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Busy Sunday for Stephen Foster Contenders at Churchill

| Churchill Downs Communications | 06/13/2011 #
  • Stephen Foster contender Mission Imazible, insider under jockey Manoel Cruz, worked five furlongs with Regret hopeful Excited.

  • Pool Play, who will make his dirt debut in the Foster, breezed Sunday under Melanie Giddings. (Reed Palmer, CD)

  • Jockey Manoel Cruz returned to the winner's circle aboard Early Times Mint Julep winner My Baby Baby, one of his five winners.

BUSY SUNDAY FOR STEPHEN FOSTER CONTENDERS – It was a busy Sunday morning for horses being pointed to compete in Saturday’s $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (Grade I) as four contenders – including the Virginia H. Tarra Trust’s high weight Giant Oak – were on the main track at Churchill Downs for their final pre-race works.

Other Foster hopefuls who worked on Sunday over a fast Churchill Downs surface included Preston Stable LLC’s Flat Out, Twin Creeks Racing Stable LLC’s Mission Impazible and William S. Farish Jr.’s Pool Play.

Giant Oak was out early at 6;30 a.m. (all times EDT) and breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60.  Jockey Eddie Perez was in the saddle for trainer Chris Block as the 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway worked in company with the Jim Baker-trained Westshore.  Giant Oak was timed in fractional splits of :12.40, :24.60 and :36.40, and galloped out six furlongs in :1:14.20.

The move by Giant Oak was the second-fastest of 41 at the distance.  Sunday’s “bullet” for the distance was the :59.40 move by trainer Bob Baffert’s stakes-winning sprinter Ventana.

"He breezed real well,” Block said.  “Jimmy Baker was kind enough to give us some company, and he needs that to focus in.  It was a good five-eights and I like the way he’s doing.  He’s coming into it as good as I’ve seen him come into one."

Giant Oak won Churchill Downs’ $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) last fall via the disqualification of Successful Dan.  He followed his Clark triumph with an emphatic victory in the Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park to start his 2011 season.

He will attempt to snap a two-race losing string in the Foster after he finished third in the New Orleans Handicap (GII) and fifth in the Alysheba (GIII) on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs.

Shaun Bridgmohan has the Foster mount on Giant Oak, who has been assigned high weight of 122 pounds for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.

A large and competitive field is shaping up for the 30th running of the Stephen Foster.  Although Giant Oak has a stretch-running style that is vulnerable to traffic issues, Block a big field could also work in his favor.

“We need a pace, and the shorter the field it seems that the pace doesn’t really set up well for us,” he said.  “I don’t a big field bothers me too much, because he comes around ‘em and he’s done that here before.  I’ve got a good rider and I feel good about it.”

Flat Out, runner-up in the Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII) on Memorial Day, worked five furlongs in 1:01.60 shortly after the track opened for training at 6 a.m.

The Scooter Dickey-trained son of Flatter had Corey Lanerie, the leading rider of the Spring Meet, in the irons as he covered the distance in fractions of :13.20, :25.20, :37.20 and :49.60.  Flat Out galloped out six furlongs in 1:15.

Dickey said Flat Out is close to “definite” for a Foster run.

“All systems are go,” Dickey said.  “Corey was pleased with the way he worked.”

Lanerie is committed for the Foster ride aboard Flat Out, whose career has been placed on hold several times because of quarter crack issues.  But Dickey said the 5-year-old’s feet are fine now.

"The horse is doing good, and he’s ready,” he said. “You don’t know with him.  He’s day-to-day if he gets another quarter crack.  But everything is good now.”

Mission Impazible, the winner of the New Orleans Handicap (GII) who ran 10th to Super Saver in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 after the maintenance break for trainer Todd Pletcher.

The 4-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song was ridden by jockey Manoel Cruz as he worked in company with Micheal Tabor’s Excited, a 3-year-old filly being pointed toward Saturday’s $125,000-added Regret Presented by Etihad Airways (GIII).

"He shipped in a few days ago (from Belmont) and he's been doing good,” said assistant Michael McCarthy, who oversees Pletcher’s Churchill Downs stable.  “He's an easy horse to work with. Everything went really well this morning and he seemed to finish up full of himself."

