"We're not used to this, either one of us," said Pete Anderson as a steady rain fell on a chilly November Tuesday as he held the shank on Hobeau Farm's Delightful Kiss. "But, I'll tell you one thing. The whole key is to keep your horses happy and he is one happy dude right now. He likes the mud."
Delightful Kiss got some mud to play in Tuesday morning when he breezed a half-mile in :50 over a track labeled "sloppy" with Calvin Borel up.
"I got him galloping out three-quarters in 1:14," Anderson said. "Calvin handled the work perfectly."
Friday's forecast, however, calls for partly sunny skies with a high near 43 - ideal conditions for the 134th running of the $400,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade II).
The Clark would mark the third Churchill Downs start for Delightful Kiss, who used Louisville as his base last spring before going on to victories in the Ohio Derby (GII) at Thistledown and Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows, and again this summer after he ran in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) won by reigning Horse of the Year Curlin.
Anderson first brought Delightful Kiss here in April 2007 after a fourth-place finish to Curlin in the Arkansas Derby (GII). Delightful Kiss had finished a length out of second and the added graded-stakes money from the runner-up spot would have earned the son of Kissin Kris a spot in the Kentucky Derby 133 (GI) starting gate.
Delightful Kiss was entered in Derby 133, but was excluded from the field of 20 because of insufficient graded stakes money. Instead, Anderson saddled Delightful Kiss on the eve of the Derby in the Crown Royal American Turf (GIII), where he finished ninth, before the colt launched his run of Midwest Derbies.
The only horse in Anderson's care finished seventh in this spring's Stephen Foster, beaten 12 lengths by Curlin in a race that lacked a rapid pace. But speed is an ingredient that should be present for the Clark with the presence of Tracy Farmer's speedy dual Grade I winner Commentator.
For the Clark, Delightful Kiss returns to traditional dirt after three consecutive starts on synthetic surfaces that included two Grade III stakes wins and a fourth-place finish in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Marathon over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface.
"He is doing great and I don't think he could be any better," Anderson said. "He has just gotten better as the year went on and I know he doesn't mind the Polytrack. I know he really likes the Tapeta at Golden Gate."
The return to the dirt is the only worry Anderson has coming into the Clark in which Delightful Kiss will carry 116 pounds and be ridden by Calvin Borel.
"That's my only concern. I just don't know how well horses do when they go to dirt from synthetic," Anderson said.
WAYZATA BAY GETTING BETTER WITH AGE FOR HICKLIN - Wayzata Bay has occupied a spot in trainer Judi Hicklin's barn for four years, racing 36 times at eight tracks. On Friday in the Clark Handicap, Wayzata Bay will add Churchill Downs to his travel dossier.
"We have traveled a lot of miles together," Hicklin said after she cooled out Wayzata Bay after his morning exercise. "On this trip, I'm the van driver and groom."
The trips in 2008 have been profitable for Hicklin as Wayzata Bay, a 6-year-old son of Roar, has compiled a record of 3-3-1 in eight races with earnings of $341,950. The highlight of the year was a victory in the Grade II Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows at the Clark distance of 1 1/8 miles.
"There are not many horses that get good at 6 and not many that get their first graded stakes win at 6," Hicklin said. "And there aren't a lot of owners that would wait that long."
Wayzata Bay is owned by Isaac Phelps' World Thoroughbreds Racing Inc.
Wayzata Bay enters the Clark off his worst performance of the year in the Fayette (GIII) at Keeneland on Oct. 25. He was beaten more than 40 lengths in that 10th-place finish behind Ball Four. But the poor effort over Polytrack was par for the synthetic track course for Wayzata Bay, who has never been better than fourth in six starts on Polytrack.
"I don't think he would have been a $5,000 claimer on Polytrack," Hicklin said.
Since the Fayette, Wayzata Bay has had one work at Hawthorne, but Hicklin thinks he is ready for a good effort under jockey Israel Ocampo, who has ridden the horse in his past six starts.
"He has been doing two-minute licks at Hawthorne and he gets a lot out of his gallops," Hicklin said. "He will come with his run."
Wayzata Bay will mark Hicklin's second starter at Churchill Downs. Let It Rock, who ran third in a Nov. 12 allowance race and is set to run back Friday on the Clark card, was her first.
"It got to me walking over with him and seeing the Twin Spires," Hicklin said. "I was thinking ‘Wow, what's a girl from Iowa doing here?'"
McPEEK RIDES BONANZA OF 2-YEAR-OLDS - When Gessler Racing's Redreamit romped in her debut by 3 ¾ lengths on Sunday, she gave trainer Ken McPeek his meet-leading eighth 2-year-old winner of the meet.
