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LoPresti Shooting for Third Firecracker Win with Villandry

| Churchill Downs Communications | 06/26/2014 #
  • Firecracker contender Villandry rallied to win a strong allowance race on May 9 (Reed Palmer, Churchill Downs)

  • Charlie LoPresti, trainer of Firecracker hope Villandry (Reed Palmer, Churchill Downs)

  • Maiden winner Take Charge Brandi bound for Saratoga's Schuylerville (Reed Palmer, Churchill Downs)

  • Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas trains Take Charge Brandi (Reed Palmer, Churchill Downs)

Trainer Charlie LoPresti will bid for his third win in four years in Saturday’s $200,000-added Firecracker (Grade II) – not with two-time horse of the year and defending champion Wise Dan, but with Gainesway Stable’s Villandry, who is seeking his first stakes win.

Villandry, coming off a runner-up effort to Regally Ready in the Opening Verse on May 31, will break from post position six in an eight-horse field Saturday.

“Villandry has been doing really well,” LoPresti said. “I really like our post position in the six-hole rather than being stuck down on the inside. It looks like there’s going to be a lot of speed up front this time around, which is conducive to his running style.”

Villandry was sixth in the seven-horse Opening Verse after the first quarter-mile, and seventh through the half-mile up to the sixth furlong. He swung six-wide in the stretch and was able to rally late, finishing second by three-quarters of a length to Regally Ready, who also returns for the Firecracker.

“I think it’s going to set up for a horse like ours if he runs his race,” LoPresti said. “I’m a little questionable about the mile. A mile and a sixteenth would suit me better, but you don’t always get to pick and choose where you go and what you do.

“I was going to put Set the Sail in there, too, but I think it would be hurting our chances with Villandry. The only way the other horse wins is if he’s close to the pace, then yes it will set it up well for Villandry, but I don’t want to use my other horse to do that, so I’m taking him to Indiana.”

The Firecracker is the featured eighth race on Saturday’s Churchill Downs card, which also features the $100,000-added Bashford Manor (GIII) as Race 6 and the $65,000 Kelly’s Landing as Race 7.

“I haven’t seen the morning-line odds but I would guess we would probably be the third or fourth choice,” LoPresti said. “We just got beat a head to Regally Ready, another stride and we would have had him in that last one, and with Silver Max coming off that long layoff, who knows what he’s going to do. So I like our chances.”

LoPresti won the 2011 and 2013 editions of the Firecracker with Wise Dan, who was sidelined due to emergency colic surgery last month. LoPresti is hoping for the champion to make a return in the August 9 Fourstardave Handicap (GII) at Saratoga.

“It’d be really awesome if our horse could step up and win this race for us again,” LoPresti said. “We’re excited and definitely think we have a shot.”

SKYWAY SEEKS TO EMERGE AS A PROMINENT 2-YEAR-OLD FOR CASSE

Coming off an impressive 6 ¾-length victory at Keeneland in his debut, John C. Oxley’s Skyway will tackle a field of five other 2-year-olds in Saturday’s $100,000-added Bashford Manor (GIII) at Churchill Downs in hopes to become the first 2-year-old of the year to achieve graded stakes glory.

After breaking his maiden going 4 ½ furlongs on April 5, Skyway looks to give trainer Mark Casse his first Bashford Manor win, breaking from the rail in post position one.

“They only sent up a handful of 2-year-olds to Keeneland that they really thought could run and he was one of them,” Casse’s assistant and son Norman Casse said. “He obviously ran a really big race, which was what we expected.

“The one big disadvantage of winning with a 2-year-old at Keeneland is that you have virtually nowhere to run afterwards,” Casse said. “But I feel like we’ve really done well with him getting him ready.

“He seems to really like the track and we’ve worked him with some of our more talented horses and he’s been right there with them, so he should be fit and ready to go.”

The Bashford Manor is the sixth race on Saturday’s card.

TAKE CHARGE BRANDI EXITS DEBUT IN GOOD FORM, SCHUYLERVILLE NEXT

Following her 2 ½-length debut victory, Willis D. Horton’s Take Charge Brandi was reported in good shape and will point to the $150,000 Schuylerville (GIII) on July 18, the opening day of the 2014 Saratoga meeting for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

“She came out perfect,” Lukas said. “It was a very easy race for her and we’ll point for the Schuylerville up at Saratoga next.”

Take Charge Brandi is out of a half-sister to champion Will Take Charge, also owned by Horton and trained by Lukas, who was second in the Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (GI) in his last start under the Twin Spires.

“It’s such a great family,” Lukas said. “Other than them both being chestnuts I think they both move really well and have just a good efficiency of motion. I don’t think a distance is going to be any problem for the filly and it’s not for Will Take Charge either. I’d say they both are without distance limitations.”

Lukas also mentioned that the Whitney Invitational Handicap (GI) on Aug. 2 would be a likely next start for Will Take Charge.

The connections of Lukas and Horton also have Laurie’s Rocket, who has drawn post two for Saturday’s $65,000-added Kelly’s Landing.

“It’s a big step forward,” Lukas said. “He’s coming off a long layoff, but there was really no place else to run him. We were trying to get him in something else but we just couldn’t get the races to go. We’re probably going to need this race to set us up for Saratoga. He likes the track and likes the distance but like I think he might just need a race.”

‘ROCKIN’ IN THE USA’ THEME AT DOWNS AFTER DARK THIS FRIDAY

Churchill Downs will host its final “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois & Finlandia Vodka” of the Spring Meet on Friday night.

