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth on turf is headed by Glen Hill Farm’s homebredBanned, who romped to a 4 ½-length victory in the American Turf (GII) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day.
Banned has scored three victories in six career races, but the American Turf was his breakthrough win in stakes competition. The Tom Proctor-trained son of turf champion Kitten’s Joy, fifth to Pluck in last fall’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GII) at Churchill Downs, now has career earnings of $231,186.
The Jefferson Cup nominees include a pair of horses that competed in the Kentucky Derby won by Animal Kingdom: Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s homebred Derby Kitten, who finished 13th in the Run for the Roses, and Alpha Stables, Skychai Racing LLCand Sand Dollar Stable LLC’s Twinspired, who ran 17th.
Derby Kitten has already competed since his run in the May 7 Derby, finishing third in the Lone Star Derby at Lone Star Park on May 30. The Kitten’s Joy colt has competed eight times on grass and notched his first career win on that surface in a 7 ½ furlong maiden race for $75,000 claiming horses at Gulfstream Park. He ran second in the Alligator Alley Stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs turf before he earned his spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate with his upset victory on synthetic Polytrack in the Coolmore Lexington.
Twinspired earned his Kentucky Derby shot when he was caught in the final stride byBrilliant Speed in his runner-up finish the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass (GI) at Keeneland. The son of Harlan’s Holiday has run twice on grass, but has yet to finish better than fourth on the surface.
Other 3-year-olds nominated to the Jefferson Cup include William S. Farish and Skara Glen Stable’s American Turf runner-up Close Ally, who also ran second on dirt in last week’s Lone Star Derby; Millennium Farm’s Great Mills, winner of Fair Grounds’ Grindstone, runner-up in the Transylvania (GIII) at Keeneland and fourth in the American Turf; Get Away Farm Racing Stable’s Master Dunker, winner via disqualification in the Hallandale Beach at Gulfstream Park; Gary and Mary West Stables’ Beachcombing, runner-up in Monmouth Park’s Lamplighter; and Team Valor International and Gary Barber’s Meistersinger, an allowance winner on dirt on Sunday, June 5 at Churchill Downs.
SANTIVA WORKS, BOUND FOR BELMONT STAKES ON TUESDAY – Tom Walters’ Santiva, sixth to Team Valor International’s Animal Kingdom in the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), tuned up for a run in next week’s $1 million Belmont Stakes (GI) with a strong five-furlong work on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
The Eddie Kenneally-trained son of Giant’s Causeway worked five furlongs over a fast track in 1:01 with assistant trainer Brendan Walsh in the saddle. Santiva worked in company with stablemate Manx Miss and the duo finished with identical clockings for five furlongs, a time that tied for sixth fastest of 27 works at the distance.
Santiva breezed in fractional times of :13, :25.20 and :36.80 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.40. His gallop out time was faster than either of the day’s two six-furlong works.
“I’m very happy with him,” Kenneally said. “He hasn’t missed a beat since the Derby. He’s been on schedule and has had a good four weeks, and hopefully he’ll have another good week until we get to the Belmont.”
The winner of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) is scheduled to ship on Tuesday to Belmont Park, where both Animal Kingdom and Preakness winner Shackleford will be awaiting in the 1 1/2 mile race that New Yorkers have dubbed the “Test of the Champion” through the years.
The Belmont Stakes will be the fourth start of the year for Santiva, who opened the season with a promising runner-up finish to likely Belmont rival Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star (GII) at Fair Grounds. But Kenneally’s colt then encountered major traffic woes in his final Kentucky Derby prep – a ninth-place finish behind Brilliant Speed in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) over Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack course.
“He didn’t get everything out of the Blue Grass that we had wanted,” Kenneally said. “He got a little bit tired, perhaps, in the Derby. He’s a horse that’s done well since then and we’re happy enough with the way he ran on Derby Day.”
Kenneally believes Santiva is ready for the challenge of the mile and a half in the Belmont Stakes, which will be uncharted territory the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners and every other 3-year-old in the race.
