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Hopeful Winner Strong Mandate Sizzles in Churchill Downs Work, Bound for Champagne

| Churchill Downs Communications | 09/13/2013 #
  • Three-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Strong Mandate (Reed Palmer, CD)

  • Roxelana winner Burban is 4-2-0 in 7 Churchill Downs races (Reed Palmer, Churchill Downs)

  • Infrattini set a track record for a mile in this November romp at Churchill Downs. (Reed Palmer, CD)

In his 78 years and lifetime in  around horses, Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner D. Wayne Lukas is not surprised by much when he reports to the track each day for morning training.

But Friday was a “gotcha” day for Lukas, who sent his rising star Strong Mandate out on Friday at Churchill Downs for a half-mile work.  It was the first serious training move for the bay colt since his dazzling 9 ¾-length romp in the $300,000 Hopeful (GI) over a sealed muddy track at Saratoga in his most recent start on Sept. 2.

Robert Baker and William Mack’s 2-year-old son of Tiznow stepped onto the fast racing surface at Churchill Downs for a move that Lukas did not intend to be anything special. But the move was yet another indication that Strong Mandate could be a very special horse.

He zipped four furlongs in :47.40 in a work that tied as the fastest of 44 at the distance. Strong Mandate recorded the “bullet” for the day despite an easy first quarter of :24.20 and he galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.20.

The gallop-out time for Lukas’ colt was nearly a second faster than that the five-furlong "bullet" work of 1:01 by Grand Giant, which was the best of 27 moves at that distance on the perfect late-summer morning.

“I don’t time them, but when he went by me I thought it looked like a good little maintenance work and it was just about what we wanted,” Lukas said. “Then when I rode by the clocker on my saddle horse and was told he went seven-and-two, I was really surprised.”

Lukas said Friday’s work was a tune-up for a planned run in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (GI) at Belmont Park on Oct. 2.

Snrong Mandate has a career record of three starts – all at the Saratoga meet – and has a two-race win streak after a fifth-place run in his debut. He won a maiden race on Aug. 17 by 4 ½ lengths prior to his tour de force effort in the Hopeful.

“That horse has the ability to do that so easy,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve had one like him for a long time. It’s the same thing when he runs. You think he’s just in a high lope, like he was in the Hopeful. Next thing you know he’s up in :47-and-two.”

Lukas said Strong Mandate would probably have “a couple more” works at Churchill Downs before departing for the Champagne.

BURBAN BIDS FOR MORE CHURCHILL SUCCESS IN SATURDAY’S OPEN MIND – So-called “horses for courses” merit serious respect any time they step on a tack over which they have enjoyed significant success.

Joseph Sutton’s 5-year-old mare Burban is a horse that has clearly thrived at Churchill Downs, and she’ll get a chance to another win over her home track when she faces five rivals in Saturday’s $100,000-added Open Mind for fillies and mares three and up at six furlongs.

Trainer Eddie Kenneally’s filly has competed seven times over the Louisville surface and collected four wins – including two in stakes races – and a pair of runner-up finishes. Included in the latter was the strongest performance in her three years of racing: a runner-up effort in the slop behind Aubby K in the $300,000-added Humana Distaff (GI) on Kentucky Derby Day.

"She’s been a good filly and her best effort was definitely was when she was second in the mud in Grade 1 Humana Distaff on Derby Day,” Kenneally said. “That was a real big effort from her and certainly enhanced her value. But she’s won two stakes already this year, so she’s had a good year.”

One of those stakes wins was the Roxelana, an overnight stakes at Churchill Downs on June 2. She also won the Break Thru at Aqueduct on April 2. But her 2-1-0 slate in six 2013 starts reflects an up-and-down season that included a sixth-place run behind Aubby K in Gulfstream’s Inside Information and a dull fifth-place finish behind Beat the Blues in Churchill Downs’ Winning Colors (GIII) on May27. She has earned $283,738 in 10 races spaced over three racing seasons.

