Churchill Downs

Stirring Clark Handicap, 'Stars of Tomorrow' Performances Highlight Churchill Downs' Weather-Shortened 24-Day Fall Meet

Sizzling equine performances topped by a Hoppertunity victory in the Grade I Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare, dazzling performances by rising 2-year-olds in a pair of “Stars of Tomorrow” programs, and an early winter blast that forced the cancellation of back-to-back racing days for the first time in more than four decades were highlights of Churchill Downs Racetrack’s (“CDRT”) Fall Meet that concluded on Sunday, Nov. 30.

An unusually early winter combination of a three-inch snowfall and temperatures that plunged into single-digits combined to freeze the main track at Churchill Downs on Monday, Nov. 17 and ongoing below-average temperatures and a slow thaw prompted track officials to cancel live racing programs planned for Wednesday, Nov. 19 and Thursday, Nov. 20. There was no training over the one-mile surface from Tuesday, Nov. 18 through Thursday, Nov. 20.

The cancellation on Nov. 19 was the first winter weather-related cancellation since Nov. 13, 1986 and the back-to-back cancellations on Nov. 19-20 were the first since a frozen track forced cancellation Nov. 23-24, 1970.  Track Superintendent David Lehr’s 26-person team worked around-the-clock throughout the week to get the one-mile surface back in shape for a resumption of training and racing on Friday, Nov. 21.

But the racing program during the meet that had been scheduled for 26 racing days remained strong, thanks in part to the track’s stellar program of 2-year-old racing highlighted by its pair of “Stars of Tomorrow” programs for juveniles and its attractive stakes program headed by the Clark Handicap, which was first run during the track’s inaugural meet in 1875 and, like the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), has been run annually without interruption since.

The average number of horses-per-race during the 24 days of racing was 8.56, which was down 2.4% compared to the average of 8.77 horses-per-race during the 25-day Fall Meet of 2013. Purses paid during the meet totaled $8,617,940, an increase of 4.8% from the total of $8,222,779 in 25 days of racing in 2013. There were 250 races with a total of 2,140 starters during this year’s weather-shortened Fall Meet, compared with 254 races run in 2013. Average daily purses totaled $359,081 compared to $328,911 a year ago – a 9.2% increase.

Although four races from the cancelled programs were added to the remaining racing programs during the meet, the cancellations reduced the number of races offered by 20. Those cancelled races offered purses of $558,000.

“We faced challenges – expected and unexpected – during the Fall Meet, but our racetrack team responded strongly in dealing with those issues and our fans continued to support us during the remainder of the meet that, as a whole, was very satisfying,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs. “We are deeply grateful to our horsemen for their patience and support during our uncommon stretch of winter weather, and to all of the teams at our track. David Lehr’s track crews got little to no sleep for a week as they battled the frigid weather and worked tirelessly to ensure that our track was safe and fair when racing resumed. Our group sales and events teams displayed the same level of commitment in working to satisfy patrons who had scheduled visits or special events at Churchill Downs during our cancelled racing programs.

“Our Fall Meet was solid from its opening day, but the support of horsemen and fans after our winter weather issues was most gratifying. Our closing weekend racing cards were very strong and fans responded in both their attendance and at the wagering windows on our traditionally popular programs on Thanksgiving Day, the ‘Black Friday’ Clark Handicap card and our final Saturday’s 'Stars of Tomorrow’ program, one of the most impressive in the 10-year history of that concept."

The Clark Handicap, the annual highlight of the Fall Meet, did not disappoint when Mike PegramKarl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Hoppertunity, a major contender for last spring’s Kentucky Derby who was knocked out of that race by injury, returned to Churchill Downs to win the $551,000 race for 3-year-olds and up by a half-length. The Clark victory was the third for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, the second for co-owner Pegram and the first for jockey Martin Garcia.

Hoppertunity led a 1-2-3 finish by 3-year-olds in which the Todd Pletcher-trained Protonico and Constitution, another Derby hopeful that had been sidelined by injury before the Run for the Roses, finished second and third, respectively.

The “Stars of Tomorrow II” program on the final Saturday of the meet produced dazzling performances by 2-year-olds that could emerge as contenders of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

Zayat StablesEl Kabeir, Godolphin Racing’s Imperia and William S. Farish’s Eagle were separated by less than a length in a thrilling 1-2-3 finish in the $233,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII). Earlier, Mary and Gary West’s West Coast Belle held off No Fault of Mine to win the $233,400 Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies. It was the second stakes win of the meet for West Coast Belle, who had won the $58,000-added Rags to Riches overnight stakes for trainer Wayne Catalano  on the meet’s opening day.

The Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod awarded points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points system to the respective top four finishes in those races. The points will determine the horses that participate in next year’s Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs and El Kabeir and West Coast Belle earned 10 points each for their respective races.

Other eye-catching “Stars of Tomorrow II” performances were turned in by unbeaten Dortmund, who traveled from California for three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert to take a one-mile allowance race by 7 ¾ lengths, and Taylor S, a 2-year-old filly whose 6 ¼-length win in a six-furlong allowance race was one of three winners on the day for trainer Dale Romans.

G. Watts Humphrey’s homebred Frivolous upset heavily-favored Don’t Tell Sophia in a 19-1 upset in the 99th running of the $222,600 Falls City Handicap (GII) for fillies and mares on Thanksgiving Day. Trainer Vicki Oliver, the owner/breeder’s daughter, collected her first Churchill Downs stakes victory in the race and Frivolous was ridden by 54-year-old jockey Jon Court, who scored his first stakes win since he suffered a serious injury to his right hand in a riding mishap in the spring.

Other notable stakes wins during the meet included victories by Sparkling Review in the $237,800 Mrs. Revere (GII) for 3-year-old fillies on the grass; Molly Morgan, who took the $237,210 Chilukki (GII) for her second Grade II stakes win of the year for owner Bill Cubbedge and trainer Romans; the 3-year-old Heart to Heart, who scored his second stakes win of the year on the Churchill Downs grass in the $115,300 Commonwealth Turf (GIII); the 5-year-old Villandry, who took the $114,000 River City Handicap (GIII) for trainer Charlie LoPresti; Strike Charmer, who scored the first stakes win of her career when she took the $119,700 Cardinal Handicap (GIII) and Conquest Tsunami, who won the $55,211 Street Sense on the opening day ‘Stars of Tomorrow I’ racing program.

Jockeys Julien Leparoux and Robby Albarado achieved career milestones during the Fall Meet. The 31-year-old Leparoux collected his 2,000th career win in a one-length victory aboard In My Time in an Oct. 29 allowance race. Albarado, 41, celebrated his 1,000th career victory at Churchill Downs when he guided Red Masserati to victory in a Nov. 13 claiming race.

Streaking Corey Lanerie rode 36 winners during the Fall Meet’s 24 days to collect his fifth-consecutive “Leading Rider” title at a Churchill Downs racing meet. It was the seventh title in the last eight Churchill Downs meets for Lanerie, who now ranks 11th in all-time victories by a jockey at the track. Shaun Bridgmohan finished second (25 wins) and Leparoux (24) was third.

Louisville native Dale Romans saddled 14 winners to earn his 12th title of “Leading Trainer” at his hometown track.  Romans edged Wayne Catalano by one in a race that came down to the meet’s final day.

There was a tie for leading owner at 12 wins apiece between all-time Churchill Downs win leaders Ken and Sarah Ramsey and Gary and Mary West. The title for the Ramseys was their record-extending 23rd overall and 12th Fall Meet crown. The tie provided the Wests with their first “Leading Owner” title at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

It was a busy meet at the claiming box, with 139 horses claimed during the 24 days for a total of $2,732,000, which generated $163,920 in sales tax revenue for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Streaking Lanerie's Latest Churchill Downs Riding Title Is A Runaway

Two of the three “human races” run through the weather-abbreviated 24-day Fall Meet at Churchill Downs are nail-biters and likely to go down to the last two or three races on Sunday’s 11-race program.