“The thing about it is you don’t know who is going to really be a mile-and-a-half horse until you try, so you don’t know about those horses either,” Kenneally said. “Our horse is a horse that likes to run, he doesn’t quit and he keeps grinding it out. He’s a tough little horse and he keeps fighting. He’s tactical and he doesn’t have to be coming from way back.
“He likes to run in the middle of the pack, relatively close to the leader in the first tier of runners, so I think his running style would be effective in a race like the Belmont. I don’t think the Belmont favors closers. The Belmont traditionally, for the most part, favors horses that like to lay up close to the pace – not on the lead, necessarily, but close to the pace.”
Santiva’s victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club in November remains his only triumph in his career record that stands at 1-3-1 in seven races. His earnings total is $257,597.
Shaun Bridgmohan, who was aboard Santiva in both the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Jockey Club, is scheduled to ride the colt in the Belmont.
CLARK WINNER, STEPHEN FOSTER HOPE GIANT OAK WORKS SIZZLING FIVE FURLONGS – The Virginia H. Tarra Trust’s Giant Oak, winner of Churchill Downs’ $500,000 Clark Handicap (GI) and the $500,000 Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park, worked a sparkling five furlongs at Churchill Downs on Saturday in preparation the 30th running of the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on June 18.
The homebred 5-year-old son of Giants Causeway zipped over a fast track for trainer Chris Block to complete the five-furlong move in :59.60. The work under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan was the “bullet” of 27 works at the distance and a full second faster than the morning’s second-best move.
“He had a really good breeze this morning,” Block said. “He’s on-target for the Stephen Foster.”
Giant Oak will attempt to snap a two-race losing streak in the Foster after he started the year as a rising star in a division of American older horses thinned by the retirements of marquee stars that included Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Blame, multiple Grade I winner Quality Road, 3-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky and, more recently, the versatile Grade I winner Paddy O’Prado.
His emphatic two-length win over Grade I winner Morning Line in the Donn underscored Giant Oak’s potential to be one of the names at the top of the division. But that victory was followed by a setback in the New Orleans Handicap (GII), where he finished third to Mission Impazible and Apart, and a fifth-place run behind First Dude in the Alysheba at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day. Giant Oak rallied from far back in the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba and was beaten by less than a length.
Block, a three-time stakes winner during the 2010 Fall Meet, is looking forward to the Stephen Foster and sees the race as an opportunity to reclaim Giant’s Oaks early-season moment. He believes Giant Oak had excuses in each of those defeats.
“I haven’t lost any confidence in him at all,” Block said. “I thought he had a real strong excuse in New Orleans. He’s not real fond of that course. As a 3-year-old I saw that, but I thought he was a little different horse now, so I thought we’d take another chance and another shot at it. But he clearly does not like that track, so I’m kind of throwing that one out. He had a legitimate excuse there.
“In the race here (the Alysheba) the last time, he kind of had a rough trip up the backside. He and Demarcation were kind of hooked up together and there was a little bumping going on up the backside. He never got on track where he got into a rhythm until he really got clear of that horse, and then he came with his big run.”
Bridgmohan has ridden Giant Oak in his last four races and will be aboard for the Stephen Foster, a race in which Block’s Illinois-bred star finished fourth last year to Blame, the eventual Eclipse Award winner as America’s top older horse.
Giant Oak’s career record stands at 5-5-4 in 26 races with earnings of $1,307,001.
YOUNG HORSES GIVE VETERAN TRAINER ‘EXTRA SHOT OF LIFE’ – Everyone has a first love, and for trainer Bernie Flint, that first love was training young horses.
“I love training 2-year-olds,” Flint said. “Training young horses was my first love and they’ll always be my favorite horses to train.”
One might think that Flint, a 71-year-old with over 3,000 career victories and numerous training titles would be ready to retire, but he just keeps going and attributes his energy level to the young horses in his barn. “An untried 2-year-old gives you an extra shot of life,” Flint said. “There’s just something about the young horses that keeps me going.”
Flint, who has won at an 18-percent clip in 2-year-old races throughout his career, has won with three of his first 11 2-year-old starters this year and he’s confident more wins are on the way. “The owners - especially Jim Stone, Ed Wright, Miles Childers, and Dr. Naveed Chowhan - really stepped up and we were able to purchase some nice young horses,” Flint said. “I have the best group of 2-year-olds here (at Churchill Downs). Just watch how they run.”