In her most recent start, Burban prompted the pace before she finished fifth of seven in Saratoga’s Honorable Miss (GII) won by the streaking Dance to Bristol, who followed that triumph with a win the Ballerina (GI) for her seventh consecutive win.

“The race at Saratoga was a tough spot,” Kenneally said. “We ran into some really good quality fillies up there. Our filly went well, but not well enough."

Although Burban will face five other stakes winners in the Open Mind, her Honorable Miss rivals will not be among them.  Kenneally hopes for a graded stakes victory in Burban’s future, but Saturday’s race in the Open Mind is his primary focus.

“Certainly this is an easier spot,” Kenneally said. “She’s come into the race very well and we’re confident she’ll run one of her better races. If she does, she’ll be right there.”

RECORD-HOLDER INFRATTINI WORKING TOWARD RETURN TO RACINGGeorge and Lori Hall’s homebred Pants on Fire turned in one of the outstanding performances by an American middle-distance horse in 2013 with his stakes-record run last week in the one-mile Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Downs.

His stakes record time of 1:33.78 narrowly missed the track standard of 1:33.31 established last November by Z Thoroughbreds LLC’s Infrattini in the third victory of what would become a four-race winning streak.

There’s a chance that Pants On Fire will head to Santa Anita next time out for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI), where he could be among the race favorites after his fast effort beneath the Twin Spires. But the horse that still holds the mile record is still around, and he’s working toward a return to competition.

Infrattini breezed three furlongs in :36.20 on Thursday at Churchill Downs. He had returned to serious training on Aug. 23 with a three-eighths move in :38.40, his first listed workout since an injury forced him to the sidelines in April.

"He looks good,” trainer Paul McGee said. “That was a good breeze yesterday. He’ll go a half-mile next week and progress that much more.”

Infrattini, a 5-year-old son of Include, had shown promise throughout his career with good performances that included a runner-up finish in Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn (GIII) in 2011. But he caught fire last fall with allowance wins over synthetic Polytrack surfaces at Arlington Park and Keeneland prior to his record-setting mile run over the dirt at Churchill Downs.

He ran his winning streak to four with a victory over Mark Valeski in the Louisiana Handicap at Fair Grounds, but saw his winning streak snapped when Infrattini ran fifth to that rival in the Mineshaft Handicap (GIII) in late February.

McGee had hoped Infrattini would start a new streak of success over his home track at Churchill Downs, where he has yet to finish worse than second in five races. But the injury forced an adjustment in that plan.

“We stopped on him back in the spring and took a chip out of ankle,” McGee said. “We were pointing him to the Alysheba (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day.”

If all goes well over the next few weeks, McGee hopes that Infrattini will return to competition sometime during Churchill Downs Oct. 27-Nov. 29 Fall Meet. His career record stands at 6-5-0 in 17 races with earnings of $334,452.

BARN TALKMagdalena Racing’s Pure Fun, winner of the 2012 Hollywood Starlet (GI) for trainer Kenny McPeek, worked a sharp half-mile in :47.40 on Friday. The move tied as the fastest of 44 at the distance with the work by Strong Mandate, the 2-year-old winner of the Hopeful. Pure Fun has not raced since a sixth-place finish behind Princess of Sylmar in the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) on May 3 at Churchill Downs … Dan Considine and Steve Snowden’s Sweet Cassiopeia, one of six older fillies and mares entered in Saturday’s $100,000-added Open Mind, is cross-entered for a possible run against males on the grass in Kentucky Downs’ $150,000 Kentucky Cup Turf Dash at five furlongs. Trainer Bill Connelly’s 5-year-old daughter of Five Star Day won Keeneland’s Giant’s Causeway on turf in April, and finished fifth in the Princess Rooney (GI) at Keeneland last time out. She has won nine of 21 races with earnings of $479,405. … Donarra Thoroughbreds LLC’s Irish Lute, third in the Prioress (GI) and the Eight Belles (GIII) for trainer Dallas Stewart, breezed four furlongs in :49 on Friday. She is nominated to next Saturday’s $100,000-added Dogwood.