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Churchill Downs' September Meet Concludes 12-Day Run With Encouraging Results,Strong On-Track Performances
The second-consecutive September Meet at Churchill Downs Racetrack (“CDRT”) concluded its 12-date run on Sunday, September 28 with encouraging results and a string of strong performances by the equine and human stars who competed during the brief racing session.
Performances on the track include victories and strong efforts by 2-year-olds whose connections are dreaming of next spring’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), along with veteran stars taking aim at big races in the fall and, for some, possible trips to California for the Breeders’ Cup Championships. All of the meet’s races involving contests for leading jockey, trainer and owner had dramatic finishes and were not decided until the final races on Sunday’s closing day.
The second year of a new racing product at the home of the Kentucky Derby offered Kentucky horsemen both attractive racing options for their horses on dirt and turf and a daily purse structure that was comparable to the 2013 debut of the track’s September Meet. The meet, which was only the second Churchill Downs racing meet since 1890 to be conducted entirely in the month of September, benefitted from ideal early autumn weather. The main track was rated “fast” on each of the meet’s 12 racing days, and the Matt Winn Turf Course was rated “firm” for all but one of those racing sessions.
Churchill Downs paid total purses of $3,864,487during September’s 12 racing dates for daily average purses of $322,041. A total of 940 horses competed in the meet’s 122 races, and the average field for a race during the meet consisted of 7.7 horses. The average number of horses per race in 2013, also through 122 races, was 8.07.
“We have a pair of September meets behind us and Churchill Downs remains optimistic that this new racing and entertainment product can be successful,” Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said. “We faced many of the same challenges during this meet that impacted our Spring Meet, including our ongoing concerns about field sizes. Unfortunately, the starters per race was down this year, which is a result of the declining foal crops and increased competition for available horses from other tracks in our region and beyond.
“The positive news is that the Louisville market is becoming more aware of our September Meet and the possibilities it holds for Kentucky horsemen during a beautiful time of year. We look forward to working with the racing commission and the horsemen to address the issue of field sizes so that we can continue to provide this promising product.”
One of the strengths of Churchill Downs’ racing in the latter half of any year is the division of talented and well-bred 2-year-olds stabled at the track, and the opening weekend of the meet cast the spotlight on a pair of juveniles that scored important stakes victories on their respective roads to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), and the major races for 2-year-old Thoroughbreds in the Breeders’ Cup Championships at Santa Anita on Saturday, Nov. 1.
Trainer Steve Asmussen saddled the top two finishers in the $115,500 Iroquois (GIII) when Jerry Durant’s Lucky Player edged stablemate Bold Conquest in the 33rd running of the 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-olds, one of four stakes events run on Saturday, Sept. 6. The victory under Ricardo Santana Jr. made the son of Lookin At Lucky an early leader in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point standings that will determine the field for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) on May 2, 2015. Along with the 10 points collected for his victory in the opening race in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” standings, Lucky Player’s win also earned an automatic spot in the starting gate for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 1. For the second consecutive year, the Iroquois was the first race in the “Breeders’ Cup Win & You’re In Juvenile Division.”
GSN Racing’s Cristina’s Journey provided trainer Dale Romans his third career victory in the $231,000 Pocahontas (GII) for 2-year-old fillies on the Sept. 6 program, and her front-running triumph offered added-value to the daughter of Any Given Saturday similar to that earned by Lucky Player in the Iroquois. The Pocahontas was the lead-off event of the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points system that will determine the participants in next spring’s 141st running of the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks and also the first stop on the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Juvenile Fillies Division.” The win under Miguel Mena gave Cristina’s Journey 10 points, an early lead on the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” and a guaranteed spot in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI).
Other outstanding September Meet performance were delivered on the meet’s final weekend when Cigar Street held off the late charge of favored Departing to win the second running of the $135,500 Homecoming Classic by 2 ¾-lengths and Canada-based Heart to Heart led from start to finish in the 39th running of the $110,000 Jefferson Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds at one-mile on turf.
Cigar Street, a 5-year-old son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense owned by Jake Ballis and National Basketball Association star Rashard Lewis, improved his career record to 5-1-0 in only eight races. The winner could be a candidate for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), but his owners said that decision would be up to their Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. The trainer is the all-time leader in victories and stakes wins at Churchill Downs, and the win by Cigar Street was Mott’s 680th beneath the track’s Twin Spires and his 89th stakes triumph.
Heart to Heart, an Ontario-bred son of English Channel owned by Terry Hamilton, led from the start under Julien Leparoux and rolled to a four-length win in the Jefferson Cup. The Jefferson Cup victory was his second consecutive stakes win and the fifth victory overall for the improving young turf star trained by Bryan Lynch.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Thank You Marylou, who finished fifth to Untapable in this year’s Longines Kentucky Oaks, had a happy return to Churchill Downs when she rolled to a 6 ½-length victory in the 39th running of the $112,000 Dogwood (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs. The daughter of Birdstone is trained by Mike Maker and was ridden by Miguel Mena.
Other strong stakes performances during the September Meet were turned in by Joseph Sutton’s Bradester, who led from the start under jockey Corey Lanerie to win the $107,300 Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) for trainer Eddie Kenneally, and the 6-year-old mare Don’t Tell Sophia, who returned from a six-month layoff to score an emphatic 2 ¼-length victory for trainer Phil Simms and jockey Joe Rocco Jr. in the 31st running $108,200 Locust Grove. The latter, co-owned by Simms and Jerry Namy, defeated Grade I winner On Fire Baby and Grade II winner Molly Malone in her sixth stakes victory.
Asmussen and owner Gillian Campbell collected their second consecutive win in the $111,500 Open Mind when jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. guided Aireofdistinction to victory in the sixth running of that six-furlong race for fillies and mares ages 3 & up.
The results of the leading jockey, trainer and owner races were not settled until late in Sunday’s 10-race closing day program and, in one case, the final yards of the meet’s last race.
Jockey Corey Lanerie, the defending September Meet win leader, and Ricardo Santana Jr. were tied at 13 wins heading into the meet’s 122th and final race. Though both men had a mount, they ended up sharing the title when Paden and jockey Joe Johnson won the meet’s finale. Lanerie led at the head of the stretch aboard Geometry, but finished fourth. Santana and Catchifyoucan rallied late for third. The shared title was Lanerie’s sixth “leading rider” title at Churchill Downs, while Santana earned his first.