The New Orleans-native, who is known for having a high winning percentage with 2-year-olds, won with 15 of his 71 (21%) two-year-old starters in 2006; however, his winning percentage declined over the next few years and last year he trained just two juvenile winners from 22 starters (9%).
“I got away from focusing on 2-year-olds and started trying to win claiming races with older horses,” Flint said. “This year we’ve gotten back to the 2-year-olds and I won’t be participating in the claiming game very much.”
Flint, who began training full-time in 1976 after retiring from the New Orleans Police Department, still enjoys his job and hopes to be on the backstretch for a few more years.
“I don’t know if I’ll still be around at (trainer D. Wayne) Lukas’ age (75),” Flint said. “But who knows, if a couple of these 2-year-olds develop into stakes winners then I could be around for a little while longer to see how they turn out.”
Flint has 429 wins beneath the Twin Spires, which is fourth all-time behind Bill Mott (641), Dale Romans (525) and Lukas (482). L.T.B., Inc.’s One Sky will be Flint’s lone starter Saturday at Churchill Downs.
BARN TALK – Jockey Julien Leparoux recorded his 466th career Churchill Downs win and passed Patrick A. Johnson for 10th all-time when he rode Legendary Heart to victory in the 11th race Friday for trainer Steve Asmussen. Leparoux, who has 1,407 career victories overall, had his biggest day beneath the Twin Spires on May 2, 2009, when he rode Informed Decision to win the Humana Distaff (GI) and Einstein to win the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on the Kentucky Derby Day undercard.
Afleeting Lady, a 4-year-old half-sister to Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford, will attempt to break her maiden in Saturday’s eighth race at Churchill Downs for owners Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge and trainer Dale Romans. Post time for the eighth race is 4:29 p.m. EST. …
Two apprentice riders – Constantino Roman and Marcelino Pedroza Jr. – are both ranked in the top 10 in wins in the jockey standings at Churchill Downs. Each rider has seven wins, which is good enough to be tied for ninth with Manny Cruz. …
The “Who’s the Champ?” Handicapping Contest returns Sunday. It continues each Sunday through June 12 in the Champions Club Lounge with $4,000 in prize money, including a $1,500 first prize and a coveted VIP trip to compete in the Horseplayer World Series at The Orleans Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The entry fee is $25 (or 25,000 Twin Spires Club points). Also on Sunday, simulcast action is highlighted by Woodbine’s stakes tripleheader, including the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser and the $150,000 Plate Trial. …
WHO’S HOT – The hottest jockeys over the last five racing days (May 27- June 3) are Corey Lanerie (10-for-33) and Shaun Bridgmohan (8-for-32). Steve Asmussen (5-for-12), Bernie Flint (3-for-6) and Brad Cox (3-for-7) are the hottest trainers over the same period. The hottest owners are Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. (3-for-7) Stoneway Farm (2-for-3) and Vinery Stables, LLC (2-for-2).
WEATHER – Saturday: mostly sunny, 93; Sunday: mostly sunny with a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 90; Monday: mostly sunny with a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 92; Tuesday: mostly sunny and hot, 95; Wednesday: mostly sunny and hot, 96; Thursday: mostly sunny and hot with a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 95; Friday: partly sunny with a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 95.
WIN WILLY FINALLY GETS HIS CHURCHILL DOWNS CHANCE ON FRIDAY – Trainer McLean Robertson was just three days away from having his first Kentucky Derby (Grade I) starter in 2009 with Jer-Mar Stable’s Win Willy.
However, on the day of entry, Robertson saw something he did not like on an x-ray of the colt’s left front ankle.
“I didn’t think he was right after the Arkansas Derby,” Robertson said of Win Willy, who had finished fourth in the race at Oaklawn Park. “I was going to vet him out even if he had worked a hole in the wind.”
The x-ray revealed a small line.
“We walked him for 30 days and then twice a day for another 30 days,” Robertson said. “I don’t think he would have been this good if he had run.”
