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Jones Arrivals Gallop; Lukas Still Pointing Optimizer to Derby

| Churchill Downs Communications | 04/18/2012 #
  • Kentucky Derby hopeful Mark Valeski arrived at Churchill Downs on Tuesday afternoon. Credit: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer

  • Horse of the Year, Havre de Grace in her stall at Churchill Downs. Credit: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer

  • Believe You Can led by trainer Larry Jones. Credit: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer

  • Kentucky Derby contender Bodemeister visited the Churchill Downs track Wednesday. Credit: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer

The Larry Jones-trained trio of Havre de Grace, Mark Valeski and Believe You Can arrived at Barn 35 at Churchill Downs in good order at 5 p.m. (ET) Tuesday night and all three visited the track Wednesday morning to gallop a mile.

Fox Hill Farms Inc.’s Havre de Grace, reigning Horse of the Year and champion older female, galloped prior to the renovation break and then returned to Stall 18. Wednesday morning marked the first time Havre de Grace has been on the Louisville track since she finished fourth in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) at Churchill Downs last November. The 5-year-old daughter of Saint Liam is being pointed to the $300,000-added La Troienne Presented by Steelcase (GII), which is to be run beneath the Twin Spires on the Kentucky Oaks Day undercard.

Galloping after the renovation break was Brereton Jones’ homebred Mark Valeski, runner-up in both the Risen Star (GII) and Louisiana Derby (GI) at Fair Grounds. Mark Valeski is being pointed to the 138th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) on May 5 at Churchill Downs. With $260,000 in graded stakes earnings, Mark Valeski is currently number 20 on the most recent graded stakes earnings list, which would make him the “last horse in” the Derby.

“We are still pointing (to the Derby),” Jones said. “We want in and we hope we get in, but it’s all in God’s hands.”

In the Louisiana Derby, Mark Valeski lost a shoe and that may have contributed to his ½-length loss to longshot Hero of Order.

“Some trainers like the turf-to-dirt or synthetic-to-dirt approach, but I’m going for the ‘shoe off’ to ‘shoe on’ approach,” Jones joked.

Brereton Jones also bred and owns Believe You Can, who is being pointed to the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI) on Friday, May 4. Winner of the Tempted (GIII) at Belmont last year, Believe You Can began her 3-year-old campaign with a victory in the Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds. She went on to be fourth in her following start, the Rachel Alexandra (GIII), prior to defeating Summer Applause by a head in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII).

Jones said the three stars will all breeze this weekend at Churchill Downs.

“All three will work Sunday if the weather is good,” Jones said. “If we get some bad weather this weekend then the works may be pushed back to Monday.”

Jones noted that Havre de Grace will breeze at 6 a.m. when the track opens and Mark Valeski and Believe You Can will breeze after the renovation break at approximately 8:30 a.m.

LUKAS STILL POINTING OPTIMIZER TO KENTUCKY DERBY 138Bluegrass Hall LLC’s homebred Optimizer, most recently ninth in the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, is still being pointed to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, according to trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

With $184,708 in graded stakes earnings, Optimizer currently is number 24 on the graded stakes earnings list and, because the Kentucky Derby field is limited to 20 starters, he will need a few defections to get in the Derby starting gate. Optimizer is nominated to the $200,000-added The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 28, and a win in that race could safely place him in the top 20; however, Lukas noted the race is not currently under consideration.

“We’re not planning on going in the Derby Trial,” Lukas said. “We’ll either go with what we’ve got (graded stakes earnings) or we won’t go at all.”

Prior to his run in the Arkansas Derby, Optimizer finished full of run when finishing second to Secret Circle in the Rebel (GII) on March 17. Lukas expected the bay son of English Channel to improve off that effort.

“I have no explanation for the way he ran (in the Arkansas Derby),” Lukas said. “I thought he was the horse to beat. He had the best three weeks of his life leading up to the race.”

Optimizer arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday evening and will visit the track for the first time Thursday morning to jog. “He’s doing great,” Lukas said.

ST. JOHN’S RIVER SET TO RETURN IN LA TROIENNEDede McGehee’s St. John’s River, who was narrowly defeated by Plum Pretty in last year’s Kentucky Oaks (GI), is being pointed to return to the races after an eighth-month layoff in the $300,000-added La Troienne Presented by Steelcase (GII), which is to be run on the Kentucky Oaks Day undercard on May 4.

St. John’s River, who has not raced since finishing fifth to eventual-champion 3-year-old filly Royal Delta in the TVG Alabama (GI) at Saratoga in August, continued preparations for her return with a six-furlong breeze in 1:13.40 on a fast track Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs for trainer Andrew Leggio Jr.

Working on her own after the renovation break under Mark Guidry, St. John’s River recorded fractions of :12.80, :25.20, :37.80, :50 and galloped out seven furlongs in 1:27.20.

“I think she looked awfully good and our goal is to have her ready for the La Troienne,” Leggio said. “She’s training really well and hopefully she’s going to be as good as she was last year.”

Leggio was planning on bringing St. John’s River back in the Tiffany Lass at Fair Grounds on Feb. 11; however, she was taken out of training for a few weeks following minor throat surgery and thus her return to the races was delayed.

“It was just minor surgery and everything went well,” Leggio said.

Bred in Kentucky by Heaven Trees Farm, St. John’s River, a bay daughter of Include, has a record of 2-3-1 from seven career starts, highlighted by a victory in Delaware Oaks (GII). St. John’s River’s main rival in the La Troienne is expected to be reigning Horse of the Year, Havre de Grace.

BARN TALKJohn Oxley’s Prospective, sixth in the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) on April 14, galloped 1 ½ miles at Churchill Downs prior to the renovation break Wednesday morning. Assistant trainer Norman Casse confirmed via text that Prospective will start in Kentucky Derby 138 and Luis Contreras will have the mount.

Zayat Stables LLC’s Bodemeister, runaway winner of the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 14, visited the Churchill Downs track for the first time Wednesday morning to continue his preparations for the Kentucky Derby (GI). The bay son of Empire Maker jogged a mile under Peter Hutton, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert. “Bodemeister was feeling good this morning,” Hutton said. “He was very strong.” …

Peachtree Stable’s Kentucky Oaks (GI) hopeful Mamma Kimbo also visited the Churchill Downs oval Wednesday. Winner of the Fantasy (GII) at Oaklawn Park on April 11 in just her second start, Mamma Kimbo galloped a mile under Peter Hutton. …

Pinnacle Racing Stables and Bill Kaplan’s Musical Romance, champion female sprinter of 2011, arrived at Churchill Downs on April 14 and is stabled in Stall 5 of Barn 17. A 5-year-old dark bay daughter of Concorde’s Tune, Musical Romance is being pointed to the $300,000-added Humana Distaff (GI), which is to be run at seven furlongs on the main track at Churchill Downs as part of the Kentucky Derby Day undercard. …

Gillian Campbell, R Group Management Ltd. and Greenwood Lodge Farm’s Summer Applause, second beaten a head by Believe You Can in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII), will continue her preparations for the Kentucky Oaks by breezing Friday morning at Churchill Downs. The bay daughter of Harlan’s Holiday will breeze at 6 a.m. (ET) Friday, according to Dennis “Peaches” Geier, assistant to trainer Bret Calhoun.  

Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 5, 2012, and its Spring Meet is scheduled for April 28-July 1. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record eight times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.churchilldowns.com.

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