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Crown of Thorns Gets Feel for Churchill Track

| Churchill Downs Communications | 06/15/2011 #
  • Spendthrift Farm's Crown of Thorns galloped Wednesday at Churchill Downs. (Reed Palmer, Churchill Downs)

  • Clark Handicap winner and possible Stephen Foster favorite Giant Oak galloped Wednesday at Churchill Downs. (Reed Plamer)

  • Godolphin's Regal Ransom, runner-up in the Alysheba, galloped Wednesday in preparation for the Stephen Foster. (Reed Palmer, CD)

  • Stonestreet Stables' Wilburn was entered n the Matt Winn following the defection of stablemate Dominus. (Reed Palmer)

CROWN OF THORNS HAS FIRST TRIP OVER CHURCHILL DOWNS TRACK – It was a long time coming, but Spendthrift Farm LLC’s Crown of Thorns finally had his first gallop over the historic one-mile track at Churchill Downs on Wednesday.

The trip around the track by the 6-year-old son of Repent was more than three years in the making.  First aimed toward the revered Twin Spires as a 3-year-old looking toward the Kentucky Derby, Crown of Thorns will make his Churchill Downs debut, and his first start outside of southern California, in Saturday’s 30th running of the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (Grade I).

Crown of Thorns has raced only 10 times in his career, but has performed impressively despite a string of injuries that have kept him from truly gaining momentum since he launched his racing career in late 2007.  As a 3-year-old he looked like a major Kentucky Derby threat after winning the Robert B. Lewis (GII) at Santa Anita, but was injured a short time later and went on the shelf for a year and half.  Crown of Thorns finally returned to competition in Sept. 2009, but would run only five times over the next 15 months.  The last four of those were strong runner-up finishes in Grade I races, including a nose loss to Dancing in Silks in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) at Santa Anita.

Crown of Thorns was being pointed toward last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Churchill Downs, but a minor knee problem knocked him out of that race just before his scheduled journey to Louisville.

Mandella was at Churchill Downs on Wednesday to watch Crown of Thorn’s first gallop over the traditional dirt surface at the Louisville track.

“He’s a horse I’ve always been close to,” Mandella said.  “He’s a very classy horse to be around and has a very nice mind.  He’s got a ton of talent, but he’s accident-prone.”

Crown of Thorns is coming off a victory over the accomplished Sidney’s Candy in the Mervyn Leroy (GII) over the synthetic Cushion Track surface at Hollywood Park.  It was his second start of 2011.

Now Mandella’s veteran will attempt to grab the first Grade I victory of his career in the 1 1/8-mile Foster.  A good run by Crown of Thorns over the racing strip at Churchill Downs could be important if Mandella’s stays healthy and earns another trip to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be run for the second consecutive year in November at Churchill Downs.

"It’s a well-respected race with a lot of money, and you don’t get too many chances with this guy,” Mandella said.  “So you go for the gold.  I think having a run over this racetrack and seeing how he likes it is important.

“The timing is the most important thing with him. You fit him where it works.  It (the Stephen Foster) came up at the right time.  I don’t want to plan two weeks from now and find out I missed my plan two weeks ago.  You put several options on the plate, and not just with him.  You do it with all the horses.  You’d better not let them know your plans.”

Tyler Baze, who was aboard Crown of Thorns in the Mervyn Leroy, will fly in from California for the ride in the Stephen Foster.  Crown of Thorns’ record in his 10 career races stands at 3-4-1 and he has earned $777,080.

The first-place check in the Foster would push Mandella’s lightly-raced star past the $1 million mark in earnings, though the veteran trainer is neither counting on that milestone nor concerned about it.  He’s hoping for a good effort by Crown of Thorns and that his star comes out of the race well.  After that he’ll consider a next step that will be in the best interest of the horse that he has handled like fine china.

There’s no reason for Mandella, or Crown of Thorns, to rush into anything now.

“I just do the best we can,” Mandella said.  “We don’t cry over anything.  We’re glad to have him.

"With these horses you just appreciate when you’ve got ‘em, and appreciate it when it works. … I’ve learned to appreciate what happens when it happens.”

Two more members of Saturday’s Stephen Foster Handicap cast arrived at Churchill Downs on Wednesday when Adele Dilschneider’s Apart took up residence at the barn of trainer Al Stall Jr. and trainer Alex and Joann Lieblong, Marilyn McMaster and Fawkes Racing’s Duke of Mischief arrived in early afternoon after a van ride from Florida’s Calder Race Course.