Javier Castellano is expected to ride Mission Impazible for Pletcher, who is looking for his first victory in the Stephen Foster Handicap.

Pool Play, a Mark Casse-trained 6-year-old who will make a belated debut on traditional dirt in the Stephen Foster, breezed four furlongs in :48.80 under exercise rider Melanie Giddings.  Pool Play galloped out five furlongs in 1:03.

"We were just looking for something easy with him,” said assistant Norman Casse, the trainer’s son who oversees his father’s stable at Churchill Downs.

The younger Casse said Miguel Mena would ride Pool Play in the Foster.  The most recent effort by the son of Silver Deputy was a runner-up finish to Musketier in the 1 ½-mile Elkhorn (GII) on turf at Keeneland.

Trainer Clark Hanna reported that Don L. Benge’s A.U. Miner came out of a Saturday work well and remains “possible” to run in the Stephen Foster.  But the 6-year-old son of Mineshaft, a troubled fourth in his most recent start in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Churchill Downs, has been entered in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Friday’s “Downs After Dark” night racing program and could run there instead of the Foster.

Foster contenders stabled outside of Churchill Downs have been busy in recent days.

California-based Crown of Thorns turned up for his journey to Kentucky for the Stephen Foster on Saturday with a six-furlong work in 1:13.40 over a “fast” surface at Santa Anita.

Spendthrift Farm’s 6-year-old son of Repent won the Grade II Mervyn LeRoy at Hollywood Park last time out – the first victory for the talented, but often-injured veteran since a win in the Robert B. Lewis (GII) at Santa Anita in his 3-year-old season in 2008.  An injury after that victory knocked him out of consideration for the Kentucky Derby.  He had six well-spaced losses from his return to racing in 2009 through his 2011 debut in a seventh-place finish in Santa Anita’s Portrero Grande (GII), but those setbacks included four consecutive runner-up finishes in Grade I events.  One was a narrow loss in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI).

Crown of Thorns is scheduled to travel to Churchill Downs for the Foster on a Tuesday flight from Southern California.  Other Foster contenders scheduled to be on the flight include Donald Dizney’s Alysheba (GIII) winner and 2010 Preakness (GI) runner-up First Dude and C R K Stable’s Gladding, the John Sadler-trained winner of Santa Anita’s San Antonio (GII) and runner-up in Lone Star Park’s recent Texas Mile (GIII).

First Dude and Gladding both worked Sunday in California.  The former worked five furlongs in :59.60 for trainer Bob Baffert at Santa Anita.  Gladding breezed six furlongs in 1:12 at Hollywood Park.

In New York, trainer Nick Zito worked Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable’s Foster hopeful Equestrio a half-mile in :47 on Saturday at Saratoga.  The 4-year-old son of Elusive Quality, third in the five-horse blanket finish in his stakes debut in the Alysheba, will ship to Churchill Downs later in the week.

Meanwhile, Foster contender Duke of Mischief worked a half-mile in :48 at Florida’s Calder Race Course on Saturday in preparation for his Foster run.  The David Fawkes-trained son of Graeme Hall comes into the Foster off a 2 ½-length victory in the $1 million Charles Town Classic (GIII).

Godolphin’s Regal Ransom, winner of the UAE Derby (GII) and Super Derby (GII) in 2009, is scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs on Monday.  The Saeed bin-Suroor-trained son of Distorted Humor was nipped at the wire in his runner-up finish to First Dude in the Alysheba.

Horses considered likely for the Stephen Foster include: Apart (Al Stall Jr., 118); Crown of Thorns (Mandella, 121); Duke of Mischief (Fawkes, 118); Equestrio (Zito, 116); First Dude (Baffert, 119); Flat Out (Dickey, 114); Gladding (Sadler, 117); Giant Oak (Block, 122); Mission Impazible (Pletcher, 118); and Regal Ransom (bin Suroor, 117).

