A trio of contenders for Friday’s 139th running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I) took advantage of Saturday morning’s dry weather and a fast track to turn in their final works in preparation for the premiere race of Churchill Downs’ 25-day Fall Meet.
Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Golden Ticket, Bourbon Lane Stable’s Bourbon Courage and Donegal Racing’s Finnegans Wake completed their serious training on Saturday for the 1 1/8-mile Clark, a race for 3-year-olds and up which shares its long history with the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI).
Golden Ticket, fresh off a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) for trainer Kenny McPeek, worked five furlongs in company with stablemate Flashy American, Preston Stables LLC’s 4-year-old filly who will be among the favorites for $150,000-added Falls City Handicap (GII), the Thanksgiving Day feature for fillies and mares ages three and up.
The McPeek-trained duo covered the distance in 1:01 with fractional clockings of :12 and :36.20. The five-furlong moves tied as the second-fastest of 39 works at the distance.
Golden Ticket, who dead-heated for victory with Alpha in the 2012 Travers (GI) and ran second to 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Fort Larned in this year’s $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs, was assigned 120 pounds for the Clark, six fewer than the high-weighted seven-time Grade I winner Game On Dude and three less than the impost for 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up and 2013 Travers winner Will Take Charge.
Bourbon Courage breezed four furlongs in :47.80 under jockey Corey Lanerie, who will ride the Kellyn Gorder-trained son of Lion Heart in the Clark.
The work by Bourbon Courage ranked as the second-fastest of 71 at the distance, and the 4-year-old colt’s internal fractions were timed in :12 and :24.40 and he galloped our five furlongs in 1:00.60 and 1:14.40.
“The horse is doing well,” Gorder said. “I know we’ll play the role of underdog, but that’s okay. We’re happy with where our horse is and I’m anxious to see him run again.”
Bourbon Courage finished third to Preakness (GI) and Metropolitan Handicap (GI) winner Shackleford and runner-up Take Charge Indy, winner of the 2012 Florida Derby (GI), in last year’s Clark. He will attempt to break a six-race losing streak in the Clark that dates to a victory in last year’s Super Derby and comes into the race off a runner-up finish in Churchill Downs allowance race on Oct. 31 – his first race in six months.
“He definitely needed that race last time and came out of it well,” Gorder said. “He’s put in some nice breezes since then, he was able today to get a good racetrack and he’s ready to roll.”
Bourbon Courage will bring a record of 12-3-4-3 and earnings of $841,844 into the Clark. His other races this year include a runner-up finish in the Donn Handicap (GI) and a third-place run in the Oaklawn Handicap (GII), both won by Graydar, and a third-place finish to Take Charge Indy in Churchill Downs’ Alysheba (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day.
Finnegans Wake worked a sharp five furlongs in :59.80 under former jockey Tammy Fox, which was the fastest move of 39 works at the distance on Saturday.
Trainer Dale Romans was very happy with the quick move by Finnegans Wake, a 4-year-old son of Powerscourt (GB) that he described as “possibly definite” for Friday’s Clark.
“He’s not the best work horse in the world, so when he’s sharp like that he usually runs good,” Romans said.
Finnegans Wake comes into the race off a fourth-place finish behind Nikki’s Sandcastle over synthetic Polytrack in Keeneland’s Hagyard Fayette Stakes (GII) on Oct. 26. He has yet to win in six 2013 races, most of which have come against top-notch competition on the grass, include fourth places finishes behind turf stars Point of Entry in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan (GI), Boisterous in the Man O’ War (GI) and Real Solution in the Arlington Million (GI) and a runner-up finish to Hyper in Belmont Park’s Bowling Green Handicap (GII).
Romans scored his first win in the Clark last year with Shackleford, who was the bettors’ second choice in what would be the final race of the classic winner’s career. Even with today’s impressive work on dirt, Finnegans Wake will be an outsider in Friday’s Clark.
“We’re coming in with difference circumstances than last year, but the pressure won’t be quite as tough,” Romans said. “He likes this racetrack and he’s doing good. I know there are two monsters in there, but we’ll see what happens.”
The Clark Handicap’s known probable starters include (with trainers, weights): Bourbon Courage (Kellyn Gorder, 120), Easter Gift (Chad Brown, 116), Finnegans Wake (Romans, 116), Game On Dude (Bob Baffert, 126), Golden Ticket (Kenny McPeek, 120), Prayer for Relief (Steve Asmussen, 118) and Will Take Charge (D. Wayne Lukas, 123). Possible: Jaguar Paw (Stephen Lyster, 115).