While the crowns for the meet’s top owner and training were tights when the day began, there was no suspense in the contest for leading jockey. Corey Lanerie will need to clear a spot in his increasingly-crowded trophy case for another “Leading Rider” honor from Churchill Downs.

Heading into Sunday’s Fall Meet finale, Lanerie had ridden 34 winners and held an insurmountable advantage over second-place Shaun Bridgmohan (25 wins) and third-place Julian Leparoux (23).

With the Fall 2014 trophy already secured, Lanerie has won five straight riding crowns at Churchill Downs and seven of the last eight.  He is knocking on the door of becoming one of the top 10 riders in the 140-year history of Churchill Downs with 619 career wins at the track heading into Sunday’s races. He currently ranks 11th on the track’s all-time win list behind Hall of Famers Pat Day and Calvin Borel.

“It’s awesome,” Lanerie said. “It’s a great feeling to have business where the owners and trainers are sticking behind me. I have the opportunity to ride a lot of horses, and a lot of the better horses, and it makes for a good meet.”

Lanerie enjoyed a solid career at tracks in Louisiana and Texas prior to his move north to Kentucky. It was a big decision and he was optimistic that he could make his presence known, but he admits it would have been difficult to dream that his decision would work out so well.

“I was scared to come here,” Lanerie recalled. “I was doing pretty good on the Louisiana and Texas circuit and I was scared to take a jump. But I made the move and I did okay the first few years, and then things started to click.”

Lanerie said he was fortunate to have veteran jockey’s agent Terry “Jaws” Miller on his side when he arrived in Kentucky. Miller’s connections and Lanerie’s ability resulted in early success, and he has steadily climbed the ladder each year since his arrival.

“Without him to get me started, I might not be here today,” Lanerie said. “It was kind of like a kick-start to be able to come and get on business right away without people knowing me. I think that’s been the big day.”

Lanerie, who will head to Florida at the end of the Fall Meet to ride through the winter at Gulfstream Park, has one stakes victory among his Fall Meet wins at Churchill Downs. He was aboard Bill Cubbedge’s Molly Morgan for her victory in the $200,000-added Chilukki (Grade II).

HOWARD LOVED THE LOOK OF EAGLE IN SATURDAY’S KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB

While New York invaders El Kabeir and Imperia grabbed the top two positions in Saturday’s dramatic 88th renewal of the $233,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), Churchill Downs-based trainer Neil Howard was still beaming Sunday morning over the performance in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Derby prep by his rising star Eagle.

Owner-breeder William S. Farish’s son of Candy Ride (ARG) lost momentum in traffic problems on the far turn, but once clear Eagle rallied strongly under Brian Hernandez Jr. to finish third, the quarters of a length behind the top pair.

The Kentucky Jockey Club was the stakes debut for Eagle, whose three previous races included a maiden victory in his debut at Ellis Park, a runner-up finish in a Churchill Downs allowance race and an easy win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Keeneland.

“It was a really, really good competitive race and I thought it was a great effort,” Howard said. “We were all very pleased with the way he ran. Most importantly, Brian was more than satisfied.”

Howard saw Eagle steady along the inside as the 11-horse field made its way around the far turn. But Eagle’s run was so good that he saw no reason to dwell upon what might have been.

"When you lose a step or two on the turn like he did, there’s no room for losing even an inch of ground in those kind of races,” Howard said. “All in all, we were pleased.”

Howard’s career résumé includes a runner-up finish in the 1990 Kentucky Derby and a victory in the Preakness by Summer Squall, and he guided Mineshaft through a “Horse of the Year” campaign in 2003.

Eagle and the rest of Howard’s horses will leave Sunday evening on a journey to the stable’s winter quarters at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds. There will be ample opportunities there for Farish’s colt to prove if he is worthy of consideration for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands at his home track on Saturday, May 2.

“We’ll look at the obvious races down there,” Howard said. “We’ll see how he does and plan. But they have the strong 3-year-old series (of races) down there, so that would probably be the most likely thing that we’ll be doing.”

Eagle collected his first “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points in his Kentucky Jockey Club effort, earning two points for his third-place run on the 10-4-2-1 “Prep Season” scoring system. His career record now stands at 2-1-1 in four races with earnings of $81,602.

FIRST YEAR IN KENTUCKY WAS GOOD TO LANDEROS

As he wraps up his first year in Kentucky,  Chris Landeros is feeling very good about taking the chance that brought him to the Bluegrass State last spring.

It took the 26-year-old Landeros, who already had 1,000 wins to his credit when he arrived in Kentucky in the spring, some time to make his presence known. But he gained momentum and confidence throughout the year, and he is much more comfortable now than when he arrived in the Bluegrass State as a fresh new face following a winter of riding at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds.

“It’s been a great year,” Landeros said. “I wish I had come here earlier.”

Landeros entered the final day of Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet with seven victories that included a stakes win aboard Courtlandt Farm’s Strike Charmer in the $100,000-added Cardinal Handicap (GIII).

He has enjoyed solid success at all three Churchill Downs racing meets and other Kentucky tracks, and his decision to relocate from Texas has already resulted in his first ride in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

Landeros guided the 2-year-old Lawn Ranger to win Keeneland’s Dixiana Bourbon (GIII) for trainer Kenny McPeek, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event that earned that colt and Landeros a run in the Juvenile Turf (GI) at Santa Anita. Lawn Ranger and Landeros finished sixth to the victorious Hootenanny in his Breeders’ Cup debut.

Another highlight of his inaugural season in Kentucky was a victory aboard Dimension in the $200,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Dash.

Landeros came to Kentucky after a run as a leading rider at Lone Star Park in Texas and earlier success at Arizona’s Turf Paradise. Despite big numbers at those tracks, he was patient in assessing a possible move to Kentucky, although he was frequently encouraged to consider that step.

“I had opportunities, but I just never took them,” Landeros said. “I felt that I needed to polish myself up a little bit more. Being leading leader rider in Texas and riding for trainers like Bret Calhoun and Steve Asmussen, it led me up to a place like this.

“A year ago in November, I said I was going to Kentucky this spring.  No matter what happens at Fair Grounds, I’m going to Kentucky.”

He received early support on his new racing circuit from trainer David Carroll, and he was able to repay the favor this month by riding the Carroll-trained Strike Charmer to her victory in the Cardinal. He also has strong praise for McPeek and trainer Ian Wilkes.

“He’s a tremendous guy to ride for and I don’t know if I could have done it without him,” Landeros said of McPeek. “Ian Wilkes has helped me out a lot, and he helps me on-the-ground, as well. He helps me to be humble and be professional.”

With the conclusion of the Fall Meet at Churchill Downs, Landeros will head back to the Fair Grounds for the winter, and also expects to ride horses for McPeek, who will be based at Oaklawn Park and Sam Houston Park in Texas. But he will be back in Kentucky next spring and plans to build a home in the Louisville area.

Now that he’s finally here, Chris Landeros plans to be a part of racing at Churchill Downs and the state of Kentucky for a good while.

“It’s a classy place here,” Landerous said. “I don’t know where else you would want to be. Like I was saying, I wish I had come here earlier.”

CONSTRUCTION ON WINNER’S CIRCLE SUITES AND COURTYARD BEGINS MONDAY

Preliminary construction on Churchill Downs’ new Winner’s Circle Suites and Courtyard will commence after training hours on Monday.

The $4.2 million capital improvement project includes the construction of 20 private, open-air, all-inclusive Winner’s Circle Suites in a premium location under the Twin Spires between the sixteenth pole and finish line; a remodeled Trackside Winner’s Circle; and the creation of a new Courtyard that will accommodate temporary premium seating during Derby Week while providing a relaxed park-like setting for everyday racing fans.