Win Willy has been good enough in the past 14 months to earn a shot at his first Grade I victory in Friday’s $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare. Win Willy will break from post position eight under Cliff Berry, who has been aboard six times during Win Willy’s career that shows a record of 5-3-1 in 13 races with earnings of $507,952.
Robertson has no regrets about missing the Run for the Roses.
“I don’t feel bad for doing the right thing,” Robertson said. “I was disappointed for the owner rather than for me, but he’s a good horse now. I am glad I did it. He is better now than he ever has been.”
Win Willy comes into the Clark off a victory in the Brandywine at Delaware Park on Oct. 30. Earlier this year, Win Willy ran second to Clark Handicap rival Duke of Mischief in the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) at Oaklawn Park.
A good showing in the Clark could alter Robertson’s plans with the son of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos in 2011.
“If he runs first or second on Friday, I’d be in no hurry to run in a $50,000 at Oaklawn,” Robertson said. “That would change things.”
REGAL RANSOM TO GET HIS SECOND CD CHANCE IN FRIDAY’S CLARK HANDICAP – Although Win Willy did not make the 2009 Run for the Roses, one of his Clark Handicap opponents on Friday did: Regal Ransom.
The Godolphin Racing runner pressed the pace in the Kentucky Derby over a sloppy track before fading to eighth, 14 ¾ lengths behind Mine That Bird. On Friday, Regal Ransom makes his first run at Churchill Downs since that soggy day nearly 19 months ago.
Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, Regal Ransom will be ridden in the Clark by Freddie Lenclud and break from post position nine in the field of 11.
“He had some time off after the Derby and then after he ran in the Breeders’ Cup last year, we took him back to Dubai,” said Ian Grant, who is overseeing the 4-year-old colt’s preparations at Churchill Downs. “He does not do well on Polytrack or synthetics and he came back over here in the spring.”
Regal Ransom has won once in three starts this year, with the victory coming in an allowance race at Saratoga.
“He has had an up and down season,” Grant said. “His first race (the Grade II Suburban on July 3) we knew was a tough spot going in and then he won the allowance easily. Then came the Kelso.”
In the Grade II Kelso at a mile at Belmont Park on Oct. 3, Regal Ransom ran sixth as the even-money favorite in a field of seven, beaten 19 lengths.
“We have never had a horse train that well and then run like that,” Grant said. “It was a real head scratcher. He has been training great since then.”
Regal Ransom enters the Clark off two bullet, five-furlong works at Belmont Park, the most recent being a :59.80 move on Sunday.
Regal Ransom has compiled a record of 4-2-0 in 11 races with earnings of $1,801,900, a figure that is second only to Brass Hat ($2,167,921) among Clark entrants. One of the victories came in the last year’s UAE Derby (GII) at Nad Al Sheba and another in 2009 Super Derby (GII) at Louisiana Downs. In the latter, he defeated Blame, who would win the Clark Handicap two races later and return to Churchill Downs this year to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and Stephen Foster Handicap (GI).
In the UAE Derby, Regal Ransom turned the tables on stablemate Desert Party, who had beaten him twice before. Desert Party, now retired, was injured when finishing 14th in the Kentucky Derby last year.
“I had been with Desert Party when (trainer) Eoin (Harty) had him in Chicago,” Grant said. “He was a nice horse. He broke his maiden going 4 ½ and then won the Sanford beating Vineyard Haven. I was surprised that Regal Ransom beat him in the (UAE) Derby.”
BARN TALK – Julien Leparoux maintained a four-win lead over Robby Albarado in the race for leading rider after each rider notched a victory on Wednesday. Leparoux, who is seeking his fourth consecutive Fall Meet title and seventh overall, has a 23-19 edge on Albarado. Leparoux is named on 11 mounts today; while Albarado is scheduled to ride eight horses. …
After 17 days of racing, there still has not been a two-time winner at the meet. Eleven previous winners have tried for the second victory, but none has succeeded with four runner-ups and four third-place finishers. On today’s card, seven horses, including Distinctive Dixie and Striking Dancer in the Falls City Handicap (GII), will bid for their second victory of the month beneath the Twin Spires.