Dede McGehee’s St. John’s River has run well in her two notable starts at Churchill Downs, and trainer Andy Leggio Jr. expects another top effort over the Louisville track from the 4-year-old bay daughter of Include in Saturday night’s 37th running of the $150,000-added Fleur de Lis (Grade II).
The Fleur de Lis for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the main track at Churchill Downs is one of four graded stakes races being run on Saturday as part of the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program. The other races include the featured $400,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), the $100,000-added Matt Winn (GIII) and the $100,000-added Regret (GIII).
St. John’s River made her Churchill Downs debut in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI) last year and was second by a neck behind Plum Pretty. After recording a victory in the Delaware Oaks (GII), St. John’s River finished fifth in the Alabama (GI) at Saratoga in the final start of her sophomore season.
She returned from a layoff of more than eight months to finish ahead of Plum Pretty in an Oaks rematch at Churchill Downs in the La Troienne Presented by Steelcase and ORI (GII), but still finished second to Juanita.
Leggio pointed St. John’s River to the Fleur de Lis off that effort and she has worked three times over the Louisville track in prep for the race. She will break from the rail under Rosie Napravnik.
“Anytime you’re running where you’re based, it’s a big advantage,” Leggio said.
The main rival for St. John’s River is likely the 4-5 morning-line favorite, Royal Delta. A dark bay or brown daughter of Empire Maker, Royal Delta was named the champion 3-year-old filly after beating older fillies and mares in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs last November. Owned by Besilu Stables, Royal Delta is winless in two starts this year. She finished second to Awesome Maria in the Sabin (GIII) at Gulfstream Park and then was ninth of 13 when she faced males in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
She will break from post five in the field of six under Mike Smith.
“I don’t know if she can beat Royal Delta, but our filly is training awfully well,” Leggio said. “I don’t know if she’ll win, but I think she’s going to run a big race. We’ll find out tomorrow.”
The Fleur de Lis on hiatus in 2011. Its 2010 running was won by Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick’s Rachel Alexandra, who earned “Horse of the Year” honors in 2009 for a campaign that included a victory in the Kentucky Oaks and wins over males in the Preakness (GI) and the Woodward (GI).
The Fleur de Lis is scheduled as Race 7 at 9:05 p.m. (all times Eastern).
HILLTOP WINNER COUP SHIPS IN FOR REGRET – Augustin Stable’s homebred Coup arrived at Churchill Downs on Thursday from trainer Graham Motion’s base at Fair Hill Training Center to seek her second stakes win in Saturday’s 43rd running of the $100,000-added Regret (GIII).
A bay daughter of Empire Maker, Coup will make her third start of the year in the Regret, which will be run at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course. Coup broke her maiden in the slop at Gulfstream Park in a maiden-special event originally carded for the turf and returned to take the 1 1/16-mile Hilltop on the grass at Pimlico by one length. She was ridden by John Velazquez for the first time in the Hilltop and he will be aboard Motion’s filly in the Regret.
“She arrived at Churchill in good order Thursday morning and she’s doing really well,” Motion said via phone from his barn at Fair Hill. “She worked really well in her one work since the race at Pimlico (six furlongs in 1:13.80 on the Tapeta at Fair Hill).”
Coup has just one off-the-board finish on her record, even though she has never crossed the line worse than second. She was disqualified from second and placed 10th in her career debut for causing interference in the stretch.
“She’s always acted like a nice filly,” Motion said. “The one strike against her is the race at Keeneland when she caused interference. We put blinkers on her after that race and it has helped her.”
Coup is the lone stakes winner in the field of 11 entered for the Regret, which is scheduled as Race 6 at 8:30 p.m., but Motion recognizes she must face a very good group of improving 3-year-old fillies in that test.
“I hope she’s able to move forward,” Motion said. “She will need to. There’s some tough competition.”
Motion said that there are no plans beyond the Regret for Coup at this time.
“How she does Saturday will guide where we go from here,” Motion said. “There are a lot of options.”
Motion added that he will not be in Louisville for the Regret and assistant Heather Craig will saddle the horse for the race.
Also on the van from Fair Hill on Thursday was Skara Glen Stable’s Colonial Flag, who is seeking her third-straight win in the Regret. A dark bay or brown daughter of Pleasant Tap, Colonial Flag will break from post three under Julien Leparoux, the 10th all-time leading rider at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Michael Matz, Colonial Flag’s lone defeat came in a one-mile maiden special on the turf at Gulfstream Park. She encountered traffic problems that day and had to check in the stretch.