The project, which encompasses 16,000 square feet, involves converting what are now box seats in Section 118 and 119 Clubhouse on the south side of the paddock runway, and bleacher seats in Section 119 Grandstand and one-third of Section 120 Grandstand on the paddock runway’s north side.

The project will be completed before the start of the 2015 Spring Meet on Saturday, April 25.

 Follow this link to a PDF copy of Churchill Downs' Nov. 30, 2014 Race Day Notes, which contain additional Fall Meet information, statistics and other data.

El Kabeir, Borel Lead From Start, Hold On to Win $233,000 Kentucky Jockey Club

New York invader El Kabeir, a 7-1 shot ridden by local hero and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel, led from the start and dug-in to hold-off late surges by Imperia and Eagle to score a narrow head victory in Saturday’s 88th running of the $233,000, Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs.

Owned by Zayat Stables LLC and trained by John Terranova, El Kabeir carried a two-length lead halfway through the homestretch and held on as the advantage was whittled in the final yards to turn back 10 rivals and earn the first stakes victory of his career. El Kabier covered the 1 1/16-mile distance over a fast track in 1:44.82 and returned $16.60, $7.40 and $5.60 for the victory. Godolphin Racing’s Imperia, making his first race on dirt after three starts on grass, just missed under jockey Robby Albarado and paid $$4.60 and $3.20 as the runner-up. Eagle, who rallied strongly in the final eighth of a mile under Brian Hernandez Jr. and was beaten by less than a length by the winner in third, returned $5.60 to show.

The Kentucky Jockey Club was a “Prep Season” race on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point system that will determine the 3-year-old Thoroughbreds that will participate in the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) on May 2 at Churchill Downs. El Kabeir earned 10 points for the victory along with Imperia (4), Eagle (2) and fourth-place finisher International Star (1). Lord Nelson, the 7-5 favorite trained by Bob Baffert, bobbled at the start and never threatened on his way to a fifth-place finish in the race.

The victory was the fourth Kentucky Jockey Club victory for Borel, who scored back-to-back wins aboard eventual Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver in 2009 and Beethoven in 2008 after scoring his initial victory aboard Dollar Bill in 2000.

“At the finish I knew it was getting tight because he had never been this far and the track is a little heavy,” Borel said. “With everything put together it was a matter of who could out grind the other one.”

A gray/roan Florida-bred son of Scat Daddy, El Kabeir won for the second time in five races, but he had run well against highly-regarded New York-based 2-year-olds Daredevil in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park, where he finished fourth, and Blofeld in the Nashua (GII), where El Kabeir ran second, five lengths behind the winner. The Kentucky Jockey Club victory lifted El Kabeir’s career record to 2-1-1 in five races and the winner’s share of $135,792 boosted his earnings to $265,892.

El Kabeir and Borel sprung quickly from the starting gate and established a 2 1/2-length lead down the backstretch with Sky Hero and Lucky Player in closest pursuit through fractional times of :23.62 for the quarter mile, :47.50 for a half-mile and six furlongs in :1:12.48. Imperia, five-wide and settled in seventh on the run down the backstretch, and Eagle bided his time in the middle of the field. The favored Lord Nelson got a way last after his poor start and was far back early. El Kabeir disposed of Sky Hero and Lucky Player on the far turn as Imperia gathered steam and circled the field and Eagle, forced to check in traffic midway through the turn, got free and took aim on the leader. Borel and El Kabeir maintained a clear advantage through mid-stretch until late-charging Imperia and Eagle began to chip away at that margin through the final eighth of a mile, although neither could do enough to catch the winner.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was disappointed by the narrow loss by runner-up Imperia, but his first on dirt after three turf starts was a strong effort. McLaughlin said the Kentucky Jockey Club was run over the “important dirt”: the Churchill Downs main track over which the 141st Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands will be run on Saturday, May 2, 2015.

“One more jump and he had it, but he ran great and we’re tickled with the way he ran,” McLaughlin said. “We belong with the 3-year-olds moving forward to the first Saturday in May.”

International Star finished 5 ¾ lengths behind the top trio in fourth and 1 ¼ lengths in front of favorite Lord Nelson.  Flashaway finished sixth and was followed by Lucky Player, Sky Hero, Majestico, War Point and Jumpin Frac Flash. Moonlight Bandit was scratched.

KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB QUOTES

CALVIN BOREL, jockey of EL KABEIR (winner): “I had never been on the colt, and he got in about five days ago. We took him to the gate, stood him, and took the blinkers off of him and that was his [trainer John Terranova] idea to get him to relax. As a matter of fact I was out here watching him and everything and he did everything was perfect and it was just a matter of getting the distance and getting him to relax. We did our job; we got him to relax and we we’ve got to keep going forward. I was feeling very good.

“At the finish I knew it was getting tight because he had never been this far and the track is a little heavy. With everything put together it was a matter of who could out grind the other one. I think he did. It was the first time going this far. Truly, after this race it’ll tighten him up real good.”

JOHN TERRANOVA II, trainer of EL KABEIR (winner): “He came out of the last race a little tired so I went easy with him the first couple of weeks, and we actually missed a work coming in here and I knew we were coming in a little on the short side. I got one good work into him since then. He ran on a real deep and tiring track that day in the Nashua and ran into a real strong head wind up the backstretch and got a little keen with (jockey) Irad (Ortiz Jr.) up the backstretch with the blinkers on first time so I pulled those right off. I went easy for the first couple of weeks because he was a little tired after that last race. He was a lighter colt and he’s put on weight and looked good so I got a good work in him the other day so I decided to ship him down here to see how he handled the two turns.”

Q: Why didn’t you decide to stay home [for the Remsen]? “A mile-and-an-eighth to a mile-and-a-sixteenth here. We just thought we’d ship to see how he shipped, first time going on the road. He’s a real talented colt. He’s just a little bit trying to find his balance.

“It [handling the surface] was great and he handled himself well in the paddock. He shipped in great and wanted to get over this surface and we wanted to get the two turns.

“I didn’t mind them going :47 and change. He’s a real fast colt, real relaxed with Calvin (Borel). Looks like Bob [Baffert’s] horse [Lord Nelson] didn’t break well and thought if they were going to leave him alone on the lead, that’s great. So we thought maybe somebody else would go out there, so I just told Calvin [Borel] to just try to get him to switch off and relax if he’s sitting off [the pace] or if he’s on the lead either way.”

Q: Take me back to when he broke his maiden by 10 ¾ lengths. “He ran a freaky race that day and a freaky number. When we ran in the Champagne it was just a mess the track that day. We broke from the rail and it was awful at Belmont at meet. The track, he just couldn’t take it.”

 

JUSTIN ZAYAT, son of owner AHMED ZAYAT of EL KABEIR (winner) via telephone from New Jersey: “It was actually pretty clear on the computer so I knew we won. Calvin [Borel] gave him an unbelievable ride from the beginning of the race. I thought that Bob Baffert’s horse [Lord Nelson] would be pretty close and I saw him break a little slow, so when we got the lead I felt pretty good going :23 and :47. We were pretty confident the whole way. For us, he’s actually a work short. We were kind of on the fence about coming to this race. We talked to John [Terranova] all week and debating back and forth, and we said ‘Why not take a shot?’ We knew he was a little short but he had the talent to do it.

“It was more fitness-wise than it was distance. Calvin came off and said he was kind of looking around at the shadows and everything so he’s kind of a little green still. He’s just a baby and is still learning. I’m very happy for John Terranova. He’s done a superb, superb job with him. He was confident coming into the race; he flew himself in for the race. There’s nothing like winning a Grade II.”

KIARAN McLAUGHLIN, trainer of IMPERIA (second) via telephone from New York:

Q: You were a little unlucky today, finishing second with Imperia here and in the Remsen with Frosted. But both ran very well …“We were a little unlucky, but we know we have two nice colts. We were unlucky not to win two races, but we ran very well in both.”

