Magna Graduate, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, returned to the scene of his biggest career win and wore down Greeley's Conquest in deep stretch to prevail in Sunday's $108,200 Ack Ack Handicap (Grade III) by 2 ¼ lengths on opening day of Churchill Downs' 26-day Fall Meet.
Elisabeth Alexander's 6-year-old Magna Graduate, the oldest and most experienced horse in the field of six who won the 2005 Clark Handicap (GII), snapped an 11-race losing streak by stopping the teletimer in 1:36.06 for one mile. It was his third start under the care of trainer Steve Asmussen, Churchill's Spring Meet leading conditioner and the national leader in wins and earnings.
In the early stages of the one-turn mile, Magna Graduate raced in the clear down the backstretch from the outside just behind early pacesetters Forest Command, the even-money favorite, and Cowtown Cat. Greeley's Conquest tracked in close pursuit along the inside rail.
After a first quarter-mile in :23.02 and the half in :46.50, Greeley's Conquest got first run on the final turn with bold move through an opening near the fence and grabbed control at the head of the stretch. Magna Graduate hit his best stride with an eighth of a mile to run and caught Greeley's Conquest inside the sixteenth pole to draw off for the victory.
It was Magna Graduate's seventh graded stakes triumph in a 34-race career, and his first victory since taking Aqueduct's Excelsior Handicap (GIII) on April 7, 2007. Overall, it was his 10th win and the $$66,416 winner's share jumped his career earnings to $2,561,237.
Magna Graduate, a Kentucky-bred son of Honor Grades out of the Fast Play mare Peacock Alley, returned $7.20, $4.20 and $2.60 as the 5-2 second betting choice. Greeley's Conquest, ridden by Jaime Theriot, paid $7.20 and $3. Forest Command, with Robby Albarado in the saddle, was another 2 ¾ lengths back in third and paid $2.10. Cowtown Cat, Coragil Cat and Forefathers completed the order of finish.
Other stars on opening day were trainers Ken McPeek and Mike Maker. McPeek won four races: the first with The Right Face ($7.60), second with Stratostar ($4.60), the seventh with Bounissimo ($69.80) and nightcap with La Mousse-ARG ($6). Meanwhile, Maker had a training triple with Bridled Path ($3.40) in the third, Korbyn Gold ($5.20) in the fourth and Targe ($28.40) in the eighth. Jockeys Robby Albarado and Julien Leparoux each rode three winners, while Miguel Mena had a riding double.
Churchill Downs' five-week Fall Meet continues Wednesday with a 10-race program that begins at 12:40 p.m. ET.
POST RACE QUOTES - ACK ACK HANDICAP (GIII)
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, jockey on MAGNA GRADUATE (winner)
"He broke sharp enough and he kind of put himself in good, nice, comfortable spot. Around the turn I noticed the favorite (Forest Command) was getting out, and I didn't want to move anxiously and try to do anything. So I just left him alone and coming off the turn I just tipped him out to the outside, and he's such a professional, he's done so many good things in his career, so all you've really got to do is just point him and ask him and he does his thing. He's a classy horse."
Q: He ran badly in this race two years ago - did you have any concerns about the one-turn mile distance with him?
A: "No. He broke and he was very willing the whole way, so it wasn't a big problem. The most important thing is that he was traveling great down the backside. I felt at every point that I had horse."
Q: Were you confident that you'd reel the one (runner-up Greeley's Conquest) in or did you think he might have gotten way?
A: "I kind of seen him sneaking up, but like I said, the four horse (Forest Command) was kind of getting out a bit and that gave him the opportunity to slide up the rail. But once I saw that I tipped him to the outside, and he (Magna Graduate) saw him, too - and he just did his thing."
JAMIE THERIOT, jockey on GREELEY'S CONQUEST (runner-up)
"He ran a big race. I thought he might have it when we got to the front from the inside, but that winner is tough horse and we just couldn't hold him off. My horse ran really good. He hadn't run in two months and we just couldn't hold him off, but he's a good horse."
JOHN WARD JR., trainer of FOREST COMMAND (third as the favorite)
"He got out the whole way. Let's put it like this - we've had better weekends."
ROBBY ALBRADO, jockey on FOREST COMMAND
"It seemed like he was uncomfortable on the backside. He felt good physically, but was just drifting and I had to pretty much guide him around there the whole race. He never really dropped his head and got comfortable. That kind of compromised him during the race, because he'd had enough of it turning for home. But he's a quality horse. One of these days he'll get it figured out.Churchill Downs, the world's most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America's greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2009. The track's 2008 Fall Meet runs from October 26 through November 29. Churchill Downs is scheduled to host the Breeders' Cup World Championships for a record seventh time on November 5-6, 2010.