"It’s exciting, competitive and frustrating, because you don’t want to get beat, especially when it got to this point,” Lanerie said after the meet’s last race. “I guess if you’ve never been there it’s different but now it’s almost like people expect me to be there in the running at the end. In the grand scheme of things you like to think it doesn’t matter as long as you’re healthy and you’re winning races, but it really does. But it’s a goal and now that I’ve won so many I just want to see how many more I can win and how long I can keep going.”
“Last year that was my dream to win something like this at Churchill Downs,” Santana said. “I want to say thank God first and then thank all the trainers for giving me a chance, because it’s not easy. I would have liked to get one more in that last one, but the best horse won the race. I’m just happy to be here and happy to get the chance to ride good horses.”
Brian Hernandez Jr. finished one win back of the top pair.
The battle for leading trainer ended in a tie as Steve Asmussen and Wayne Catalano each saddled seven winners. Asmussen extended his record total of Churchill Downs training crowns to 15, but Catalano’s crown was his first. Catalano’s title was special because it was his first at the Louisville track, but also because it was another indication that he has rebounded from a significant health scare earlier in the year resulted in a hospital stay of 22 days.
“I just want to thank the folks here at Churchill Downs and also thank my wife for standing by my side in my time of poor health,” Catalano said. “If you don’t have your health, you don’t really have anything so we’re lucky to be standing here. Today we went in there with good horses and couldn’t get it done outright. So it’s a little tough, but we’ve been through a lot of those and again we’re just happy to be here.”
Dale Romans and Eddie Kenneally finished in a tie for third in the trainers race, one win back of the top pair.
And Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the Nicholasville, Ky. couple who have won more races than any owner in the 140-year history of Churchill Downs, sent seven horses into the winner’s circle during in September for their record-extending 22nd training crown at the home of the Kentucky Derby.
The Ramseys edged Gary and Mary West – who started a meet-high 20 horses – and Maggi Moss, each of whom finished with six victories.
“All I have to say is ‘Wow’,” Ken Ramsey said. “We’ve had a great time here at Churchill Downs over the years; we’ve had our picture taken in this winner’s circle almost 400 times, but we’ve still got one thing on our bucket list and that’s to get our picture made on the inside of that (infield) fence in the (Kentucky) Derby.”
With their seven winners in the September Meet, the Ramseys have 398 career wins at Churchill Downs.
A total of 73 horses were claimed during the September Meet and the claims totaled $1,216,500. The claims resulted in sales tax revenue of $72,990 to the Kentucky State Treasury.
Racing at Churchill Downs will resume following a brief break with its 25-date Fall Meet, which will run from Oct. 26-Nov. 30. Racing will be conducted on a Wednesday-Sunday schedule to conclude the second straight year – but only the second overall – during which Churchill Downs has hosted a trio of racing meets in a calendar year.
Terry Hamilton’s Heart to Heart went straight to the front of the pack and never looked back, widening his lead in the stretch to win the 39th running of the $110,000 Jefferson Cup (Grade III) at Churchill Downs by four lengths over Captain Dixie.
Sent off as the 1-2 favorite, Heart to Heart finished the mile-long event on firm turf in 1:34.44 under guidance from jockey Julien Leparoux. Trained by Brian Lynch, the 3-year-old son of English Channel returned backers with $3, $2.40 and $2.10. Ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., Captain Dixie paid $5.20 and $3.60 to place and third-place finisher Sportscaster paid $3.80 to show.
Stormy Pacific, Hesinfront, Battlefront and Almost Famous rounded out the order of finish. Speightsland was scratched.
Heart to Heart led by a length through the opening half-mile, posting fractions of :24.31 and :47.86 before widening to two lengths when asked after six furlongs in 1:11.46 and ahead three into the stretch.
The victory was the second consecutive stakes win for Heart to Heart, who took the $100,000 Better Talk Now at Saratoga in his last effort. The victory was worth $66,836 for Heart to Heart, who has won five of 12 starts and earned $330,161.
“We got the first quarter pretty easy; he was just galloping early on,” Leparoux said. “He was just happy in front. He relaxed and then when I asked him at the quarter pole he just gave a big kick. He’s a very nice, classy horse and he obviously won pretty easily.”
Heart to Heart was bred in Ontario by Red Hawk Ranch and is out of the Silver Deputy mare Ask the Question.
JEFFERSON CUP QUOTES
JULIEN LEPAROUX, jockey of Heart to Heart (winner) – “We got the first quarter pretty easy; he was just galloping early on. He was just happy in front. He relaxed and then when I asked him at the quarter pole he just gave a big kick. He’s a very nice, classy horse and he obviously won pretty easily. I rode him once at Keeneland before and knew he was nice though because we won that day, too. So I was glad to be back on him.
KELLYN GORDER, trainer of Captain Dixie (runner-up) – “I was real proud of him because I think the hole (post two) kind of hurt us a little bit. But I think the winner was much the best."
RICARDO SANTANA JR., jockey on Captain Dixie (runner-up) – “He’s a nice horse. He broke sharp but I was able to sit in a perfect spot behind horses. When I asked him in the stretch he finished but he couldn’t catch the winner. A nice horse beat me.”
DALE ROMANS, trainer of Sportscaster (third) and Hesinfront (fifth) – “Sportscaster ran well. He’s a nice horse and I’ll think he’ll be really good as time goes on. Hesinfront, I don’t know. I just keep waiting for him to have a breakthrough race. I thought there was a little bit of track bias today and he was out there a little wide. These young horses are still learning to run, but I’m not giving up on him talent-wise.”
JESUS CASTANON, jockey on Sportscaster (third) – “The instructions were to just go ahead and give him a good break and to put myself right up there (near the front) and it worked out well. The winner looks like a good horse, but I felt on the backside that we were going to finish up in the top four.”
Cigar Street, owned by Jake Ballis and NBA star Rashard Lewis, was eager to run early but waited until midway around the far turn before taking command and turning back a late charge by 6-5 favorite Departing to impressively win Saturday’s second running of the $135,500 Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs by 1 ¾ lengths.
Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, Cigar Street ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:49.86 and paid $6.80, $3.40 and $3 as the 2-1 second betting choice in the field of six older horses. Departing, with Robby Albarado up, returned $3 and $2.60. Call Me George, the pacesetter and 35-1 longest shot in the field, was another half-length back in third under Leandro Goncalves and paid $4.