"We've got a great group of horses," McPeek said. "The stars are starting to align."
That success has occurred before the appearance of Dream Empress, who is arguably the most talented youngster in McPeek's barn. That talented filly will not run until Saturday's "Stars of Tomorrow II" card that offers 12 races filled with 2-year-olds.
"I've got her and Striking Dancer for the Golden Rod," McPeek said.
Dream Empress, owned by Livin the Dream Racing, won the Darley Alcibiades (GI) at Keeneland before a runner-up effort to Stardom Bound in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI). Dream Empress had her third Churchill Downs work since the Breeders' Cup on Monday, going a half-mile in :50.80 over a sloppy track.
McPeek is confident that his barn will reach double figures for juvenile winners by the time the curtain drops on the meet Saturday.
"I've got 14 I'm going to enter for Saturday alone," said McPeek, who won the training title in the 2002 Fall Meet.
As for Redreamit, who joined Silver Wing Stable's Free Country and Lansdon Robbins III's Danger to Society as a debut winner, she is headed to Florida with the Grade III Old Hat at six furlongs on Jan. 4 as her immediate target according to McPeek.
BARN TALK - Julien Leparoux, who entered Wednesday's card with 50 victories this meet and six away from breaking Pat Day's 23-year-old Fall Meet record, will be riding this winter at Gulfstream Park. "The bulk of our clients are going to Florida, but a lot are going to the Fair Grounds, too," Leparoux's agent Steve Bass said. "It was a hard decision, but it worked out better with his schedule. Fair Grounds is already running and Julien is going to take a couple of weeks off after the meet ends Saturday." ... Da' Tara, winner of this year's Belmont Stakes (GI), is entered in Friday's ninth race, a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming event. Owned by Robert LaPenta and trained by Nick Zito, Da' Tara ran fifth in this spring's Derby Trial. Da' Tara has not run since finishing sixth in the Grade II Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park on Oct. 5. Da' Tara will face seven rivals in the 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds and up. He will be the first Belmont Stakes winner to run at Churchill Downs since 1999 winner Lemon Drop Kid finished fifth to Tiznow in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic (GI). Victory Gallop, the 1998 Belmont Stakes winner, won the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs the following year.... The victory in the first race Sunday by Choctaw Racing Stable's Jump Enuf gave trainer Lynn Whiting his 297th win at Churchill Downs. Whiting, who saddled Lil E. Tee to win the 1992 Kentucky Derby, notched his first Churchill Downs victory in the Spring Meet of 1979. ... A happy 50th birthday today to trainer Rob O'Connor.
WORK TAB - There was only one recorded work Wednesday morning over a frozen track. ... The juveniles spiced up Tuesday's work tab over a sloppy track. Prepping for possible runs in Saturday's Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), were Winchell Thoroughbreds' Zion (half-mile in :50) and Zayat Stables' Star of David (:52.20), both for trainer Steve Asmussen. Working toward Saturday's Golden Rod (GII) were the 1-2 finishers in the Grade III Iroquois: Eldon Farm's Sara Louise (five furlongs in 1:03.40 for trainer Dale Romans) and Dolphus Morrison's Rachel Alexandra (a best-of-34 half-mile in :48 for trainer Hal Wiggins). Asmussen also worked Ron Winchell's War Echo, a half-sister to Pyro, a half-mile in :51 for the Golden Rod. ... Among the works Monday on a sloppy track was West Point Thoroughbreds' Jim Dandy (GII) winner Macho Again (1:02.60 for five furlongs) for trainer Dallas Stewart, Domino Stud of Lexington, Inc.'s Miss Isella (:50 for a half-mile) prepping for Thursday's Falls City (GII) for trainer Ian Wilkes and Dogwood Stable's Coal Baron (:48.40) prepping for a probable start in the Kentucky Jockey Club for trainer David Carroll.
DERBY TICKET DRAWINGS CONTINUE - Over the final four days of the 2008 Fall Meet, Churchill Downs will continue its public daily drawings for guests to purchase two seats to the 135th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on Saturday, May 2. More than 400 names (100 each day) will be drawn between Wednesday and Saturday. Guests age 18 and up may enter each drawing by filling out an entry form at Guest Services stations located inside Gate 17 or outside of Gate 10 in the clubhouse before 1:35 p.m. ET. A new drawing will be held each day. Winners need not be present to win and payment for invoiced tickets will be due Jan. 30. The drawings began Saturday and, all told, 500 pairs of tickets, or 1,000 in total, will be made available. The seats available include a variety of clubhouse and grandstand seats, ranging from grandstand bleacher seats to clubhouse boxes. The ticket prices per seat range from $88 to $207 ($176 to $414 per pair).