REGRET HOPEUL HOLIDAYSATTHEFARM IN GOOD FORM FOLLOWING LAYOFF Glen Hill Farm’s homebred Holidaysatthefarm will make her Churchill Downs debut Saturday in the Grade III, $125,000-added Regret Presented by Etihad Airways, although her first start of the year at Churchill Downs will come later than trainer Tom Proctor had hoped.

The 3-year-old daughter of 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones has not raced since an eighth-place finish behind Dynamic Holiday in the Herecomesthebride (GIII) at Gulfstream Park on Mar. 13.  The three-month layoff that commenced after that setback was not Proctor’s original plan for Holidaysatthefarm.

“I wanted to run her on Kentucky Oaks Day (in the Edgewood at 1 1/16 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course), but she was scratched by the vets,” Proctor said. “Then I tried to run her in an allowance race, but it came off the turf, so I scratched her.”

Proctor prefers to look at the longer-than-expected break for his filly as a possible blessing in disguise.

"The layoff has actually done her good,” Proctor said. “This filly is doing really well.”

After being beaten by a combined 23 lengths in two starts at Gulfstream earlier this year, Proctor hopes Holidaysatthefarm will display a form in the Regret that is more comparable to her runner-up finish to Dynamic Holiday in February’s Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs.

“I think she’ll like the turf course here,” Proctor said. “She didn’t run any good at Gulfstream in either of her races, even when she was third (beaten 12 lengths by Regret rival Kathmanblu in the Sweetest Chant on Jan. 22). But the race at Tampa … now that was a good race.”

Three-year-old fillies under consideration for Saturday’s 42nd running of the Regret for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course: Bizzy Caroline (trained by Ken McPeek); Blushandbashful (John Terranova II); Bouquet Booth (Steve Margolis); Diva Ash (Dale Romans); Excited (Todd Pletcher); Gaya (Tom Amoss); Holidaysatthefarm (Tom Proctor); Kathmanblu (McPeek); My Phi Temper (Ronny Werner); and Sassy’s Dream (McPeek).

UNCLE BRENT FIRES ‘BULLET’ IN PREP FOR MATT WINN – Lynn Whiting, a Churchill Downs veteran best known as the trainer of the late W.C. Partee’s 1992 Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee, was looking for a good work on Sunday from Charles Cella’s Uncle Brent in preparation for a start in Saturday’s $125,000-added Matt Winn Presented by Emirates Equestrian Federation (GIII).

The 3-year-old son of Pioneering did not disappoint as he breezed a “bullet” four furlongs in :46.80 over the fast main track. The breeze was the fastest of 37 moves at the distance. Manoel Cruz was in the irons for the work and will be aboard Uncle Brent in the Matt Winn.

"He’s a quality horse and I wanted to give him a sharp work,” said Whiting, who hopes to collect his first stakes victory beneath the Twin Spires since saddling Cat’s Career to a win in the 1997 Ack Ack (GIII). “He may have gone a tad too fast.  I would have preferred if he went 47 and change, but I guess he wasn’t too far from that. Overall it was a very nice work.”

Uncle Brent will enter the Matt Winn off a disappointing ninth-place finish behind Alternation in the Peter Pan (GII) at Belmont Park.

"It was a new track and he got tired,” Whiting said. “He was never able to change leads (in the Peter Pan) and that didn’t help. He’s a much better horse than what he showed that day.”

Uncle Brent has a record of 2-1-0 from four starts and earnings of $91,800. The biggest win of his career came in the $100,000 Northern Spur at Oaklawn Park, the Hot Springs, Ark. track where his owner serves as president.

Three-year-olds under consideration for Saturday’s 14th running of the Matt Winn (formerly the Northern Dancer) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles: Alstom (trained by D. Wayne Lukas); Bind (Al Stall Jr.); Dominus (Steve Asmussen); Infrattini (Paul McGee); Joe Vann (Todd Pletcher); Uncle Brent (Whiting) and Wilburn (Asmussen).

TRAINER SIMMS TO MAKE RARE STAKES APPEARANCE IN JEFFERSON CUP – Veteran trainer Garry Simms, who has waged a battle with melanoma since early 2010, spoke of his health issues a few weeks back and said: “There’s nothing that a fast horse can’t fix.”