Pick of the Litter, Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) champ Carve and Perfect Title completed the order of finish.
“He’s a big, powerful horse,” Bridgmohan said. “We had a perfect trip. All I had to do was be a mere passenger.”
Cigar Street, a lightly-raced 5-year-old with a history of setbacks, displayed the similar form of his two-length romp over multiple stakes winners Take Charge Indy, Pants on Fire and Golden Ticket in the 2013 Skip Away (GIII) at Gulfstream Park. Off 17 months to recuperate from a variety of ailments, he returned to action last month for an allowance optional claiming race at Saratoga and finished a good second to Pick of the Litter.
Call Me George, the longest shot in the field, set a modest pace in Saturday’s Homecoming Classic through fractions of :23.96, :48.39 and 1:12.12. An eager-to-run Cigar Street tugged at Bridgmohan in the early stages and raced close to the leader down the backstretch before he asserted himself on the far turn. Departing, the millionaire and three-time graded stakes winner who tracked in fourth early on, made a three-wide move at the head of the stretch to threaten Cigar Street, but the big dark bay horse repelled that bid and cleared the field late. Call Me George fought gamely for the show and was a neck ahead of a closing Pick of the Litter.
The victory was worth $83,170 and pushed Cigar Street’s career earnings to $283,908 from five wins and one second in only eight career starts.
“I’m a three-point shooter so I’m going to say it was a three-point shot – it was three points and not two points,” said Lewis, who attended Churchill Downs for the first time. “Just the fact that he got the win was big and very important to us. Even though it was only his second race back, we think he’s continuing to get better every race out. We want to take it one step at a time, and today was really big for us.”
The connections said Mott ultimately would decide Cigar Street’s next start, but a trip to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita in five weeks on Oct. 31-Nov. 1 – either the $5 million Classic (GI) or $1 million Dirt Mile (GI) – could be under consideration.
Bred in Kentucky by Marvin Definer, Ted Folkerth and Brookdale, Cigar Street is a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense out of the Deputy Minister mare Arcadiana.
For Mott, it was his record-extending 680th career win at Churchill Downs and 89th local stakes triumph.
HOMECOMING CLASSIC QUOTES
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, jockey of Cigar Street (winner) – “He’s a big, powerful horse. I’m just happy they selected me to ride him. (Trainer) Bill (Mott) and the owners Jake (Ballis) and Rashard (Lewis), they’re great. We had a perfect trip. All I had to do was be a mere passenger.”
JAKE BALLIS, co-owner of Cigar Street (winner) – “He ran huge. It was everything we could have hoped for. From being injured for so long, it’s frustrating, especially when you know you have one of the better horses. He had a conjular fracture after the Skip Away and kept having minor setbacks. But we’re so happy that we’ve got him back and that he’s healthy and today was awesome. Bill Mott is one of the best horsemen in the world. He’s been patient with him and we just kind of give him the keys and let him drive because we have so much faith in him. I’d obviously love to go to the Breeders’ Cup, but we’re just going to enjoy this win and talk with Bill and we’ll see what happens.”
RASHARD LEWIS, co-owner of Cigar Street (winner) – “Just the fact that he got the win was the most important thing for us – even though it was only his second race back. He looked great and we just hope he continues to get better. We want to just take it one step at a time but today was a good day.
“It makes it a lot more fun when you win a race. I told myself I wanted to come to Churchill Downs for the (Kentucky) Derby first time to be here. But my horse was running today and I wanted to be here to support him. This is an awesome time.
“It’s more nerve-wracking than anything. Like they say, it doesn’t matter if you’re a longshot or the favorite, anything can happen. Any horse can win any given day. We were so nervous going into this race. We know he’s a good horse, but we were nervous going into this race. It’s a good thing he was able to pull this out.
“It most definitely was a slam dunk. But I’m a three-point shooter, so I’m going to say it was a three-point shot – it was three points and not two points. Just the fact that he got the win was big and very important to us. Even though it was only his second race back, we think he’s continuing to get better every race out. We want to take it one step at a time, and today was really big for us.”
AL STALL JR., trainer of Departing (runner-up as the favorite) – “We had no excuses. We had enough of the racetrack in front of us from the quarter pole home. Cigar Street had a very moderate pace and ran like a good horse, and he might be a good horse. But he tried. We’re not thrilled that he didn’t win, but we’re happy that we’re back in the game a little bit.”
Q: Where does Departing go now? “I’d say probably the Fayette at Keeneland. We might look down the road at the Clark. That makes a lot of sense.”
ROBBY ALBARADO, jockey on Departing (runner-up as the favorite) – “He ran hard. I was flanked against the winner the whole way around there. We had an opportunity to get to him and get by him and they both ran to the wire. That’s a nice horse that won, but my horse ran good.”
Q: His run was a good bit better than his disappointing effort in the Whitney at Saratoga … “I’m just glad he came back to run a little better coming off his last race. He bounced back well.”
JESUS CASTANON, jockey on Carve (fifth) – “He didn’t fire today. I was in a good spot. We were where we wanted to be early and I figured that when we got to the half-mile pole I’d start to let him out and let him do his game, but today he just never really showed up.”
Canadian Shippers Heart to Heart, Speightsland; French-Raced Battlefront Seek Grade III Jefferson Cup
A trio of 3-year-old Thoroughbreds whose primary racing experience has occurred beyond the borders of the United States is set to descend upon Churchill Downs in search of a signature victory when they compete in the 38th running of the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (Grade III) over the Matt Winn Turf Course on Saturday (Sept. 27).
The Canada-based duo of Terry Hamilton’s Heart to Heart and John C. Oxley’s Speightsland and Joseph Allen’s French-raced Battlefront are expected to be among the top betting choices in a field of eight 3-year-olds entered to run in the one-mile Jefferson Cup. The race is one of two stakes events on Churchill Downs’ final Saturday racing program of its September Meet, which concludes with its racing program on Sunday (Sept. 28).
Post time for the first of Saturday’s 11 races is set for 12:45 p.m. (all times EDT). The Jefferson Cup is scheduled as Race 10 with a scheduled post time of 5:20 p.m. It will be preceded on the program by the second running of the $125,000-added Homecoming Classic for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles, which is the ninth race with a post time of 4:49 p.m.