CURLIN TO BE PARADED ON CLOSING DAY - Curlin, North America's reigning Horse of the Year and the continent's richest racehorse of all time with earnings of $10,501,800, will be paraded one final time at Churchill Downs on Saturday. The brilliant winner of seven Grade I events including Churchill Downs' $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap in June, is scheduled to be paraded on the main track between the fifth and sixth races. A special salute in the paddock and/or winner's circle will follow. The fifth race is scheduled for 1:28 p.m. (all times Eastern), and the first of 12 races will be at 11:30 a.m.
THIS WEEK'S GUEST ANNOUNCER: MARK JOHNSON - England's Mark Johnson will describe the closing week's racing action (Wednesday, Nov. 26 through Saturday, Nov. 29) as Churchill Downs concludes its search to replace the late Luke Kruytbosch as the next "Voice of the Kentucky Derby". There was a different track announcer each week during the five-week Fall Meet. Calder's Bobby Neuman, Louisiana Downs' Travis Stone, Golden Gate's Michael Wrona and Gulfstream Park and Monmouth Park's Larry Collmus already made their guest appearances. Churchill Downs officials are seeking input from customers and encouraging comment via email at email@example.com.
SPECIAL CLOSING WEEK POST TIMES - Churchill Downs will run its usual 10-race program at 12:40 p.m. ET on Wednesday (admission gates open at 11 a.m. ET), but the final three days of the meet will have special start times. Twelve-race holiday cards on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day), Friday (Clark Handicap Day) and Saturday (Closing Day/Stars of Tomorrow II) will begin early at 11:30 a.m. ET and grandstand admission gates will open at 10 a.m. ET.
SPECIAL Z-5 (SUPER HI-5) SCHEDULE FOR CLOSING WEEK - The Z-5 (Super Hi-5), which requires bettors to correctly select the top five finishers in a race in exact order, will have a new schedule for the final three days of Churchill Downs' 2008 Fall Meet. From Thursday to Saturday, the payout-pumping wager that zigzags between Churchill and its sister racetrack Calder Race Course will involve Race 5 at Churchill Downs (1:27 p.m.), Race 10 at Calder (4:35 p.m.) and Race 12 at Churchill Downs (4:53 p.m.). If no one picks all five winners, the pool would carryover to the next available Z-5 (Super Hi-5) race - the first interstate jackpot of its kind in horse racing. The pool for the final race at Churchill Downs on Saturday must be paid.
ADDITIONAL PICK 4s ON FINAL THREE DAYS - Churchill Downs will offer additional Pick 4s on Thursday, Friday and Saturday's special 12-race programs. Pick 4s, which require bettors to pick the winners of four consecutive races, will link Races 1-4, 5-8 and 9-12 over the final three days of the meet.
JUNIOR JOCKEY CLUB WEEKEND ACTIVITIES - Christmas crafts, a Friday puppet show and a special tour of the paddock on Saturday highlight the closing week activities at Churchill Downs' Junior Jockey Club located near the Guest Services Booth inside Gate. 10. Coloring books, crayons, individual games and reading material are available as well, and Churchill Downs' mascot Churchill Charlie will be on hand both Friday and Saturday for photographs between 1-1:30 p.m. Also, Santa Claus will make a special appearance at Gate 17 on both days at approximately 2 p.m.
FRIDAY & SATURDAY SPECIALS AT THE DOWNS - Packages to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast at Churchill Downs are nearly sold out, but specials on Friday and Saturday's closing day card can still be had. For $50, customers can dine and watch the races from a reserved seat in the Triple Crown room, the largest and most opulent of the Jockey Club Suites facilities. Entrees on the menu include a giant Reuben sandwich, cheeseburger station, chicken tenders, chicken wings, hot dogs and bratwurst. Plus, a Bloody Mar bar will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lunch and an official program is included in the admission price. To reserve a spot, call (502) 636-4400.
STARK'S THE CHAMP - Todd Stark of Hazard, Ky. and Rudy Hardin Jr. of Louisville finished one-two in Sunday's "Who's the Champ?" Handicapping Contest for the 2008 Fall Meet at Churchill Downs. The two banked $1,400 and $800, respectively, and will represent Churchill Downs at the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship X in Las Vegas on Jan. 23-24. A total of 134 contestants earned berths to compete in Churchill Downs' qualifier last Sunday (only 125 actually participated). Participants were required to place mythical $2 Win and Place wagers on two different horses in Races 3-8. Stark finished first with a $57.20 final bankroll. Hardin was second with $48.00.