Q: I don’t think you had any question about his ability to handle dirt, but he certainly handled this dirt just fine … “That was good. That’s the important dirt. So we’re happy about that. One more jump and he had it, but he ran great and we’re tickled with the way he ran. We belong with the 3-year-olds moving forward to the first Saturday in May.”

Q: He was the favorite for a good while before the race. Did that surprise you? “(Laughing) I know. I said there’s a lot of McLaughlins around there if he’s opening up as the favorite.”

Q: So he goes back to Florida now. Then what? “We will obviously keep him on the dirt now and go from there.”

ROBBY ALBARADO, jockey of IMPERIA (second): “Nice colt. I had a great trip. It was his first time on the dirt and he took a lot of dirt. He was a consummate professional. He did everything I asked of him.”

NEIL HOWARD, trainer of EAGLE (third): “I thought he ran real well. You know you can’t even have the slightest little of traffic trouble to win a race like this. So he ran good and the winner and runner-up race great. I was happy. We’ll take him down to New Orleans and take it from there.”

BRIAN HERNANDEZ JR., jockey of EAGLE (third): “He ran good. Everything really set up pretty good for us but we got hung up a little bit coming off the second turn. But he was running. And I really liked his gallop out. It’ll be exciting to see him going a mile-and-an-eighth.”

JIMMY BARNES, assistant to trainer BOB BAFFERT of LORD NELSON (fifth as the 7-5 favorite): “He stumbled right at the start. He’s kind of a front runner and I think that kind of compromised all of our chances.”

               On Dortmund’s allowance win: “It was coming here and seeing how he travels. He needs a little experience, he’s still developing. Basically wanted to see how he handled Churchill. He handled it really well, didn’t he?”

MARTIN GARCIA, jockey of LORD NELSON (fifth as the 7-5 favorite): “The dirt broke out from underneath him. He just wasn’t ready. When the gates opened, the dirt just broke out and he stayed there. I sat and made one run but he likes to be free running. When that happened, that was that.”

On Dortmund’s allowance win: “I got the best trip. I couldn’t ask him for more.” Q: What about added distance? “The way he ran, I don’t see why not. We were just galloping. I just galloped to the outside and never asked for anything and then at the top of the stretch, I asked him a little bit. I wanted to make sure he was in control.”

West Coast Belle Gets Jump in Golden Rod, Wins Longines Kentucky Oaks Prep by 1 1/2 Lengths

Gary and Mary West’s West Coast Belle tracked the pacesetters, grabbed the lead at the eighth pole and turned back a late challenge by No Fault of Mine to win Saturday’s 71st running of the $230,400 Golden Rod (Grade II) at Churchill Downs by 1 ¼ lengths. .

West Coast Belle, the 8-5 favorite in the field of 12 two-year-old fillies trained by Wayne Catalano, ran 1 1/16 miles over a track rated “fast” in 1:45.52. Shaun Bridgmohan rode his second straight Golden Rod winner after taking last year’s renewal aboard Vexed.

The Golden Rod, which was worth $132,849 to the winning connections, completed a Fall Meet sweep of the $62,768 Rags to Riches on Oct. 26 and Golden Rod for West Coast Belle, a homebred for the Wests that is unbeaten in three starts with earnings of $190,446.

Simply Confection, Cristina’s Journey and Ancient Goddess-FR battled for the early lead and took the field of 12 two-year-old fillies through quarter-mile fractions of :23.73, :47.50 and 1:13.26. West Coast Belle was well positioned and tracked from fifth on the outside midway down the backstretch.

Simply Confection was the first to fold as West Coast Belle commenced her winning move midway around the turn. Ancient Goddess-FR grabbed the lead from Pocahontas (GII) winner and 3-1 second choice Cristina’s Journey at the head of the stretch but the closers were coming.

West Coast Belle, who swept around the competition six-wide, had first jump on her rallying rivals, took command with an eighth of a mile to run and never relented down the stretch.

West Coast Belle, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Tapit out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Splendid Solution, paid $5.20, $3.40 and $2.80. Chicago-invader No Fault of Mine, who rallied from second-to-last under Ricardo Santana Jr., returned $5 and $3.40 as the third-betting choice. Heart’s Song, another who raced near the rear early on under Brian Hernandez Jr., was another 6 ¼ lengths back of the runner-up in third and paid $6.

I’m a Chatterbox, Jojo’s Melody, Ancient Goddess-FR, Cristina’s Journey, Martz, Carta de Oro, Simply Confection, Seeking Paradise and Kathballu completed the order of finish.

The Golden Rod is one of 31 races on the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” series that will determine which 14 fillies will have preference for America’s richest race for 3-year-old fillies next spring. West Coast earned 10 points for the win. No Fault of Mine earned four for second, Heart’s Song earned two for third and I’m a Chatterbox notched one point for fourth.

This has been a breakout year for Catalano at Churchill Downs. The Golden Rod was his third win of the day, which pulled him even with Dale Romans for Churchill Downs’ leading trainer honors at 13 wins apiece with 14 races left to be run. In September, he won his first local training title.

The Wests pulled one ahead of local kingpins Ken and Sarah Ramsey for leading owner honors, 12 to 11.

GOLDEN ROD QUOTES

SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, jockey of WEST COAST BELLE (winner): “I had a perfect trip. You know Wayne (Catalano) and his crew did a phenomenal job and congratulations to the Wests for having a nice filly. I had a perfect ideal trip. I just had to sit there until it was time to go, press the button and she was all professional. Very nice filly. I waited until I was turning for home and I asked her and that’s when she leveled out, and she went on about her business.”

WAYNE CATALANO, trainer of WEST COAST BELLE (winner): “She had run a nice race. The way it worked out, she got the flat mile and she goes to two turns and everything fell into place for her. It’s always good when a plan comes together, right?

“She will probably go to New Orleans and we got some races for her in Hot Springs. She’ll be at New Orleans and Hot Springs this season.

“She gets better all the time. She’s got a good brain and everything like that. So we’re really happy with her.”

GARY WEST, co-owner of WEST COAST BELLE (winner): “[She’s] a homebred and that makes it even extra special, yes it does.

“Shaun (Bridgmohan) said she really is push-button; she’ll just relax and go when it’s time to go. She’s always been a really smart filly. We’ve never really had any problem with her. Shaun said she really is a push-button filly.

“Well we’ve never had any problems with her ever since she was foaled out and the mare just nicked real well with Tapit and at the time we bred to Tapit he wasn’t the hot sire that he is today. But we’re happy to have a filly by Tapit right now who is a Grade II winner and we still own the mare (Splendid Solution). So that helps the mare a great deal. We’ll keep the mare; we’re racing people. We don’t sell a lot; we breed mostly to race.”

Q: Thinking about the Kentucky Oaks? “Well you think about it but it’s a little too early to think about too hard. There are a lot of things that go on between here and there, and we’ve had a lot of good horses at this point in time and we ended up with a lot of heart breaks along the trail. It’s just a matter of keeping her sound and healthy.”

CHRIS BLOCK, trainer of NO FAULT OF MINE (runner-up), via telephone from Chicago: “She ran real well. I was pleased with that. She had a wide trip and had to come from way back off of it. I think if I’d had a race in between that race at Arlington and here it might have been a little different. Nonetheless, that was a good filly that beat her and I thought she ran really well.”

RICARDO SANTANA JR., jockey on NO FAULT OF MINE (runner-up): “She is such a nice filly. I tried to save ground the best I can. I got her in the clear on the turn and I thought she was going to pass the winner, but she got a little tired. It was her first time going a mile and a sixteenth. If she had run a mile-and-a-sixteenth before, it might have been different. She ran very well.”