Churchill Downs’ oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has installed the appropriately-named Heart to Heart as a narrow 5-2 favorite in his morning line odds for the Jefferson Cup, with fellow Canadian Speightsland as the 3-1 second choice. The leading American contender is Frank Jones Jr.’s homebred Hesinfront, the third choice in the morning line at 9-2. Battlefront, who makes his U.S. racing debut following an 11-month layoff, is a 6-1 risk and Battaglia’s fourth choice on the morning line.
Heart to Heart, a son of U.S. grass champion English Channel based at Toronto’s Woodbine and trained by Bryan Lynch, is in search of back-to-back stakes victories and his first graded stakes win following a front-running triumph in the $100,000 Better Talk Now at a mile on the grass at Saratoga. He had earlier finished eighth in the $941,325 Queen’s Plate, the first leg of Canada’s Triple Crown over the synthetic Polytrack course at Woodbine, and ran third in the $119,710 Toronto Cup over the turf course at his home track.
The Saratoga victory on Aug. 20 by the bay colt, a fan favorite wherever he runs because his face is adorned by very distinct heart-shaped blaze, improved his career record to 3-1-2 in 10 races with earnings of $196,489. The Better Talk Now was the Ontario-bred Heart to Heart’s second win in three races on turf.
Heart to Heart partnered with jockey Julien Leparoux in April to win an allowance race on the Keeneland turf by 6 ¼ lengths. Leparoux will ride the favorite from post three in the Jefferson Cup.
Speightsland, a Florida-bred son of Speightstown trained by Churchill Downs regular Mark Casse, will bid for his first stakes victory when Alan Garcia rides him from post four in the Jefferson Cup. He narrowly missed winning his stakes debut when finished a nose back of the victorious Stacked Deck in first turf outing in Woodbine’s one-mile $94,997 Charlie Barley on July 5. Speightsland followed that strong run with a victory by a head in a 1 1/16-mile grass allowance race at the Toronto track on Aug. 1.
Speightsland brings a career record of 2-1-1 in five races and earnings of $90,889 into Saturday’s race. He’ll carry 118 pounds.
Hesinfront only has two wins in 12 career races coming into the Jefferson Cup but both came over Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course. One of two sons of the hot sire War Front in the race, the Dale Romans-trained Hesinfront collected his first career win over the course last November and scored a comfortable victory in a June 28 allowance race. He finished fourth to Divine Oath in the American Derby (GIII) on the Arlington Park grass on July 12 and followed that effort with a late-running third in an allowance race on the Kentucky Downs grass on Sept. 13.
Miguel Mena will ride Hesinfront from the outside post in the field of eight 3-year-olds. The colt has $84,658 in earnings from a career slate that stands at 2-1-2 in a dozen races.
An unknown quantity in the Jefferson Cup field is Battlefront, a Kentucky-bred son of War Front who makes his U.S. debut after collecting a pair of wins from six 2013 races on grass at French tracks. The most recent of those outings occurred last October when he finished seventh of nine as the favorite in an allowance race at Deauville.
Previously trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, the Allen homebred is now conditioned at Churchill Downs by Ben Colebrook. Battlefornt will race on the anti-bleeding medication Lasix for the first time in his American racing bow and will start from post seven under jockey Robby Albarado.
Another 3-year-old entering new territory in the Jefferson Cup is Chuck and Maribel Sandford’s Almost Famous, a son of Unbridled’s Song who makes his debut on grass after racing on dirt nine times and once on synthetic Polytrack in his 10 previous races. All three lifetime wins by the Patrick Byrne-trained Almost Famous have come over the main track at Churchill Downs. He enters the Jefferson Cup off of solid runs on dirt in the $300,000 Smarty Jones (GIII) at Parx, where he finished fourth; the $300,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown, where he ran third as the favorite; and a third-place run behind Tapiture in the $109,400 Matt Winn (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
Joe Rocco Jr. will ride Almost Famous, an 8-1 risk in the morning line, from post five.
Other contenders in the Jefferson Cup include Sportscaster, who is trained by Romans and owned by 44 Racing, a partnership headed by former pro and college basketball star Dan Issel that also includes sportscaster Tom Hammond of NBC Sports among its members; Captain Dixie, runner-up in the $204,600 Centaur at Indiana Grand in July and fifth in the $230,417 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 6 for trainer Kellyn Gorder; and Chicago-based Stormy Pacific, runner-up in the $67,000 Straight Line at Arlington Park on Aug. 16 for trainer Dale Bennett.
All of the entrants in the Jefferson Cup will carry 118 pounds.
The field for the Jefferson Cup from the hedge out (with jockey, weight and morning line odds): Sportscaster (Jesus Castanon, 118, 10-1), Captain Dixie (Ricardo Santana Jr., 118, 10-1), Heart to Heart (Leparoux, 118, 5-2), Speightsland (Garcia, 118, 3-1), Almost Famous (Rocco Jr., 118, 8-1), Stormy Pacific (Eduardo Perez, 118, 10-1), Battlefront (Albarado, 118, 6-1) and Hesinfront (Mena, 118, 9-2).
Michael Langdon’s improving Carve has won four races and nearly $500,000 in a “career year” in 2014, and is the early favorite to add another significant win to his finest racing season when he takes on five rivals in the second running of the $125,000-added Homecoming Classic on Saturday (Sept. 27) at Churchill Downs.
The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up over the main track had a flashy debut in 2013 when Janis Whitham’s reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) and Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) winner Fort Larned scored an easy win in its inaugural running. This year’s race is one of two major stakes events set for the final Saturday of the track’s second September Meet, which concludes its 12-date run on Sunday (Sept. 28).
The Homecoming Classic is scheduled as the ninth of 11 races on Saturday, which has a first race post time of 12:45 p.m. (all times EDT). The scheduled post time for the Homecoming Classic is 4:49 p.m., while the accompanying 38th running of the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds on turf is set as the 10th race at 5:20 p.m.
Carve, a 4-year-old gelded son of First Samurai trained by Brad Cox, will attempt to add a win in the Homecoming Classic to a 2014 record of 4-1-1 in seven races with earnings of $458,860. Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has installed Carve as the narrow 9-5 favorite in his morning line odds for the well-matched Homecoming Classic field.
