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Peitz Sees Tajaaweed as "Horse to Beat" in Saturday's River City

| Churchill Downs Communications | 11/17/2011 #
  • Arlington Handicap winner Tajaaweed is the "horse to beat" in the River City in the eyes of trainer Dan Peitz. (Four Footed )

  • Julien Leparoux (Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs)

  • Giant Oak and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan returned to the winner's circle after the 2010 Clark Handicap. (Reed Palmer, CD)

PEITZ SEES TAJAAWEED AS ‘HORSE TO BEAT’ IN SATURDAY’S RIVER CITY Shadwell Stable’s Tajaaweed, winner of the Arlington Handicap (Grade III) in July, faces eight rivals as the 119-pound high weight in Saturday’s 34th running of the River City Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Downs, but trainer Dan Peitz sees the 6-year-old son of Dynaformer as the one to beat.

“I haven’t really analyzed the race too much, but I looked it over and we’re the high weight and look to be the horse to beat,” Peitz said.

Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia believes the public will also see Tajaaweed as the horse to beat and made him the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the River City, which will be contested at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course.

Tajaaweed, who will break from post eight under Jesus Castanon, will enter the River City off a sixth-place finish in Keeneland’s Shadwell Turf Mile (GI), a race in which he faced such accomplished runners as three-time Eclipse Award-winner Gio Ponti, Get Stormy, Sidney’s Candy – all contenders in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) – and Wise Dan, winner of the Firecracker Handicap (GII) at Churchill Downs.

“We were taking a shot in the Shadwell (Turf Mile) and were hoping to get third or fourth,” Peitz said. “It might have been a little short for him and he really didn’t get the kind of pace he needed to close.

“The River City distance is more what he wants and the competition is softer.  He’s had two really good works at Trackside and is coming into the race in good shape.”

The River City will be the third start on the Matt Winn Turf Course for Tajaaweed. He finished fifth in an allowance race in June of 2010 and this spring he was second to Turallure in the Opening Verse.

“Both of his races on the turf at Churchill have been pretty good,” Peitz said. “I know he was fifth in the allowance, but he was very wide throughout. Then he only lost by a length to Turallure in the stake. If he runs the same race he did in the Opening Verse then I think it might make him a winner.”

Since the Opening Verse, Turallure has recorded wins in the Bernard Baruch (GII) and Ricoh Woodbine Mile (GI) and finished second by a nose to Court Vision in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile.

“I wish Tajaaweed would have moved up after the Opening Verse as much as Turallure did,” Peitz said.

The River City is the ninth of 10 races on Saturday with a scheduled post time of 4:37 p.m. EST.

LEPAROUX EYES FIFTH STRAIGHT FALL MEET TITLE Julien Leparoux recorded his 23rd win of the meet aboard Cozzetti in Wednesday’s eighth race and entered Thursday’s action with a 23-to-15 lead over Corey Lanerie in his pursuit of a fifth consecutive Fall Meet riding title at Churchill Downs.

“Things are going really well again this meet,” Leparoux said. “I’ve had good momentum and have been getting on some good horses. It’s going great.”

Leparoux, who has won eight riding titles overall beneath the Twin Spires, has collected 526 career victories at Churchill Downs and already ranks tenth among all-time leading riders as the historic track.  Despite his rapid and sustained success, the 28-year-old native of Senlis, France is still hungry for more.

“Winning never gets old and I’m always trying to win,” Leparoux said. “I’m always trying to ride the best horses.”

Leparoux has definitely collected a lot of hardware as he counts 36 stakes victories at Churchill Downs during his relatively brief career at the Louisville track, but one race is conspicuously missing from his resumé.

“I want to win a Kentucky Derby,” Leparoux said. “That is the ultimate goal. Every year we are looking for a horse that might be the one to get me there.”

Leparoux has ridden in five Kentucky Derbys with his best effort being a fifth-place  finish aboard Sedgefield in the 2007 renewal. This year Leparoux rode favored Dialed In to an eighth-place finish.

At the conclusion of the Fall Meet, Leparoux will move his tack to Miami to ride at Gulfstream Park.

MORALES RECORDS HIS SECOND RIDING DOUBLE OF FALL MEET – Leading apprentice-rider Roberto Morales recorded his second riding double of the 2011 Fall Meet on Wednesday at Churchill Downs with wins aboard Sympathy Act in the third race and Killin Time in the finale. The two wins brought Morales’ total to four for the meet, which ties him for sixth in the overall jockey standings.

“The meet is going great,” said agent Julio Espinoza, the ninth all-time leading rider at Churchill Downs with 642 victories. “He’s got a lot of talent and always gives 100%. He’s also versatile and can ride speed horses or come from the back.”

Morales, a 21-year-old native of Aibonito, Puerto Rico, has made a lot of noise on the Kentucky-circuit since he moved his tack to the Bluegrass State in May. He recorded one victory from a handful of mounts at the end of the Churchill Downs Spring Meet, but then second in the Ellis Park jockey standings to three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel.

Morales followed the strong effort at the Henderson track by capturing his first career riding title in the Fall Meet at Turfway Park, where he rode 32 winners from 121 mounts.

“He rode great throughout the whole meet at Turfway,” Espinoza said. “If we had another day or two, we would have broken (Julien) Leparoux’s Fall Meet record (36 wins).”

Espinoza attributes Morales’ success to his work ethic and eagerness to learn.

“He works hard in the morning and exercises a lot of horses,” Espinoza said. “I try to teach him as much as I can and it’s helping.”

At the conclusion of the Churchill Downs Fall Meet, Morales will move his tack to Turfway Park for the Holiday Meet, which begins Dec. 1.

BARN TALK – The Virginia Tarra Trust’s Giant Oak will attempt to defend his title in the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I) on Friday, Nov. 25.  The son of Giant’s Causeway will ship to the Louisville track Tuesday, according to Drew Coontz, assistant trainer to Chris Block. Giant Oak will enter the Clark off a third-place finish the Breeders’ Cup Marathon (GII). …

In other news at the Chris Block barn, Never Retreat, who breezed six furlongs in 1:14.40 at Churchill Downs on Sunday, will ship to Hollywood Park on Monday for a start in the Matriarch (Grade I) on Nov. 25. Never Retreat won the First Lady (GI) at Keeneland in her most recent start. …

Ready’s Rocket, winner of 10 races beneath the Twin Spires, came out of his most recent race at Churchill Downs last Thursday with a displaced palate, according to trainer Tim Glyshaw. An 8-year-old gelded son of More Than Ready, Ready’s Rocket will be pointed to a starter-allowance race at Churchill Downs on closing day of the 21-day Fall Meet on Nov. 27.

WHO’S HOT – The hottest jockey over the last five racing days (Nov. 10-16) is Julien Leparoux (9-for-30). Mike Maker (5-for-11) is the hottest trainer over the same period and Ken and Sarah Ramsey (4-for-7) are the hottest owners.

WORKTABJay Em Ess Stable’s Worldly breezed five furlongs in 1:03.20 on a good main track at Churchill Downs on Thursday morning for trainer Paul McGee. The work was the ninth fastest of 13 at the distance. …

Charles Cella’s Uncle Brent, winner of the Northern Spur at Oaklawn Park, breezed five furlongs Thursday morning in 1:02.80 for trainer Lynn Whiting. The work was the eighth fastest of 13 at the distance.