Simms was speaking specifically of Tanzana, his winner of the 2010 Cradle Stakes at River Downs, but Simms hopes he has another “fast horse” in his barn in the promising Redboard.

Burr Travis Racing VI’s lightly-raced son of Flower Alley is being pointed to Saturday’s $100,000-added Jefferson Cup Presented by Abu Dhabi (GIII).  Redboard comes into his stakes debut after breaking his maiden on the Matt Winn Turf Course earlier in the meet under apprentice rider Marcelino Pedroza Jr.

"That was only his second start and his first time on the turf,” Simms said. “He won so impressively that day that I’m going to give him a shot in the Matt Winn.”

The 3-year-old gelding will be Simms’ first stakes starter beneath the Twin Spires since he saddled Wheelin Dealin for a fourth-place finish in the Churchill Downs Turf Sprint in 1995.

“I’ve had some other good ones in my career that could have run in stakes here,” Simms said. “But we’ve always taken the money when someone has wanted to buy the horse for a good number.

“With my current condition, I think we will keep him (Redboard) for awhile, but if the number is right then we may end up selling him, too. Obviously his price would go way up if he wins Saturday, and I really think he is going to run well.”

Redboard tuned-up for the Jefferson Cup with a five furlong work at Churchill Downs on Saturday in 1:03.60.

"It was a nice maintenance work for him,” Simms said. “He just ran a couple of weeks ago so we didn’t want him going too fast. It was perfect.”

Leandro Goncalves, who has ridden three winners at the 2011 Spring Meet, will be aboard Redboard in the Jefferson Cup.

Known horses under consideration for Saturday’s Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course: Banned (trained by Tom Proctor); Chalice (Kellyn Gorder); Chinglish (Mark Hennig); Derby Kitten (Mike Maker); Dream Warrior (Eddie Kenneally); Perregaux (Neil Howard); Redboard (Garry Simms); and Swagger Jack (Darrin Miller).

NOMINATIONS FOR CHURCHILL DOWNS’ FIRST ARABIAN RACE - Churchill Downs will hold its first for horses of the Arabian breed Saturday as part of the Stephen Foster Day Presented by Abu Dhabi card.

The $50,000-added The President of United Arab Emirates Cup (Grade I) will feature a field of Arabian horses ages 4 and up at the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles.

Nominees to the race include: A Ladys Man (trained by Lynn Ashby); Another Color (Renee Lafleur); Crownn Royal (Ashby); Dixies Valentine (Tracy Nunley); Full of Fiesta (Greg Ketter); Grilla (Bill Waldron); Ovour the Top (Ashby); T M Fred Texas (Ronald Martino); Vip (Martino); and Wodkka (Lafleur).

Grilla won an April installment of The President of the United Arab Emirates Cup at Keeneland.

CRUZ SAVORS FIVE-WIN DAY AT CHURCHILL DOWNS– If there were horsemen and racing fans who had not been convinced that jockey Manoel Cruz made the proper decision when he departed his longtime base at Florida’s Calder Race Course for a new Kentucky home at Churchill Downs, the transplanted rider’s day at the Downs on Saturday could have sealed the deal.

Cruz scored five wins on the program, topped by a victory aboard Magdalena Racing’s My Baby Baby in the $100,000-added Early Times Mint Julep (GIII) for his most successful day beneath the historic Louisville track’s Twin Spires.

“It was my biggest day here, but I hope it’s my first big day,” Cruz said.  “I want plenty of those big days.  That would make me happy and I’m going to work toward that.”

His spectacular day improved the Spring Meet victory total for the 41-year-old native of Brazil to 14.  He entered Sunday’s races tied with Jon Court for seventh in the leading rider standings.

Cruz had long considered a move to Kentucky, but was hesitant to leave the comfort of life at Calder, where he had dominated the riding colony in recent years.  But Kentucky-based trainer Ken McPeek finally convinced Cruz to make the move to the Bluegrass State, and veteran Steve Elzey was enlisted as his agent.