BILL CONNELLY, trainer of HEART’S SONG (third): “I thought she ran real well. She got fanned out a little bit at the head of the lane, but other than that she finished willingly and I liked that. That’s the main thing. She just got fanned out at the head of the lane and another horse carried her out a little bit, and it took a little momentum out of her for a second. I don’t think she was going to catch the top two, but she might have been a little better third.”

KENNY McPEEK, trainer of I’M A CHATTERBOX (third) and KATHBALLU (last of 12): “My filly (I’m a Chatterbox) ran well. She just got tired late. The winner is one of the best fillies in the county. I’m not sure what happened with my other filly (Kathballu). Julien (Leparoux) said she just stopped on him.”

CHRIS LANDEROS, jockey on I’M A CHATTERBOX (fourth): “She gave them a good run. She’s still learning and the winner’s a pretty nice horse. I thought I gave her a good run. We just got outrun late. No excuses.”

 

Ahead-of-Schedule Jon Court Rolling Again After Enduring Challenging Year

 With two days remaining in Churchill Downs’ weather-shortened 24-day Fall Meet, the victories amassed by veteran jockey Jon Court have him sitting comfortably in the Top 10 in the meet’s jockey standings.

Heading into Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” program, Court had collected 16 wins – good for fifth place behind runaway leader Corey Lanerie – and his mounts have earned $495,296.

That’s pretty good for a jockey whose doctors told him to expect a long recovery process after he suffered major damage to his right hand in a Kentucky Derby Day spill at the Louisville track. The damage was so significant that Court’s doctors cautioned that it would require surgery, therapy and time.

Make that a lot of time.

“I’m fortunate to be back, because they insisted that I be patient,” Court said. “They told me not to necessarily expect to be on horseback until sometime in 2015.”

The surgery was performed not long after the mishap and, as promised, it was followed by a long summer and early fall in which his damaged hand underwent multiple therapies. But Court, who turned 54 earlier this week, proved to be a wonderful patient.

He has not only beaten both the clock and his doctors’ prognosis, but he has done so far ahead of their most optimistic schedule and is riding successfully at racing’s top level.

The most prominent of Court’s post-comeback victories was his Thanksgiving Day triumph aboard G. Watts Humprhey Jr.’s 19-1 longshot Frivolous in the 99th running of Churchill Downs’ $200,000 Falls City Handicap (Grade II), his first stakes win since his return to the saddle.

But he continues to work to improve that injured hand. Court is on a strong run, but the hand reminds him daily that the work that has led to his speedy recovery is far from complete.

“There may be some after-effects that will be with me for the rest of my life because of the nature of that injury,” Court said. “But I’m able to ride, perform my duties on a professional level and accomplish good results.”

“I didn’t let up, but I questioned myself many a time. It was really a tough recovery, but everything seems to be in line and continues to get better day-by-day.”

Court had a strong ally in his corner in Louisville hand surgeon Dr. Joseph Kutz, a nationally-recognized authority on hand injuries that also is a longtime Thoroughbred owner. Kutz performed the delicate surgery that was the first step on Court’s accelerated road to recovery.

“With the multiple fractures they had to reconstruct my entire hand and harvest some tendons and ligaments out of my arm,” Court said.  “In the process of letting my hand heal, we brought it back through physical therapy and occupational therapy. We did other types of therapy as well – everything from chiropractic treatment on my hand, laser therapy and nutritional therapy was a big factor.

“Just getting my hand to working again was a challenge. The fingers were bent backwards – they weren’t broken, but they were hyperextended and I had to bring them back to function as they were designed. But the hand healed up and it’s good.”

Court is scheduled to ride 10 horses on Saturday’s program – including Simply Confection for trainer and father-in-law Jinks Fires in the Golden Rod (GII) and Majestico for Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas in the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) – and has mounts in nine of the 11 races on Sunday’s closing day card.

After Sunday’s program, Court plans to accept some mounts at Turfway Park and perhaps some other tracks, but he will be working over the holidays to continue to improve his recovering right hand for a full-time riding schedule at the Oaklawn Park meet that will open on Jan. 9.

"I have a theory that the racetrack loves a good comeback,” Court said. “I’ve had a lot of horsemen who rallied behind me and my agent (Steve Krajcir) did a good job, and I’ve been able to ride some live horses.

“I was really dedicated and came out and working horses on a regular basis and I was able to get back in a groove and make some magic happen. The win in the Falls City was sweet, and we hope to keep the momentum going into the Oaklawn meet.”

RIDE ON CURLIN BACK IN ACTION AFTER QUIET POST-CLASSICS SUMMER

 He was a media darling during the weeks leading up to the Kentucky and the runner-up to Derby winner California Chrome in the Preakness (GI), but it’s been a quiet summer for Dan Dougherty’s Ride On Curlin.

The rags-to-riches son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin – a $25,000 yearling purchase by Dougherty and trainer Billy Gowan – has been out of action since he failed to finish in 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (GI), the third leg of the Triple Crown known as the “Test of the Champion.”

But Ride on Curlin has emerged from the sidelines and is back in training at Churchill Downs with an eye toward a campaign as a 4-year-old.

Gowan, known as “Bronco Billy” to his friends, started Ride On Curlin on the comeback trail just over a month ago. The colt jogged for about three weeks, and stepped up to regular gallops under exercise rider Bryan Beccia about 10 days ago.

“After the Belmont he was a little sore,” Gowan said. “He was just kind of body sore everywhere and that’s kind of why they decided to lay him up. Then he popped a splint out there on the farm, and I had to take care of that.

“My plan was to run him here in the Clark Handicap, but when he popped that splint I knew he was done for the year and we might as well give him plenty of time. So I gave him an extra week of shedrow and an extra week of jogging. There was no reason to rush him back.”

Should Ride On Curlin improve on the form he displayed at two and three, it would be reasonable to expect a strong year in 2014. His only victory in seven 2014 starts was an allowance win at Oaklawn Park, but he was runner-up to Danza in the Arkansas Derby (GI) and third to Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) winner Hoppertunity in the Rebel (GII) and third to Tapiture in the Southwest (GIII). Along with his Triple Crown efforts in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Ride On Curlin ran seventh in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).

While he’s hoping for more and better things down the road for the colt, Gowan appreciates the Triple Crown journey and other new experiences provided by Ride On Curlin.

“It’s been really good and we’ve had a lot of fun,” Gowan said.  “I’m just amazed that so many trainers back here and been training for 40 years and have never gotten to do what I did. So I consider myself pretty lucky.”

Gowan will send Ride On Curlin and the rest of his stable to Oaklawn Park when the curtain falls on Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet on Sunday. His initial major 2015 target for the stable star is the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (GII).

After their good fortune in the sales ring with Ride On Curlin, Gowan and Dougherty returned to the sales ring last year and purchased a son of War Chant for $28,000. That colt is now the 2-year-old War Point, who will run in Saturday’s Kentucky Jockey Club (GII). He is a 50-1 longshot in the morning line odds for the race, but Gowan hopes to see some progress for the colt that has one victory in five starts.

“The race looks a little tough to me,” Gowan said. “I had no other races I could un him in, so we’ll take a shot.”

McPEEK CHANGES WINTER PLAN TO INCLUDE OAKLAWN, SAM HOUSTON

The end of the Fall Meet at Churchill Downs has in recent years been a cue for trainer Kenny McPeek to head to Florida for his stable’s winter training and competition.

But McPeek will need a new travel map this year as horses will travel to locales west of the Sunshine State. Vans carrying his horses will be stopping this year at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park and another division will settle in at Sam Houston Park in Houston, Texas.

“We’re going to be doing a lot of our running at Oaklawn,” McPeek said. “As for Sam Houston, I needed a location from which I can logistically move horses and the best winters I’ve ever had were when we could rest horses in December and part of January, then we could ease them back as winter wound down and we were ready to roll when springtime came. I’ve also had kind of switch in clients and have a few more of them located in the middle of the country rather than the South and even East, so I’ve decided to take a string to Sam Houston.”