The 4-year-old Apart arrived at Churchill Downs around 9:30 a.m. (all times Eastern) after a short van ride from Lexington’s Keeneland Race Course.

The son of Flatter won the William Donald Schaefer Handicap (GIII) on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico in his most recent start.  The Schaefer was used successfully by Stall last year as a Foster prep for Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Blame, who won the Stephen Foster and returned to Churchill Downs in November to take the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).

The Schaefer win snapped a four-race losing streak for Apart, who had not won since a victory in the Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) in early November at Churchill Downs.  Apart’s 3-year-old season also included a victory the Super Derby (GII) at Louisiana Downs.

The David Fawkes-trained Duke of Mischief, eighth to Blame in the 2010 Foster, returned to Churchill Downs on Wednesday after scoring the most lucrative victory of his career in a 2 ¼-length win over Game On Dude in the $1 million Charles Town Classic (GIII) at West Virginia’s Charles Town.  The Florida-bred son of Graeme Hall finished sixth to Giant Oak in last fall’s Clark Handicap in his only other start at Churchill Downs.

Duke of Mischief is stabled in Barn 16.

Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable’s Equestrio, third in his stakes debut in the Alysheba (GIII) at Churchill Downs last time out, is scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs on Thursday.  The Nick Zito-trained Equestrio will travel by van from New York’s Saratoga Race Course and will be stabled in Barn 36.

With entries being taken on Wednesday, the field of possible starters for the race included:  A.U. Miner (trained by Clark Hanna, weighted at 114); Apart (Al Stall Jr., 118); Crown of Thorns (Mandella, 121); Duke of Mischief (Fawkes, 118); El Caballo (Ralph Nicks, 115); Equestrio (Zito, 116); Flat Out (Scooter Dickey, 114); Giant Oak (Chris Block, 122); Headache (Mike Maker); Mission Impazible (Todd Pletcher, 118); Pool Play (Mark Casse, 116); Regal Ransom (Saeed bin Suroor); and Worldly (Paul McGee, 113).

ASMUSSEN’S DOMINUS TO PASS ON MATT WINN – A lingering foot issue has knocked George Bolton, Stonestreet Stable LLC and Spendthrift Farm LLC’s Dominus out of Saturday’s 14th running of the $125,000-added Matt Winn Presented by Emirates Equestrian Federation (GIII).

Trainer Steve Asmussen had said on Tuesday that Dominus was still “50-50” to run in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds, but did not enter the colt on Wednesday.  The son of Smart Strike was nailed in the final strides by Machen in his most recent start at the $200,000-added The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII) at Churchill Downs on April 30.

Asmussen entered Stonestreet Stable’s Wilburn in the Matt Winn, but was not sure that colt would run.  Wilburn defeated Matt Winn rival Infrattini in a recent allowance race at Churchill Downs.

Meanwhile, trainer Al Stall Jr. said surgery to repair the fractured right front leg of Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Bind was successful and the colt is beginning his recuperation at the legendary Paris, Ky. farm where the colt was bred.

Bind suffered a condylar fracture on Monday during a half-mile workout at Keeneland that was designed to be his final prep for the Matt Winn.  Saturday’s race would have been Bind’s stakes debut after a dazzling maiden victory at Fair Grounds that was followed by close losses in allowance races at the New Orleans track and Churchill Downs.

“The prognosis after the surgery is very good,” Stall said.  “Everything went well and they didn’t find anything in there that they weren’t supposed to find.”

With entries for the race due on Wednesday, the possible field for the Matt Winn (formerly the Northern Dancer) included: Alstom (trained by D. Wayne Lukas); Infrattini (McGee); Joe Vann (Todd Pletcher); Uncle Brent (Lynn Whiting) and Wilburn (Steve Asmussen).

DIVA ASH BIDS FOR SECOND STAKE OF THE MEET IN SATURDAY’S REGRET Fresh off a victory in the $113,000 Edgewood on Kentucky Oaks Day, Zayat Stables LLC’s Diva Ash will bid for her second stakes win of the Churchill Downs Spring Meet in Saturday’s Grade III, $125,000-added Regret Presented by Etihad Airways at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Trainer Dale Romans is expecting another top effort from the 3-year-old daughter of Tapit.  Purchased as a yearling for $110,000 at the Keeneland September Sale, Diva Ash was the talk of the Romans barn following a career debut victory going five furlongs over a firm Gulfstream Park turf course on Feb. 23.