CHILUKKI WINNER DON’T TELL SOPHIA ASSIGNED HIGH WEIGHT FOR FALLS CITY – Phil Sims and Jerry Namy’s Don’t Tell Sophia, an authoritative 2 ½-length winner of the $150,000-added Chilukki (GII) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2, has been assigned 122 pounds for Thursday’s 98th running of the $150,000-added Falls City Handicap (GII).
The 5-year-old Congaree mare is the likely favorite for the Falls City, the 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares ages three and up that will be the featured event of the Thanksgiving Day celebration beneath the Twin Spires.
A $1,000 yearling purchase in 2009, Don’t Tell Sophia is a bargain hunter’s dream. She brings a career record of 16-7-3-2 and earnings of $440,814 into the Falls City for co-owner/trainer Sims. She won the Bayakoa and Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn Park early in the year, then ran second to eventual Grade I winner Tiz Miz Sue in the Azeri (GIII) and third to On Fire Baby and Tiz Miz Sue in the Apple Blossom (GI), also run at the Hot Springs, Ark. track.
Preston Stables LLC’s Locust Grove winner Flashy American was assigned 118 pounds by Churchill Downs Racing Secretary Ben Huffman and is next in the weight assignments for likely starters in the Falls City. Flashy American, whose first win came in a race for $25,000 claiming horses at Saratoga in 2012, comes into the Falls City off a fourth-place finish to eventual Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) winner Beholder in the Zenyatta Stakes (GI) at Santa Anita. Her career record for trainer Kenny McPeek stands at 23-7-3-2 with earnings of $407,129.
Flashy American completed her serious training for the Falls City on Saturday when she worked five furlongs in company with stablemate and Clark Handicap contender Golden Ticket in 1:01. The move tied as the second-fastest of 39 at the distance.
Known starters for Thursday’s 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares (with trainers, assigned weights) include: Don’t Tell Sophia (Sims, 122), Flashy American (McPeek, 118), Imposing Grace (Wayne Catalano, 117) and Magic Hour (Ian Wilkes, 115). Possible: Ice Cream Silence (Rusty Arnold, 114), My Option (Chris Block, 114), Street Girl (Eddie Kenneally, 115), Molly Morgan (Dale Romans, 114), Owl Moon (Romans, 112) and Wine Princess (Steve Margolis, 117).
DONEGAL’S CULPRIT BOUND FOR KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB – Trainer Dale Romans, whose barn is filled with promising 2-year-olds that include Grade III Iroquois 1-2 finishers Cleburne and Smart Cover and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) participant Medal Count, will be looking for stakes success for another rising star when he sends Donegal Racing’s Culprit into the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) on the Nov. 30 “Stars of Tomorrow II” program the concludes Churchill Downs’s 25-day Fall Meet.
Culprit breezed five furlongs Saturday in 1:03 over a fast Churchill Downs track in preparation for next Saturday’s race.
The son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense rallied in his most recent start to score a half-length victory in a one-mile maiden race at Churchill Downs on the Oct. 27 “Stars of Tomorrow I” program that opened the meet. Among the colts he defeated that day was Ron Winchell’s Tapiture, who was narrowly beaten in a three-horse photo finish in the Iroquois on Sept. 7. He finished third to Anita Cauley’s highly-regarded Wry in his Sept. 7 racing debut at Churchill Downs, then ran seventh behind Poker Player on turf in the $150,000 Bourbon Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland.
The 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club would be Culprit’s first race at a two-turn distance on dirt.
Known probable starters for the 87th running of the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), (with trainers): Almost Famous (Pat Byrne), Awesome Sky (Mark Casse), Culprit (Romans), Dobra Historia (Bill Mott) and Laddie Boy (Chuck Peery). Possible: All Cash (D. Wayne Lukas) Bro Rodrigeaux (Lukas), Financial Mogul (Rick Violette Jr.), Ichiban Warrior (Todd Pletcher) and Sheikinator (Ken McPeek).
GOLDEN ROD HOPES BIRD MAKER, PLAYFUL LOVE WORK FOR WILKES – Trainer Ian Wilkes lost the star of his stable when 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Fort Larned departed after a fourth-place run in this year’s Classic for a new career as a stallion at Adena Springs Farm. But Wilkes has other good horses in his barn that could assume the stable’s top spot, including a pair of 2-year-old fillies that worked Saturday in preparation for a run in next Saturday’s 70th running of the $150,000-added Golden Rod Stakes (GII).
Marylou Whitney Stable’s Bird Maker and Narola Racing’s Playful Love worked five furlongs in-company on Saturday in their final major training moves for the 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod.
Bird Maker, ridden by jockey Julien Leparoux, and Playful Love, under exercise rider Kate Merritt, finished together in an official clocking of 1:02.80. They recorded internal fractions of :25 and :37.60 and galloped-out six furlongs in 1:16.