“I appreciate what Ken McPeek did to bring me here,” Cruz said.  “I wanted to come and he pushed me.  It was not easy to leave Florida.  I was leading jockey there every year and it was hard to leave, but I’m glad I did.”

A look at his Cruz’s Florida numbers makes it easy to understand his comfort level at Calder.  Cruz won six riding crowns at the track, which include three Calder meets and a trio of Tropical-at-Calder titles.  He won 1,371 races at Calder and added another 584 victories at the Tropical-at-Calder meet.  Those totals rank second all-time at the respective meets.  When the totals are combined, Cruz is Calder’s all-time leading jockey.

He had limited experience at Churchill Downs heading into his first spring in Kentucky. He had participated in a single Kentucky Derby prior to his move: an 11th-place finish aboard Smooth Air in the 2008 Run for the Roses.  Saturday’s victory aboard My Baby Baby was his second stakes win of the meet, both for McPeek.  He had he piloted Salty Strike to win last week’s $100,000-added Dogwood (GIII).

At the conclusion of the Churchill Downs meet, Cruz and Elzey will head to New York to ride at the prestigious Saratoga meet.  Then it’s back to Kentucky for the fall at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.

“I always wanted to move to this place, and my opportunity came,” Cruz said.  “I love Kentucky and I’ve come to stay.  I’m going to do the best I can to work hard and do the job.”

BARN TALK – Early Times Mint Julep winner My Baby Baby will more than likely be retired following her first stakes victory at Churchill Downs, according to McPeek. The 6-year-old daughter of Bernstein has already begun her career as a broodmare and won the Mint Julep while in-foal to the two-time Horse of the Year Curlin on a Feb. 12 cover. …

My Baby Baby gave McPeek his third consecutive stakes win at Churchill Downs. McPeek had previously won the Grade III Dogwood with Salty Strike and the Grade III Aristides with Noble’s Promise on June 4. …

Leading rider Corey Lanerie collected three more wins Saturday at Churchill Downs. With 34 wins this spring, Lanerie is now 10 ahead of Shaun Bridgmohan, who is currently second in the jockey standings. Lanerie has never won a riding title at the Louisville track. …

WORKTAB – Zayat Stables LLC’s Joe Vann, who won the Grade III Illinois Derby prior to a fourth place finish in the Grade II Peter Pan in his most recent start, worked five furlongs over a “fast” Churchill Downs track in 1:01.40 for trainer Todd Pletcher. The 3-year-old son of Silver Deputy recently shipped to Churchill Downs from New York and is under consideration for Saturday’s Matt Winn.

Charles E. Fipke’s Seeking the Title, who won the 2010 edition of the Grade III Iowa Oaks and finished eighth in the Grade II La Troienne Presented by Blackberry/RIM in her most recent start, worked four furlongs in :47.60 Sunday morning for trainer Dallas Stewart.

Michael Tabor’s Excited, winner of the Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico on May 20, completed a five furlong work in 1:01.40 while working in company with Stephen Foster hopeful, Mission Impazible, after the renovation break Sunday for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman’s Ventana, who won the Grade III Maryland Sprint Handicap at Pimlico in her most recent start, worked five furlongs in :59.40, which was the fastest time of 41 workers at the distance Sunday.

Dundalk 5 LLC’s Dundalk Dust, who captured the Grade II Falls City Handicap beneath the Twin Spires last November, breezed six furlongs in 1:14 for trainer Chris Block on Sunday morning.

WHO’S HOT – The hottest jockeys over the last five racing days (June 4-11) are Corey Lanerie (9-for-35), Julien Leparoux (7-for-24) and Manny Cruz (7-for-32). Ken McPeek (4-for-12) and Tom Amoss (3-for-4) are the hottest trainers over the same period. The hottest owners are Maggi Moss (2-for-2) and Charles E. Fipke (2-for-5).

WEATHER – Sunday: mostly sunny, 83. Monday: mostly sunny, 83. Tuesday: partly sunny with a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 85. Wednesday: mostly cloudy with a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 87. Thursday: partly sunny with a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 85. Friday: mostly sunny, 89. Saturday: partly sunny with a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 90.