Cox’s rising star comes into the race off a strong runner-up finish to Bradester in Churchill Downs’ $107,300 Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) on Sept. 6. That loss snapped a three-race win streak that began at the Louisville track in a June 14 allowance race and included stakes wins in the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII) at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows and the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes at Mountaineer. Carve’s career record has improved to 6-2-4 in 16 races with earnings of $708,391.
Despite his strong outing against the impressive Bradester in the Ack Ack over Churchill Downs’ one-turn mile course, Cox believes Carve prefers a two-turn distance like the Homecoming Classic’s 1 1/8 miles.
"Two turns will help him,” Cox said. “I think going two turns is a little bit better than one for him. He won here in the spring in a one-turn mile in an allowance, but all his other wins have been around two turns.”
Carve will carry high weight of 123 pounds in the Homecoming Classic and will concede two pounds to each of his rivals. He will break from post three under jockey Jesus Castanon, who has been aboard Cox’s veteran in all but one of his 2014 races.
Close behind in Battaglia’s morning line odds are 5-2 co-second choices: Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s multiple graded stakes winner Departing and Jake Ballis and Rashad Lewis’ lightly-raced graded stakes winner Cigar Street.
Departing enters the Homecoming Classic off a disappointing eighth-place run behind Moreno in the $1.5 million Whitney (GI) at Saratoga, but the 4-year-old gelding by the hot sire War Front has trained well for trainer Al Stall Jr. at Churchill Downs since that outing. The only millionaire in the Homecoming Classic field, Departing was a four-time stakes winner as a 3-year-old in 2013 before he was sent to Claiborne Farm for an extended rest following a fourth-place finish as the odds-on favorite in Remington Park’s Oklahoma Derby (GIII). He returned to racing at Churchill Downs with a one-mile allowance win during Kentucky Derby Week, and followed that effort with a third-place run behind Moonshine Mullin and reigning 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge in the Stephen Foster Handicap in mid-June.
Departing enters the Homecoming Classic with a 7-0-2 record in 12 career races and total earnings of $1,521,340. Regular jockey Robby Albarado will ride and break from post four on Saturday.
Cigar Street, a 5-year-old son of 2007 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner Street Sense, will carry the hopes of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, Churchill Downs’ all-time leader in victories (679) and stakes triumphs (80). Shaun Bridgmohan will ride Cigar Street, who finished a close second on a muddy track to Homecoming Classic rival Pick of the Litter in his most recent outing, an August allowance race at Saratoga. That race was the first for Cigar Street since a triumph in the $100,000 Skip Away (GIII) at Gulfstream Park 17 months earlier and it lifted his career slate to 4-1-0 in seven races with earnings of $200,738.
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who rode Cigar Street in the first three races of his career, will be back in the saddle aboard Mott’s star when he breaks from post five on Saturday.
Pick of the Litter, owned by Carolyn Vogel’s Crossed Sabres Farm, will seek his first stakes victory and third win of 2014 for trainer Dale Romans when he breaks from the outside post in the Homecoming Classic. Prior to his Saratoga win over Cigar Street, Pick of the Litter finished a solid fourth behind Valid and runner-up Bradester in the $211,000 Monmouth Cup (GII) at Monmouth Park. The 4-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy has yet to finish worse than second in four career outings on dirt at Churchill Downs, a record that includes a runner-up finish to Homecoming Classic favorite Carve in that rival’s allowance win in June.
Jockey Julien Leparoux will be aboard Pick of the Litter for the first time. Romans’ colt is the 4-1 fourth choice in Battaglia’s morning line odds and will start from the outside post in the six-horse field.
The field for the Homecoming Classic, from the rail out (with jockey, weight and morning line odds): Perfect Title (Brian Hernandez Jr., 121, 15-1), Call Me George (Leandro Goncalves, 121, 15-1), Carve (Castanon, 123, 9-5), Departing (Albarado, 121, 5-2), Cigar Street (Bridgmohan, 121, 5-2) and Pick of the Litter (Leparoux, 121, 4-1).
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Thank You Marylou commenced a winning move on the turn for home, grabbed the lead at the quarter pole and widened her advantage down the stretch to easily win Saturday’s 39th running of the $112,000 Dogwood (Grade III) at Churchill Downs by 6 ½ lengths over Henny Jenny. Fiftyshadesofgold, the Eight Belles (GIII) winner who was sent off as the 4-5 favorite in the field of eight 3-year-old fillies, struggled while racing down on the inside and faded to fifth.
Trained by Mike Maker and ridden for the first time by Miguel Mena, Thank You Marylou covered the seven furlongs on a fast main track in 1:23.19 and paid $11.80, $6 and $6.80 as the 9-2 third betting choice. Henny Jenny, a 24-1 outsider with Leandro Goncalves up, returned $17.40 and $17.40. Milam, the 7-2 second choice, was another half-length back in third under Corey Lanerie and paid $6.40.
Bird Maker, Fiftyshadesofgold, Mizzen Mast, Enjoy the Family and Platinum Lady completed the order of finish. Honey’s Ryan and Kiss to Remember were scratched.
Mizzen Mast was rushed to the lead from the outside stall with Platinum Lady, Fiftyshadeofgold and Enjoy the Family in close pursuit. Thank You Marylou, who added blinkers for the race, relaxed nicely in the clear behind the quartet through fractions of :22.83 and :45.79 before drawing even with Mizzen Mast at the head of the stretch. After grabbing the lead in 1:10.30 without much urging, Mena shook the reins with an eighth of a mile to run and Thank You Marylou responded with authority.
"I had a perfect trip on the outside and I called on her a little bit turning for home and she went pretty easy,” Mena said. “I had never been on her before but my guess is the blinkers made a big difference. She ran great.”
The victory was worth $67,357 for the Ramseys, who collected their record-extending 396th victory at Churchill Downs.
Thank You Marylou, who won the $75,000 Any Limit at Gulfstream Park in March and finished third in the $500,000 Ashland (GI) at Keeneland in April, won for the third time in eight career starts. Overall, she was banked $275,457.
Bred in Virginia by Mr. and Mrs. C.W. McNeeley III, Thank You Marylou is a daughter of Birdstone out of the Menifee mare Menifeeque.