McPeek said he will leave about a dozen horses in New York through the winter, but the divisions in Arkansas and Texas will be larger.

“I’ll be running primarily at Oaklawn, but I’ll be heading down to Texas to watch those horses and we’ll be a presence there, too.”

McPeek has been allotted 40 stalls at Sam Houston and 35 at the Oaklawn meet.

The Lexington-born trainer has had another strong Fall Meet at Churchill Downs and his eight wins are good for a tie for 10th with Eddie Kenneally in the race for “Leading Trainer.” McPeek will saddle runners in eight races – include stakes races – on Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow” program and he has horses entered in two races on Sunday’s closing day card.

SUNDAY IS ‘FAN APPRECIATION DAY’ WITH FREE ADMISSION & CALENDAR, $1 BEER

As the racing year at Churchill Downs Racetrack winds to a close on Sunday, the historic racetrack will offer a sincere “Thank You” to its guests with a multi-faceted “Fan Appreciation Day”:

  • Free general admission
  • Free 2015 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar that features classic Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby imagery to the first 5,000 fans through admission gates courtesy of Humana
  • $1 domestic draft beer (16 oz.)
  • $1 Pepsi product fountain drinks (22 oz.)
  • $1 bottled water
  • $1 hot dogs

 Also, fans have an opportunity to back a strong opinion or purchase a great holiday stocking stuffer by participating in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager that closes Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.

Additionally, Churchill Downs will salute its Fall Meet Champion Jockey, Trainer and Owner between races.

Post time for Sunday’s closing day card is 12:40 p.m. ET and admission gates will open at 11:30 a.m. The 11th and final race of the year is scheduled for 5:38 p.m.

Also, there will be mandatory payouts on the Single 6 Jackpot and Super Hi-5.

SUNDAY’S WHO’S THE CHAMP? WINNER OFF TO HORSE PLAYER WORLD SERIES

The winner of Sunday’s “Who’s the Champ? Betting Challenge” will be awarded with a fully-paid spot in the Horse Player World Series at The Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on March 25-28.

The “Who’s the Champ? Betting Challenge” requires entrants to place mythical $2 Win/Place wagers on Races 3-8 at Churchill Downs. The contestant with the highest bankroll at event’s end is crowned the winner. The weekly grand prize includes a four-night hotel stay and $250 travel voucher. Second place gets a $500 betting voucher and the third place-finisher receives a $250 betting voucher.

Registration for Sunday’s finale is 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Churchill Downs Lounge. It costs $35 to enter ($30 for TSC Elite members) and entrants receive an official program and meal voucher.

KENTUCKY DERBY FUTURE WAGER

 

KENTUCKY DERBY FUTURE WAGER – POOL 1

Opens Friday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m. ET. Closes Sunday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. ET.

Saturday, May 2, 2015, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), 3-year-olds, 1 ¼ miles, 141st running, Churchill Downs.

#    Horse                              Sire                            Trainer                            Fri.

  1.  American Pharoah          Pioneerof the Nile     Bob Baffert                        8-1

  2.  Blofeld                             Quality Road             Todd Pletcher                  37-1

  3.  Calculator                        In Summation          Peter Miller                       57-1

  4.  Carpe Diem                     Giant’s Causeway      Todd Pletcher                    9-1

  5.  Classy Class                     Discreetly Mine          Kiaran McLaughlin         80-1

  6.  Competitive Edge          Super Saver                Todd Pletcher                  34-1

  7.  Daredevil                         More Than Ready      Todd Pletcher                  41-1

  8.  Dortmund                      Big Brown                 Bob Baffert                      17-1

  9.  Eagle                                Candy Ride-ARG      Neil Howard                    54-1

10.  El Kabeir                         Scat Daddy                 John Terranova II           96-1

11.  Frosted                            Tapit                           Kiaran McLaughlin         36-1

12.  I Spent It                         Super Saver                Tony Dutrow                  50-1

13.  Imperia                            Medaglia d’Oro         Kiaran McLaughlin         38-1

14.  Lord Nelson                   Pulpit                         Bob Baffert                      52-1

15.  Lucky Player                     Lookin At Lucky       Steve Asmussen              85-1

16.  Mr. Z                               Malibu Moon            D. Wayne Lukas              22-1

17.  Ocho Ocho Ocho           Street Sense                Jim Cassidy                      18-1

18.  Ostrolenka                      Musket Man              Todd Pletcher                  57-1

19.  Punctuate                        Distorted Humor     Bob Baffert                      65-1

20.  Texas Red                        Afleet Alex                 Keith Desormeaux           9-1

21.  The Great War                War Front                  Wesley Ward                    34-1

22.  Unblunted                      Sharp Humor            Michael McCarthy            99-1

23.  Upstart                            Flatter                         Rick Violette Jr.               34-1

24   All Others                                                                                                       6-5

 Follow this link to real time odds and exacts will-pays for Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.

Click here for a PDF copy of Churchill Downs' Race Day Notes that include additional Fall Meet information and statistical data.

Hoppertunity Makes Amends With Grade I Clark Handicap Victory in Return to Churchill Downs

Hoppertunity, a major contender for the 2014 Kentucky Derby until he went to the sidelines with an injury days before that race, returned to Churchill Downs on Friday to lead a 1-2-3 finish by 3-year-olds in his half-length victory under jockey Martin Garcia in the 140th running of the $551,000, Grade I Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare for 3-year-olds and up.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Hoppertunity tracked early leader Constitution in second before moving past that rival in the upper homestretch and then held-off the late bid of Protonico to win by a half-length. Constitution, another 3-year-old eliminated from consideration for last spring’s Kentucky Derby because of injury, held on to finish third. Both Protonico and Constitution are trained by Todd Pletcher.

Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Hoppertunity covered 1 1/8-miles over a fast track in 1:49.88 and returned $6.40, 4.60 and $3.40 as the 5-2 favorite in the field of nine. Protonico, who rallied from sixth for his runner-up under jockey Joe Bravo, returned $6.00 and $4.60. Constitution easily held third under Javier Castellano and paid $3.80 to show.

Hoppertunity, a Kentucky-bred son of Any Given Saturday, became the second consecutive 3-year-old to defeat older rivals in the Clark Handicap, and the fourth of his age group to win the race in the last decade. Will Take Charge, later named the champion 3-year-old of 2013, scored a dramatic victory in last year’s renewal. Blame won the 2009 Clark, and the 3-year-old Magna Graduate took the race in 2005.

With the victory Hoppertunity improved his record to 3-2-0 in seven races, all run during 2014. The winner’s share of $327,955 improved his earnings to $950,675. It was the second stakes victory for Hoppertunity, who earlier won the Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park, but the Clark was his first Grade I triumph and his first win against older horses. He had finished second to eventual Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) and was the 6-1 second choice in the morning line odds after being entered in the Kentucky Derby, but Baffert removed him from consideration for that race after a foot injury was detected.

Constitution and Hoppertunity, the top two betting choices in the Clark, controlled the spotlight from the start as the latter quickly jumped to the lead and held a two-length advantage over the stalking Hoppertunity in the early stages of the race. Castellano and Constitution led the field through modest fractions of :24.30 for the quarter, a half-mile in :49.04 and six furlongs in 1:13. Garcia guided Hoppertunity alongside the leader on the far turn and swung six-wide at the head of the stretch to assume the lead. Easter Gift made the first move on the leaders, but he faltered midway around the far turn as Protonico geared-up a late run to become the primary threat to the top two. Constitution dug-in along the rail before faltering late, while Protonico gradually cut into Hoppertunity’s lead, but never threated to pass the eventual winner.