“She was training okay going into the race,” Romans said. “But when we got her on the turf and saw how she ran, we knew she was going to be really nice.”

Following that debut effort, Diva Ash was the runner-up in a Gulfstream allowance prior to her win in the Edgewood. The lightly-raced filly led at every call over a “good” Matt Winn Turf Course on Oaks Day and crossed the line first by 1 ½-lengths over Livin the Dream Racing LLC’s Sassy’s Dream, who is expected to face Diva Ash again in the Regret.

Diva Ash was guided by Kent Desormeaux in the Edgewood, but the three-time Kentucky Derby-winning rider is scheduled to ride in New York on Saturday.  Robby Albarado will be aboard in the Regret.

Three of the main rivals who will face Diva Ash in the Regret hail from the barn of trainer Ken McPeek, who has won three consecutive stakes races in the Churchill Downs Spring Meet.  McPeek’s is headed by Five D Thoroughbreds and Wind River StablesKathmanblu, a multiple stakes winner on turf and dirt who returns to the grass after a sixth-place finish behind Plum Pretty in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI).

She ran third to More Than Real in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf (GII) and romped to an easy win on dirt in the Golden Rod (GII) on Churchill Downs’ main track.

The other McPeek contendrs are Sassy’s Dream and Catesby Clay’s Bizzy Caroline, who enters the Regret off a seven-length win in an allowance over the Matt Winn Turf Course on May 27.

"I haven’t had a chance to study the race for very long, but it looks like it may come up pretty tough,” Romans said.

Fillies considered likely for Saturday’s 42nd running of the Regret include: Bizzy Caroline (McPeek); Blushandbashful (John Terranova II); Bouquet Booth (Steve Margolis); Diva Ash (Romans); Excited (Todd Pletcher); Gaya (Tom Amoss); Holidaysatthefarm (Tom Proctor); Kathmanblu (McPeek); My Phi Temper (Ronny Werner); and Sassy’s Dream (McPeek).

ROMANS EXPECTS BENERGY TO ‘RUN BIG’ IN JEFFERSON CUP  – Zayat Stables LLC and Dale Romans will have more than just Diva Ash to root for on Saturday as her connections will be represented by the improving Benergy in the Grade III, $100,000-added Jefferson Cup Presented by Abu Dhabi.

The 3-year-old son of Tapit was never better than sixth in his first three races, all of which were run on dirt and synthetic surfaces. But Benergy made a massive improvement when he switched to the turf and broke his maiden by a nose in his first run over the new footing on the Matt Winn Turf Course on May 13.

The Jefferson Cup will be the first start for Benergy since that maiden win, but Romans is confident in the colt’s chances despite his relative lack of experience.

“The horse is doing great and he’s going to run big,” Romans said. “He’s been training very good and I really like the horse.”

Benergy, like Diva Ash, was ridden by Kent Desormeaux in his previous start.  With Desormeaux out of town on Saturday, Javier Castellano will have the mount on Benergy.

Three-year-olds expected to be entered Wednesday in the Jefferson Cup include: Banned (trained by Tom Proctor); Benergy (Romans); 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).

BARN TALK – Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge’s Shackleford, winner of the Grade I Preakness Stakes, returned to Dale Romans’ barn at Churchill Downs on Monday. “He’s doing fine and we’ll be pointing to the Haskell (at Monmouth Park on July 31),” Romans said. “After that, who knows, maybe I’ll run him in the Travers (at Saratoga on Aug. 27). I did that last year with First Dude.”  Donald Dizney’s First Dude finished third in both the Grade I Haskell and Grade I Travers in 2010 for Romans. First Dude is now trained by Bob Baffert and won this year’s Alysheba at Churchill Downs.

Arnold Zetcher LLC’s Midnight Interlude, winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Derby who finished 16th in the Grade I Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, could make his turf debut Friday. The 3-year-old son of War Front is entered in the $70,000 Tsunami Slew Stakes to be run at one mile on the turf at Hollywood Park. …

Calling all poker players - Registration has begun for the Blackie Huffman Memorial Scholarship Fund Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament sponsored by the KHBPA, KTA & Churchill Downs Racing Committee. The tournament, which has a buy-in of $125, will take place June 22 at 6 p.m. in the Churchill Downs Triple Crown Ballroom. Space is limited to 250 players and the first prize is $7,500 with cash prizes being paid to the top five finishers. Contact the KHBPA at (502) 363-1077 to register.