MIGUEL MENA, jockey of Thank You Marylou (winner) – “They put blinkers on her for a reason I guess, because from the get-go she took me in a perfect position. I had a perfect trip on the outside and I called on her a little bit turning for home and she went pretty easy. I had never been on her before but my guess is the blinkers made a big difference. She ran great.”
MIKE MAKER trainer of Thank You Marylou (winner) – “That was perfect. She prefers an outside post position. So she put herself in a good spot and she really ran the way we’ve been thinking she could run for a while. It’s hard to say the impact of the blinkers. She had the inside post last time out and she only got beat a couple lengths, but she was pretty intimidated. So I’m not sure if the blinkers did a whole lot for her here being on the outside.”
Q: On the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint being run at the same distance – “I’m aware.”
Q: On if he could talk owner Ken Ramsey into going to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint – “I don’t think I’d have to twist his arm too hard; you never know.”
BILL CONNELLY, trainer of Henny Jenny (runner-up) – “I thought she’d run good. I didn’t know if she was good enough, but I knew she was ready to run a good race. She only ran on the dirt one time, and that was at Penn National on kind of a muddy track. She went to the lead, and that’s not her style. She’s a come-from-behind sprinter and she’s become a pretty good filly.”
LEANDRO GONCALVES, rider of Henny Jenny (runner-up) – “She ran great. Billy (Connelly) just told me there was a lot of speed in the race and to just let her break and make one run. It worked out pretty good. The winner went fast and she was just not good enough to win.”
COREY LANERIE, rider of Milam (third) – “My filly broke good and I got her outside – she didn’t like the dirt (hitting her) too much. I was a little wide, but I was only one path outside the winner. She ran a winning race. She hadn’t run in a while, so I think she moves up a little bit.”
IAN WILKES, trainer of Bird Maker (fourth) – “She ran a good fourth. If she had run second or third it would have been good, but the winner ran a big race.”
Q: She made a nice move on the turn. Did you think at any point she might get the win? “She ran good, but she just flattened a little bit down the lane. That’s my job to figure that out and improve her there.”
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, rider of Bird Maker (fourth) – “She was trying. She tried the whole way for me. You can’t ask for much more. The winner ran a good race and mine kept trying”
ROBBY ALBARADO, rider of favored Fiftyshadesofgold (fifth) – “She kind of got bottled up in there and she wasn’t real comfortable there, but she didn’t have any option to get her out at any point. She just kind of stayed in there and didn’t give any effort.”
Aireofdistinction battled for the lead midway around the far turn and kicked clear in the final 100 yards to beat late-running Interest Free by 2 ½ lengths in Saturday’s sixth running of the $111,500 Open Mind, a six-furlong listed stakes race for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs.
Aireofdistinction stopped the teletimer in 1:10.54 over a fast main track to give owner Gillian Campbell, trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. their second straight Open Mind triumph. They teamed to win the event last year with Vuitton, who also was co-owned by Ralph and Shelly Stayer and Andrew Pajak.
Flower Spell, the 3-2 favorite, broke fastest from the gate in the field of six distaffers with Aireofdistinction in close pursuit through a first quarter mile in :22.56. The winner and a looming Janis’s Joy drew even with the leader on the turn and there was a three-way battle for the lead at the top of the stretch after a half-mile in :46.05.
Aireofdistinction battled between horses down the stretch, put away a fading Flower Spell and then kicked clear of Janis’s Joy, who couldn’t keep up with the winner. Interest Free rallied from last to get second by three-quarters of a length over Janis’s Joy.
"She always runs great,” Santana said of the winner. “I know this filly; she’s a nice filly and she always tries hard.”
Aireofdistinction, sent to post at odds of 5-2, returned $7, $4 and $3.40. Interest Free, ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., paid $4 and $2.80. Janis’s Joy, under Leandro Goncavles, returned $4.40.
Flower Spell, Rusticana and Afternoon Tango completed the order of finish. Defending champ Vuitton was scratched.
Aireofdistinction, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Songandaprayer out of the Storm Cat mare Clear Distinction, earned $68,439 for the win. This was her second career stakes triumph. The 4-year-old filly also prevailed in the $100,000 Spring Fever this winter at Oaklawn Park.
Overall, Aireofdistinction has won five of her 14 starts with one second and four thirds. Her career earnings now stand at $258,911.
Saturday’s race saluted the late Eugene Klein’s Hall of Fame filly Open Mind, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained winner of the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Churchill Downs who returned to the Louisville track the following spring to win the Kentucky Oaks. The New Jersey-bred filly was an Eclipse Award champion at ages two and three. A winner of 12 races and $1,844,372 in 19 starts, the daughter of Deputy Minister was enshrined in Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2011.
OPEN MIND QUOTES
RICARDO SANTANA JR., jockey of AIREOFDISTINCTION (winner) – “She always runs great. I know this filly; she’s a nice filly and she always tries hard. Mr. (Steve) Asmussen didn’t even give me any directions. He knew she had the speed. She ran her race, and she ran it well.”
DARREN FLEMING, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen of AIREOFDISTINCTION (winner) – “She ran very well. She was sharp today and laid a little closer and finished up nice. She pretty much runs her own kind of race every time; she’s not always in the same spot.”
NEIL HOWARD, trainer of INTEREST FREE (runner-up) – “She ran very well. She’s one of those that’s in-the-middle – she needs seven-eighths to a mile, but she ran well.”
Q: You added blinkers today, but she rallied from well back. Did you expect her to show a little more speed with the equipment change? “We didn’t think it would get her too amped-up. We just wanted her to keep from dropping out the back so far. We had one piece of the combination, but we needed to go a little further. But I thought she ran great.”
BRIAN HERNANDEZ JR., jockey on INTEREST FREE (runner-up) – “She really came running. She ran big. All the way around there we thought we were on the best horse and she made her big run. They just got away from her a little bit and she ran out of ground.
Q: Neil added blinkers for Interest Free today. Did you expect her to be any closer in the early going? “It improved her a little bit, I think. It made her closing run a little harder. It (the addition of blinkers) didn’t hurt her any, and I think it helped her a little.”
Cristina’s Journey remained perfect in two starts with a dominant gate-to-wire victory by 2 ¼ lengths over Pangburn in Saturday’s 46th running of the $231,000 Pocahontas (Grade II) for 2-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs.