In a year during which members of the crop of 3-year-old Thoroughbreds have won most of their major races against older horses, including a triumph by the Baffert-trained Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) in which the first six finishers were members of that age group, the Clark continued the trend. Hoppertunity, Protonico and Constitution were the only 3-year-olds in the race, and a margin of 1 ¼ lengths separated 2-3 finishers Protonico and Constitution. It was another six lengths back to the 4-year-old Pick of the Litter, who finished fourth.

The victory in the Clark Handicap by Hoppertunity was the third in the race for Baffert, the Hall of Fame trainer who saddled Silver Charm, the winner of the 1997 Kentucky Derby, to take the race in 1998 and won the 1996 Clark with Isitingood. It was the second Clark win for Pegram, who was also the co-owner of Isitingood, and the first victory in the race for Garcia.

The Clark Handicap is named for Churchill Downs founder Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark and, like the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and the Longines Kentucky Oaks, has been run annually since the track’s first race meeting in 1875.

CLARK HANDICAP QUOTES

BOB BAFFERT, trainer of HOPPERTUNITY (winner), via telephone from a suite at the Rose Bowl watching the UCLA/Stanford game: “That was great. He ran great today. I was surprised that they bet him down like that (he was the 2.20-1 favorite). He was ready.

               “All I know is that stretch has been a killer for me but that horse was bred to run a mile-and-an-eighth and a mile-and-a-quarter.

               “The thing about Hoppertunity is that he’s sort of a one-paced kind of horse and the way he ran off his first race … he was just training really well, you know. I was just yelling ‘Hold on!’ I was watching on my phone so I couldn’t see it very well. But you know what? I really wasn’t worried because about 50 yards from the wire – (watching the race) on a delay – I got a text that said, ‘Congrats.’ That’s why I really wasn’t worried about (Protonico) looming up.

               Q: Can you put into perspective coming out of the Kentucky Derby two days before the race and now winning the Clark over the same track? “You just have to take it. In this game you have to take the wins and losses, bad trips and everything in stride. When it happens, it happens. You deal with it and go on. We’ve been on both ends and you learn to deal with it and just go on.”

               Q: What was he actually sidelined with? “He had an old quarter crack. When we took him in (to Rood and Riddle), he was off and getting better. Dr. (Larry Bramlage) said the foot had an old little chip in his ankle. I was going to miss some days with him but I wouldn’t have been able to run him in the Preakness so I just pulled the plug. We had him there so we took it out and then brought him back. The Belmont was the race I was really hoping for but …

               “He’ll get better with age so we’re happy. We’ve got him and Bayern.”

MARTIN GARCIA, jockey of HOPPERTUNITY (winner): “It had been a while since he’d run. The day he ran seven-eighths (of a mile on Oct. 29 at Santa Anita), I think it was a little short for him. I knew today was going to be a really, really big race for him. We know that he’s a really good horse.

               There were about four horses (in the field) that had been running with really good horses. I knew the one on the lead (Constitution) was the most dangerous. I just wanted to follow him.”

MIKE PEGRAM, co-owner of HOPPERTUNITY (winner):

               Q: Was it hard watching him win the Clark over this track and thinking about what could have been at the Kentucky Derby? “No, that’s racing. You never look back in this business. If you look back in this business you’re ready to retire. And we’re not ready to retire.”

               “That’s why he didn’t race in the Derby. You have an abundance of caution and hope for the best. It just goes to show you that if you take care of them they’ll take care of you.

               “Bobby (Baffert) is the boss and he knows these animals. That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame. He brought him here. He was ready and he showed it today. That makes you feel good and you always feel good for the horse.”

               Q: What were you thinking down the stretch? “I knew this one was a fighter. There’s one thing about it: Bobby Baffert doesn’t run too many short horses. And this horse wasn’t short today. When he was challenged, he had a little more left. It was just a good feeling. I love Kentucky!”

TODD PLETCHER, trainer of PROTONICO (second) and CONSTITUTION (third), via telephone from New York: “I thought they both ran well. Constitution was maybe just a tad headstrong and Churchill is not always the most speed conducive track so I would have liked to have seen him settle just a touch more. But I thought he showed some guts when those horses came to him and he kept trying. You know, he’s still a very lightly-raced horse with, hopefully, a big future.

               “Protonico, I thought it was another big effort from him. He’s becoming more and more consistent and I think he’s continuing to work his way up the ranks.”

JOE BRAVO, jockey of PROTONICO (second): “He ran great, he’s a really nice horse . Everything set up good. I take my hat off to Hoppertunity. I may have underestimated him when I came to him at the eighth pole. Todd (Pletcher) knew we had a nice horse, so he ran this three-year-old against the older horses and look what he had done. He’s got a big future, this three-year-old. In horse racing never think, just try your hardest.”

JAVIER CASTELLANO, jockey of CONSTITUTION (third): “I had a good trip. He broke good out of the gate. He’s a speed horse so he likes to be involved up front with the horses, and he did. We just got beat today. I’m proud of the way he did it. He’s a good horse. He’s a strong horse and I think in the future he will make a very great horse.”

COREY LANERIE, jockey of PICK OF THE LITTER (fourth): “With my post position I had to kind of ease back a little bit in the first turn to get over and save some ground, and it compromised me a little bit because they went so slow up front. But other than that I had a really smooth trip right up the fence. Just wasn’t fast enough.”

JOEL ROSARIO, jockey of Easter Gift (fifth): “We got a good trip. It looked like they were going slow and we were at the back of the pack for a little bit so he took me closer to the front. It looked like he was going comfortably. The horse in front just kept on going.”

ROBBY ALBARADO, jockey of Departing (seventh): “We got a beautiful trip. He just didn’t fire for some reason. He’s a lot better horse than what he showed today. It’s mind boggling.”

Lukas Aims Take Charge Brandi, Mr. Z To One More 2014 Dance

The most accomplished juveniles in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne LukasWillis Horton’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) and Delta Princess (GIII) winner Take Charge Brandi and Zayat Stables LLC’s Delta Jackpot (GIII) runner-up Mr. Z – will each have one more dance before the universal birthday for Thoroughbreds arrives on Jan. 1 and those young stars embark on their 3-year-old campaigns.

Both horses will travel to Southern California’s Los Alamitos Race Course in an effort to put an exclamation point on their respective successful juvenile campaigns. Take Charge Brandi will bid to wrap-up the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old filly in the $350,000 Starlet on Saturday, Dec. 13, and Mr. Z will seek his breakthrough stakes victory in the $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity on Saturday, Dec. 20.

The setting at Los Alamitos which has been primarily a Quarter Horse venue throughout its history, will be very familiar to Lukas, who is the only trainer to be enshrined in both the Thoroughbred  and Quarter Horse racing Halls of Fame.

Both races are also part of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points systems that will determine the horses that will compete next spring in the 141st runnings of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI).

Lukas has four victories in each of those signature races at Churchill Downs.

Take Charge Brandi was not even a tiny blip of the Eclipse Award radar screen when she traveled to Santa Anita for the Juvenile Fillies off an eighth-place finish in Keeneland’s Darley Alcibiades (GI), which was her fourth consecutive loss following a sparkling debut win at Churchill Downs on June 22.

But she led throughout in springing a 61-1 upset in her Breeders’ Cup race and erased thoughts that her Santa Anita performance might have been a fluke with a win in the $400,000 Delta Princess on Nov. 22 at Louisiana’s Delta Downs.

In a year in which there is no standout among 2-year-old fillies, Lukas believes the back-to-back wins are enough to merit an Eclipse Award championship for Take Charge Brandi. If she extends her winning streak to three at Los Alamitos, he thinks it would be difficult for voters to look away from his chestnut filly.

“I want to take the doubt out of the vote,” Lukas said in his stable office. “Let’s make it easy.”