“I moved the works up because I don’t know what to expect from the weather tomorrow or the next day,” Wilkes said. “I’m happy with both fillies. They’re both doing well, so I’m ready for them to step up to the next level.”
Bird Maker, a daughter of Empire Maker, comes into the Golden Rod off a 2 ¾-length victory in a seven-furlong maiden race on Nov. 7 at Churchill Downs. Playful Love, a daughter of Tapit, won the opening race of the Fall Meet: a one-mile maiden race on Oct. 27’s “Stars of Tomorrow I” program. Both fillies won in their second career starts.
Daddy’s Memory, listed a “possible” for the Golden Rod, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.20 for trainer Cecil Borel. The move was the fifth-fastest of 39 on the day.
Known probable starters for the Golden Rod (with trainers) include: Bird Maker (Wilkes), Canaryinacoalmine (Steve Margolis), Madly Truly (Mark Casse), Naïve Enough (Ignacio Correas IV), Playful Love (Wilkes), Stonetastic (Kelly Breen), Streethomealabama (Kenny McPeek) and Vexed (Al Stall Jr.). Possible: Daddy’s Memory (Borel), Room Service (Wayne Catalano) and Spangled Banner (Eoin Harty).
SKYRING COULD END STREAKS FOR LUKAS, CALUMET IN RIVER CITY – Calumet Farm’s Skyring has done his best running for trainer D. Wayne Lukas on Preakness Day at Pimlico, but should he win Saturday’s $100,000-added River City Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Downs it would be notable for both the farm and his Hall of Fame trainer.
Skyring, a 15-1 longshot in oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line for the River City, will break from the outside post in the River City, which attracted at overflow field of 15 horses when entries were drawn on Thursday. But should the 4-year-old English Channel colt win the River City, the triumph would be:
Skyring, who was bred by Calumet owner Brad Kelley’s Bluegrass Hall LLC, scored notable wins on Preakness Day at Pimlico in each of the past two years. He won the $100,000-added James W. Murphy Stakes on turf on the Preakness undercard in 2012, and returned this year to win the Dixie Handicap (GII), holding off Willcox Inn and stablemate Optimizer under a front-running ride by resurgent Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens.
“He had two good Preakness Days,” Lukas said earlier this week. “He’s a hard-knockin’ little horse. On his best day he’s okay. He’s not really a model of consistency, but on his best day he’s alright.”
Skyring comes into the River City off a 10th place fun behind Magician (IRE) in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. Between the Dixie and the Breeders’ Cup, Skying finished sixth in three consecutive runs in Keeneland’s Shadwell Turf Mile (GI), Saratoga’s Fourstardave (GII) and Monmouth Park’s United Nations (GI).
“He’s not a mile-and-a-half horse, but he’s not a miler, so he’s probably right where he belongs at mile-and-an-eighth,” Lukas said. “It’ll be interesting to see how he goes. We haven’t drawn very well for this one, but we’ll make the most of it. He’s got good tactical speed, so maybe it won’t be too bad out there.”
Calumet Farm has 32 stakes wins at Churchill Downs and leads Claiborne Farm by one on the track’s all-time stakes win list. The Calumet total includes eight victories Kentucky Derby wins, six in the Kentucky Oaks and four in the Clark Handicap.
Lukas has 72 stakes victories at Churchill, including four each in the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
When reminded that a stakes victory by Skyring would be his first at Churchill Downs in a good while, Lukas reminded an observer that he had another strong opportunity awaiting in the final days of the Fall Meet.
“We’ve got the Clark sittin’ in front of us,” Lukas said. “I’m feeling pretty good there.”
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. was absent from the Churchill Downs jockey colony for a fifth consecutive racing day on Saturday as he continues his recovery from injuries suffered in starting gate mishap on Sunday … 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.
WORK TAB (Track: FAST) – A. Stevens’ Miles’ homebred Neck ‘n Neck, winner of the Indiana Derby (GII) and Ack Ack Handicap (GIII), worked four furlongs in :47.80, a time that tied for the second-fastest move 71 at the distance … Bet On Sunshine winner Good Morning Diva breezed four furlongs in :37.80 for trainer Rick Hiles … Aristides (GIII) winner Scatman breezed four furlongs in :51.60 for trainer Bill Mott … Kelly’s Landing winner Right to Vote worked a half-mile in :50.80 for trainer Ron Moquett … At Trackside training center, Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Admiral Kitten breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60 over a fast surface on the six-furlong track. The move was the fastest of 15 at the distance. The Mike Maker-trained Admiral Kitten is a supplemental nominee to the $250,000 Hollywood Derby (GI) on Dec. 1 at Betfair Hollywood Park.