Ridden by Miguel Mena, Cristina’s Journey, owned by Tim Newcomer’s GSN Stable, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.37 on a fast track and gave trainer Dale Romans, a Louisville native, his 40th Churchill Downs stakes win.
Cristina’s Journey opened a clear lead from the start and dictated the pace through fractions of :24.19, :48.63, 1:13.91 and 1:39.83. She was collared by True to You at the half mile marker, but she repulsed the challenge and shook clear down the stretch for the convincing win.
Cristina’s Journey, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Any Given Saturday out of the Dixie Union mare, banked $136,059 for the win. Additionally, the Pocahontas is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series, which means Cristina’s Journey has secured a starting spot and $10,000 travel stipend to the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
Cristina’s Journey also is the early points-leader on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks after collecting 10 points. The Pocahontas was the first of 31 qualifying races to the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) to be run next May, and points were awarded to the Top 4 finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
Cristina’s Journey paid $9, $5.20 and $4 as the 7-2 second betting choice. Pangburn returned $6 and $4.80. Milehighbutterfly was another 2 ½ lengths back in third and paid $15. The strung-out field was completed by Loom, 3-2 favorite Take Charge Brandi, True to You, Phoenix Park, Frolic to the Wire, Queen’s Ready and Rachel’s Ready.
Cristina’s Journey entered the Pocahontas off a 4 ¼-length debut win over six furlongs at Ellis Park on July 27. The $37,000 yearling purchase exits a Grade II winner.
DALE ROMANS, trainer of Cristina’s Journey (first): “She’s a very good filly. She was pressed today and she drew off clear and looked good to me. I was hoping for an effort like her last one. I try to stay positive and when (partner) Tammy (Fox) worked her the other day she said she’d improved since her first race. A bunch of fillies were kind of the same. I’m sure everybody liked their filly but you don’t know until you line them up and she ran the way we were hoping.”
On owner Tim Newcomer: “Tim’s a good man. He owns a little piece of Silver Max and he’s been around the game awhile. He’s enthusiastic and loves the game so it’s been fun and he’s had some good success.”
On if she runs back before the Breeders’ Cup: “I don’t know. There’s the Alcibiades sitting there but we’ll just have to see how she’s doing and let her tell me what we need to do. I don’t think she has to though. I think she’s the type of horse who could train right into a big race like that.”
MIGUEL MENA, jockey of Cristina’s Journey (winner): “This filly has tactical speed. She won on the lead at Ellis. She broke sharp and the instructions were to just make the lead; if somebody goes crazy then maybe she’s OK to start in second. But she broke well and had a nice steady pace; she was comfortable. Then when the rest of the field started to catch up at the quarter pole, I let her pick it up a little bit. When I hit her at the eighth pole, she picked it up and we won pretty easy. She’s pretty awesome; she wins at Ellis by almost five and then she beat this bunch easy. Like I said, I hit her a couple of times at the eighth pole and I felt her just pick it up right away and she galloped out strong. I think she’s great but we’ll see how good she is when we go to the Breeders’ Cup I guess.”
KENNY MCPEEK, trainer of Pangburn (runner-up): “She’s acted all class from the beginning. She’s always done everything right and she wants to go all day long so let’s keep our fingers crossed between now and spring.”
Concern on surface change: “Yeah, she needed to learn to take some dirt in her face. She was real green on her leads today. I’m going to watch a replay and see what we can do to improve that.”
Next start?: “Maybe the Alicibides. I’ll talk to Mr. Anthony and we’ll discuss it.”
JOEL ROSARIO, jockey of Pangburn (second): “Good trip. I thought the horse would take a little time to really get going, and after she did, she found it in herself. Turning for home, I think she used herself a little too much, but she’s learning. I think she will be better in the future.”
Lucky Player Nips Stablemate Bold Conquest in Iroquois for Early Lead in 'Road to Derby,' Breeders' Cup Juvenile Bid
Lucky Player took the first major step toward next year’s running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and earned a guaranteed spot in the starting gate for this year’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) when he held off stablemate Bold Conquest in deep stretch to score a neck victory in the 33rd running of the $115,500 Iroquois (GIII) for 2-year-olds, one of four stakes races run on the first Saturday of Churchill Downs’ 12-date September Meet.
Steve Asmussen trains the top two finishers in the field of nine for the 1 1/16-mile Iroquois and won the race for the third time in his career. Ricardo Santana Jr. rode the winner, an 11-1 longshot who tracked a slow early pace set by favored Mr. Z and out-kicked Bold Conquest and Joel Rosario in the final yards to collect first stakes victory. Hashtag Bourbon, bottled up along the rail in traffic for much of the race, finally found room in the stretch and rallied to finish third, 1 ½ lengths behind the runner-up.
With the victory by Lucky Player, owner Jerry Durant’s son of Lookin at Lucky became the early leader in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” (“RTTKD”) points system that will determine the eligibility of horses vying to be part of the maximum field of 20 3-year-old Thoroughbreds that will compete in next spring’s Kentucky Derby. Lucky Player earned 10 RTTKD points with his Iroquois triumph, while Bold Conquest picked up four for his runner-up effort.
Along with its implications for the 2015 Kentucky Derby, the Iroquois also was the first event in the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Juvenile Division” and the win guaranteed Lucky Player a spot in the starting gate for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Santa Anita on Saturday, Nov. 1. He also will receive a travel stipend of $10,000 for his journey to the Arcadia, Calif. track.
Lucky Player covered the 1 1/16-mile distance over a fast track in 1:45.76 and returned $25, $8.40 and $5.60. Bold Conquest, a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin owned by Ackerley Brothers Farm, paid $6 and $4.20. Hashtag Bourbon, a son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver trained by Kellyn Gorder, rallied under Brian Hernandez Jr. to finish third and returned $3.60 to show.
“Lucky Player was laying extremely well, he was in a perfect spot,” Asmussen said. “Ricardo gave him a great trip. I think he benefitted a lot from his two-turn race that he had previously [in the Prairie Juvenile Mile at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows], and then Bold Conquest – I think he was a little wide early, [and there was] not a lot of pace, but he still continued well.
“I thought they both looked well, they looked good under the wire, they maintained the margin and I think both horses will get better with experience.”
The Iroquois victory improved the career record for Lucky Player to 2-1-0 in four races, with his earlier victory coming in his May 23 debut at Churchill Downs. The winner’s purse of $68,746 increased his career earnings to $115,691.