HARTY LOOKS FOR RIGHT TO VOTE TO MOVE FORWARD OFF PETER PAN – Casner Racing LP and Sam Pollock’s Right to Vote ran second as the longest shot on the board in the Peter Pan (GII) and trainer Eoin Harty is hopeful the gelded son of Political Force will continue to move forward in Saturday night’s 15th running of the Matt Winn (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
The $100,000-added Matt Winn for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the main track at Churchill Downs is the first of four graded stakes races on the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program. It is scheduled as Race 5 at 7:57 p.m.
Right to Vote began his sophomore season with a victory in a 6 ½-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park in March and then stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in the Peter Pan. At odds of nearly 48-1, Right to Vote set the pace and had the lead in the stretch before being caught late by Mark Valeski.
“He was able to get the lead on his own and he set fast fractions, but he’s a fast horse,” Harty said. “I think that’s his best style of running.”
The Peter Pan was the second time Right to Vote hit the board in graded-stakes company at long odds. In his final start as a juvenile, Right to Vote finished third at 26-1 in the Champagne (GI) at Belmont Park behind recent Belmont Stakes (GI) winner Union Rags and Alpha.
"We’ve definitely thought highly of him since day one,” Harty said. “He’s always shown a lot of ability.”
The 5-2 morning-line favorite, Right to Vote will break from post three under Javier Castellano and Harty is expecting another top effort.
“He’s coming into the race really well,” Harty said. “He’s bright, happy and fit and we expect him to run accordingly.”
Harty was in Los Angeles on Friday morning, but said he is trying to make arrangements to be in Louisville on Saturday night to saddle Right to Vote for the Matt Winn.
BARN TALK – Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan is just two wins shy of becoming only the 18th rider in Churchill Downs history to reach the 400-win milestone beneath the Twin Spires. Bridgmohan, who will turn 33 on June 24, has mounts Friday in Races 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. …
John Oxley’s Funny Proposition will make her turf debut in Saturday’s Regret (GIII) on the Matt Winn Turf Course and assistant trainer Norman Casse said the race could be used as a prep for the Alabama (GI) at 1 ¼ miles on dirt at Saratoga on Aug. 18.
“She was sick and we had to scratch her from the Optimistic Gal,” Casse said. “We treated her and she’s worked well two times since then, so she’s over everything. The turf is a bit of a question mark for her, but we needed a place to run her to get her ready for some of the bigger dirt races this summer at Saratoga.”
A dark bay or brown daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, Funny Proposition has won two of her three career starts. She will break from post from post 11 under Miguel Mena. …
Nominations for the 111th running of the Bashford Manor (GIII) and the 22nd running of the Firecracker Handicap (GII) close Saturday, June 16. The $100,000-added Bashford Manor for 2-year-olds will be run at six furlongs on the main track on the ‘Downs After Dark’ program on June 30 and the $150,000-added Firecracker, a race for 3-year-olds and up at one mile on the Matt Winn Turf Course, will be run on July 1, closing day of the 2012 Spring Meet. …
Churchill Downs has added additional Pick 4 and Pick 5 wagers to its betting menu for Saturday’s star-studded Stephen Foster Handicap “Downs After Dark” racing program. There will be four Pick 4 wagers that evening and second is an all-stakes Pick 4 that concludes with the Grade I Foster, which is scheduled as the 8th event on the 11-race program. All Pick 4 wagers at Churchill Downs are 50-cent minimum bets and the Foster Night Pick 4 wagers will begin in the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th races. The program will feature a pair of Pick 5 bets, both 50-cent minimum wagers. The first begins in the 4th race, includes all four stakes events and will conclude with the Foster. The regular Pick 5 will cover races 7-11.
WORKTAB – Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton’s My Miss Aurelia, who capped-off an undefeated 2-year-old campaign with a three-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Churchill Downs last fall, breezed three furlongs Friday morning in :39.20 on the fast main track for trainer Steve Asmussen. A bay daughter of Smart Strike, My Miss Aurelia has not raced since her win in the Juvenile Fillies in early November. …
Briland Farm’s Absinthe Minded, a multiple stakes winner with six victories and $596,684 to her name, breezed four furlongs in :48.80 for trainer Wayne Lukas. The work was the sixth fastest of 43 at the distance.
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