Themed as “Rockin’ in the USA,” guests are encouraged to dress in a mix of denim and Americana for a night deemed ‘A Tribute to Rock and Roll” with a performance in the Plaza by the popular Juice Box Heroes.

The final “Downs After Dark” also includes the popular text-to-win sweepstakes “Bet or No Bet,” sponsored by Thorntons. Four lucky on-track patrons will face a tough decision on Races 6-9: to place a $1,000 win bet on a horse in the upcoming race or take a $100 Thorntons’ gift card.

RESERVE YOUR SEATS FOR THE ‘TERRACE LOUNGE’ ON FRIDAY NIGHT

For Friday’s “Downs After Dark” Spring Meet finale, Churchill Downs will transform the new Grandstand Terrace into the “Terrace Lounge,” a 21-and-over lounge-style environment that features a live DJ, club/lounge style lighting and décor, premium food and cocktails and use of the grandstand terrace’s patio and stadium style seating.

Tickets to Downs After Dark in the lounge are $25 and can be reserved in advance with a limited total capacity. The Terrace Lounge will be available at all three Downs After Dark events this Spring, with the hopes of continuing it again in the future if successful.

For $99 per ticket, Churchill Downs is also offering Terrace Lounge VIP Cabana seating, which includes an open bar from 7-11 p.m., a premium buffet designed by Chef David Danielson and concierge wait service. These tickets reserve special plush seating for groups of any number within one of the four covered cabanas at the end of the Grandstand Terrace.

‘PEB’ ON HAND TO UPDATE COLORFUL DERBY MURALS

Acclaimed Thoroughbred racing cartoonist Pierre Bellocq, better known to generations of horse racing fans as “PEB,” will update his colorful, masterpiece murals on the second floor of the Clubhouse ITW area that depict every jockey and trainer that have won the Kentucky Derby.

PEB is scheduled to sketch and paint the images of California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman and update the image of two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Victor Espinoza starting on Friday at 11 a.m.

$1 BEER, HOT DOGS, SODAS & WATER FOR SUNDAY’S CLOSING DAY PROGRAM

Churchill Downs Racetrack has a special “thank you” for its fans on Sunday’s closing day 10-race program. “Fan Appreciation Day” will feature $1 food and drink specials including 16-ounce domestic beers at all locations where draft beer is served, 22-ounce Pepsi fountain drinks, bottled waters and hot dogs. Also, members of the military – both active duty and retired – will be admitted free on Sunday when they present a military I.D.

CLOSING WEEK AT CHURCHILL DOWNS

Thursday, June 26 – Senior Day

  • 9 races from 12:45-4:48 p.m. (Gates: 11:30 a.m.)
  • Feature (Race 7 at 3:47 p.m.): $55,000 alw opt clm, f & m, 1 1/16 M
  • Box Office hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Friday, June 27 – Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka: Rockin’ in the USA

  • 10 races from 6-10:57 p.m. (Gates: 4:00 p.m.)
  • Feature (Race 8 at 9:50 p.m.): $56,000 alw opt clm, f&m, 1 1/16 M (T)
  • Wagering menu includes three 50-cent Pick 4s (Races 1-4, 3-6 and 7-10), two 50-cent Pick 5s (Races 2-6 and 6-10), 20-cent Single 6 Jackpot (Races 5-10) and $1 Super Hi-5 (Race 10)
  • Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka
  • Theme: Rockin’ in the USA. A pre-Fourth of July holiday celebration with denim, Americana and lots of red, white and blue.
  • Entertainment on the Plaza stage by Juice Box Heroes
  • Possible “Elvis” sighting?
  • Bet or No Bet Presented by Thorntons. Four lucky on-track patrons will face a tough decision on Races 6-9: to place a $1,000 win bet on a horse in the upcoming race or take a $100 Thorntons’ gift card.
  • Entertainment emcee on the Big Board: Diaz from “Diaz and Jess” on New Country Q103.1
  • 21-and-over “Terrace Lounge” ticket for $25 available in Grandstand Terrace and includes DJ entertainment with access to purchase premium food and beverage offerings.
  • 21-and-over “Terrace Lounge VIP Cabanas” available for $99 and includes four-hour open bar and tapas buffet
  • Box Office hours: 12 to 9 p.m.

Saturday, June 28 – Stakes Tripleheader

  • 10 races from 12:45-5:18 p.m. (Gates: 11:30 a.m.)
  • Feature (Race 8 at 4:18 p.m.): $200,000-added Firecracker (GII), 3 & up, 1 M (T)
  • Co-feature (Race 6 at 3:16 p.m.): $100,000-added Bashford Manor (GIII), 2 yo, 6 F
  • Co-feature (Race 7 at 3:47 p.m.): $65,000-added Kelly’s Landing, 3&up, 7 F
  • Box Office hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Sunday, June 29 – Fan Appreciation Day / Closing Day

  • 10 races from 12:45-5:18 p.m. (Gates: 11:30 a.m.)
  • Feature: $56,000 alw opt clm, f&m, 7 F
  • $1 domestic draft beer (16 oz.)
  • $1 Pepsi product fountain drinks (22 oz.)
  • $1 bottled water
  • $1 hot dogs
  • Free general admission for all active and retired members of the United States armed forces
  • Salute Spring Meet Champion Jockey, Trainer and Owner between races
  • Charity: $15,000 check presentation to Sullivan University for their contributions to Taste of Derby (after Race 6)
  • Box Office hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.