Favored Mr. Z, trained by Hall of Famer and four-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas, jumped to the lead from post two with Lucky Player in closest pursuit and jockey Corey Lanerie guided the leader through modest fractions of :23.41 for a quarter mile, :49.51 for the half-mile and six furlongs in 1:14.82. Lucky Player and Santana challenged the leader and grabbed a narrow advantage on the far turn while Bold Conquest rallied five-wide to take on his stablemate. Hashtag Bourbon, who had broken from the inside post, was bottled up behind the leaders and hemmed-in from the outside by Cleveland Sound into upper stretch, while Danny Boy, who had settled on the inside near the back of the field, launched a five-wide bid on turn. Lucky Player and Bold Conquest battled through the stretch, and the latter stuck his head in front in mid-stretch as the two horses brushed. Hashtag Bourbon managed to get free and swing to the outside late, but could not make up enough ground on the top pair. Danny Boy rallied for fourth.
Mr. Z, the pacesetting favorite, faded to fifth, and was followed by Cleveland Sound, Holy Frazier, Dekabrist and The Gorilla Man.
Hashtag Bourbon’s third-place run was good for two “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points, while Danny Boy collected a single point for his fourth-place run.
STEVE ASMUSSEN, trainer of Lucky Player and Bold Conquest (winner and runner-up): “Lucky Player was laying extremely well, he was in a perfect spot. Ricardo [Santana] gave him a great trip. I think he benefitted a lot from his two-turn race that he had previously [Prairie Juvenile Mile], and then Bold Conquest, I think he was a little wide early, not a lot of pace but he still continued well.”
“I thought they both looked well, they looked good under the wire, they maintained the margin and I think both horses will get better with experience.”
“I think with Lucky Player, with four races already, and a different type, (and) Bold Conquest being a bigger and heavier horse with the two turns, he would most likely come back sooner. We’ll see how they come out of this attitude wise and see how they go back to the track.”
RICARDO SANTANA JR., jockey of Lucky Player (winner): “He had a clean trip; he’s a really nice horse. He relaxed really nicely. When we were turning for home and I asked him, he really showed his class in this race. I was pretty confident going into this race. When I rode him at Prairie Meadows and he came down the stretch and saw all the lights, I think he almost got caught in it a little bit. I had more confidence in him running during the day. He’s a nice horse. I told Mr. Asmussen after I broke his maiden here that I definitely wanted to ride him again.”
JOEL ROSARIO, jockey of Bold Conquest (runner-up): “We had a good trip; the race broke fast and my horse broke a little slow. He finished well and did everything right after that. I just think the other horse was a little better today. If Steve asked me to get on him again I’d be more than happy to ride him next time.”
Returning from a 175-day layoff, Don’t Tell Sophia rallied from last in a field of six fillies and mares to roll past Molly Morgan en route to a 2 ¼ length victory in the 31st running of the $108,200 Locust Grove on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Don’t Tell Sophia, a 6-year-old daughter of Congaree out of the Valid Expectations mare Lost Expectations, ran the 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:44.93 to notch her sixth career stakes win.
Joe Rocco Jr. rode the winner for trainer Phil Simms, who co-owns the Kentucky-bred mare with Jerry Namy.
Longshot Baby Fresh set the pace along the inside in a pedestrian :25.31, and was headed after a half-mile by 9-5 favorite On Fire Baby in :49.76. Don’t Tell Sophia, who saved ground along the inside, trailed by about five lengths before making a sweeping five-wide move on the final turn to engage the leaders and draw clear for the win.
Don’t Tell Sophia, who banked $66,413 and improved her record to 21-10-4-3—$679,295, paid $6.20, $2.80 and $2.60 as the 2-1 second betting choice. Molly Morgan returned $3.40 and $2.60. Frivolous was another nose back in third and paid $5.20. Ria Antonia, Baby Fresh and On Fire Baby, who stopped on the second turn, completed the order of finish.
Don’t Tell Sophia, the winner of last fall’s Chilukki (GII) at Churchill Downs, began her 2014 campaign with back-to-back $100,000 stakes victories at Oaklawn Park in the Pippin and Bayakoa before finishing third beaten 1 ¾ lengths behind Magic Union and multiple Grade I-winner Close Hatches in Oaklawn’s Azeri (GII). She also won the Pippin and Bayakoa in 2013.
The bay mare was purchased by Sims as a yearling for the bargain price of $1,000.
The Locust Grove was one of four stakes races Saturday at Churchill Downs. The stakes race is named after the 1790 Georgian mansion in Louisville that played home to ancestors of Churchill Downs founder Col. M. Lewis Clark.
LOCUST GROVE HANDICAP QUOTES
PHIL SIMS, trainer of Don’t Tell Sophia (winner): “She’s been doing well and she’s been training fine. We went into this race with a lot of confidence. I’d rather they be a little bit quicker, but she wasn’t too far off the pace.
“She shows up, you can count on her. She likes this track, too, a whole lot. If you look at her, you know she’s not a thousand dollar horse. She just happened to be in the right place. She’s by Congaree who wasn’t a faster stallion, but that’s what I look for. Her mother was a graded stakes placed horse, and her mother was a nice horse. I look for those kind of horses, maybe not that fast of stallion but they can have the physique as well.”
Regarding next start: “I don’t know. There’s the Spinster that could be a possibility. We’ll just see. This filly ran a game race to Close Hatches at Oaklawn. We’ll see.”
JOE ROCCO JR., jockey of Don’t Tell Sophia (winner): “She was able to lay a little closer than she normally does; she did that on her own. The pace made it easier for her to be a little closer. So she stayed in within striking range. With the slow fractions you always worry they might run on by you; but she did well today I had a lot of horse. They really did an amazing job with her coming off of that layoff and boy was she ready today.”
COREY LANERIE, jockey of Molly Morgan (second): “It was a good trip; I found myself right behind Frivolous and On Fire Baby. I was hoping to get to the rail and maybe give her the same kind of trip I gave her in the Fleur de Lis, but it didn’t work out. I had a good trip all-in-all. Unfortunately, we were just second best today.”
ANITA CAULEY, owner of On Fire Baby (sixth as the 1.90-1 favorite) “I think it’s time for her to go home and be a broodmare. We’ve had a good run, but it’s time.”