The Giant’s Causeway filly out of Charming, who is out of two-time Spinster (GI) winner and 2002 Kentucky Oaks runner-up Take Charge Lady. The latter is the dam of the Lukas-trained Will Take Charge, who won last year’s Travers (GI) at Saratoga and Churchill Downs’ Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) on his way earning the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old of 2013.

“We’ve been so blessed with that family, and my theory has always been, ‘If they get good, run ‘em and not put them in a stall,’” Lukas said. “I really thought she was coming up to the Delta Downs race as well as the Breeders’ Cup, so to get two like that was good. I think she’s going to run huge the next time.

“I’m not afraid to lead them over there.”

Mr. Z also won at first-asking at Churchill Downs when he took a six-furlong maiden race on June 28. He has failed to win in six subsequent starts, but has done enough to merit being included as a wagering interest in Churchill Downs’ first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool leading up to Derby 141.

He was beaten by a nose in his most recent outing in the $1 million Delta Jackpot won by Ocho Ocho Ocho. Other strong stakes efforts include runner-up finishes in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (GI) and Saratoga’s Saratoga Special (GII) and Sanford (GII). He also ran a solid fifth behind Texas Red in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) to amass career earnings of $439,726 despite a single visit to the winner’s circle.

“He’s a hard-knocker,” Lukas said. “I want to be here in May (in the Kentucky Derby) with him.”

Should Lukas guide Take Charge Brandi to champion status, she would be his 25th Thoroughbred champion. He trained 23 Quarter Horse champions prior to moving over to Thoroughbreds in 1978.

FALLS CITY UPSET BY FRIVOLOUS CAPS BIGGEST YEAR FOR VICKI OLIVER

Thanksgiving Day is a very special occasion in most years and in just about any circumstance, but it’s a safe bet that trainer Vicki Oliver has rarely had a better holiday or a greater reason for gratitude following the events of Thanksgiving 2014 at Churchill Downs.

Oliver’s joy was clearly evident in the winner’s circle celebration after she saddled 19-1 shot Frivolous for a half-length upset over odds-on favorite Don’t Tell Sophia in the 99th running of the $222,600 Falls City Handicap (GII), the traditional Thanksgiving feature at the Louisville track. The 1 1/8-mile race for older fillies and mares dates to the first race meet at the track then known as the Louisville Jockey Club.

With the victory, Frivolous improved her career record to 3-3-3 in 17 races and she has earned $333,498. Her 2014 campaign had included solid runs behind Falls City third-place finisher Molly Morgan in the Grade II Fleur De Lis (fourth) and Ellis Park’s Grade III Gardenia (third), along with a third-place run behind eventual Spinster (GI) winner Don’t Tell Sophia and Molly Morgan in Churchill Downs’ Locust Grove, and a runner-up finish to La Tia in the Arlington Matron (GIII) on synthetic Polytrack. Her most recent race had resulted in a solid fifth-place finish behind White Rose on turf in Keeneland’s Rood and Riddle Dowager Stakes.

Oliver has always held the 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker out of the Belong to Me mare Sixty Rocketts in high regard and she expected to her to become a stakes winner at three. But she was thrilled to see Frivolous achieve that goal in her ninth attempt in stakes completion.

“I was so thrilled for the filly,” Oliver said. “She was always knocking on the door and didn’t have the greatest trips. She’s a big, huge filly and I just don’t think she ever got clear when she was running – she was either stopped, or checked or didn’t have a chance to run.”

It was also a big win for Oliver’s family. She is the daughter of G. Watts Humphrey Jr., a member of the Churchill Downs Incorporated Board of Directors who owns and bred Frivolous.  Oliver is married to trainer Phil Oliver, and both train horses for Humphrey.

“I trained her mother, as well, and I also have Drama Drama, who is her (5-year-old) half-sister,” Oliver said. “It’s fun that we have the whole family.  It makes it more exciting.

“I’ve always believed that she had so much ability and I couldn’t believe we hadn’t won a stake with her. Now we’ve finally got it done.”

The Falls City triumph by Frivolous was Oliver’s first stakes win at Churchill Downs and is one of brightest moments of what she considers to be her best year as a trainer.

She has an overall record of 13-16-29 in 140 races with earnings of $1,107,421 following her Falls City victory. But the Thanksgiving win by Frivolous and a triumph in the Del Mar Oaks (GI) by the 3-year-old turf star Personal Diary, owned by her father and St. George Farm Racing LLC, have made 2014 a year to remember.

With a little luck, Personal Diary’s résumé could look even better. She finished second and fourth, respectively, following troubled trips in Churchill Downs’ Regret (GIII) and Mrs. Revere (GII), was third over a soft turf course in Keeneland’s Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup (GI).

“In total wins it might not be my best year, but when you consider the races we have won it’s been a huge year,” Oliver said.  “We could have had an even bigger year, but the year we’ve had has been great.”

With the Falls City Handicap winner’s trophy as a reminder of the greatest win so far in the career of Frivolous, Oliver plans to ship the filly and her stable to Florida’s Payson Park early next week. She anticipates a race or two in Florida over the winter before she returns to Kentucky next year, but Oliver plans only a brief rest for her imposing filly.

“I don’t usually give her a huge break,” Oliver said. “Last year I gave her a little bigger break than I actually wanted to because she’d run hard as a 3-year-old. But it took me so long to get her back because she’s such a big, strong, heavy filly.

“I think I’ll probably just give her a couple of weeks in the paddock when I get down to Payson and just train her light for the month of December and not take her totally out of training. I don’t know.  She’ll tell us.”

STARS OF TOMORROW PRODUCES

Saturday’s 10th annual Stars of Tomorrow II program is entirely devoted to hopeful 2-year-old stars that have aspirations of trail-blazing their way to next year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks.

Inaugurated in 2005, Churchill Downs’ Stars of Tomorrow programs have helped launched the careers of numerous graded stakes winners, including 34 Grade I winners and 20 millionaires led by 2010 Kentucky Derby champ Super Saver; 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile and Clark Handicap winner Shackleford; 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra; 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2013 Stephen Foster Handicap hero Fort Larned; 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can; and 2013 champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge.

LOUISVILLE/KENTUCKY RIVALRY FEATURED AT PIGSKINS & PONIES

Area sports fans that don’t have a ticket to Saturday’s annual showdown between the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky can watch and listen to the game at Churchill Downs while taking in the annual “Stars of Tomorrow II” racing program.

The noon EST game will be shown on the Plaza video board, select TV monitors around Churchill Downs and between races on the Big Board.

Also, attendees of the game at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium are invited to Churchill Downs after the game. They’ll be admitted free of charge with a ticket stub from the game.

Churchill Downs has showcased college football games during the races most Saturdays during the Fall Meet. Pigskins and Ponies also features all-day drink specials – $2 Bud/Bud Light, $3 Stella Artois and $1 Pepsi products and bottled water – in the Lower Club near the paddock, and free admission to college students with a current student I.D.

TRAFFIC ALERT ON SATURDAY

With kickoff for Saturday’s UofL/UK football game at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium scheduled at noon ET, Churchill Downs patrons are advised to enter the track from Interstate 264 (Watterson Expressway) and Taylor Blvd.

Those who exit I-264 can travel north on Taylor Blvd. and turn right on either Longfield Ave. or right on Central Ave. to get to Churchill Downs with minimal traffic congestion.

UK GRAD FLANERY GIVES THUMBS UP TO LIGHTING TWIN SPIRES RED THIS WEEK

Churchill Downs will show support for its neighbors, the University of Louisville this week, by lighting its historic Twin Spires with a glow of red in advance of Saturday’s football game against state rivals, the University of Kentucky.

Amazingly, the idea came from Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery, a Bellarmine College grad who holds a juris doctor from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

“Hey, it’s a home game,” Flanery said. “The Big Blue Nation might try to kick me out of the alumni association but UofL has always been a great neighbor to Churchill Downs. But the love only goes so far; I’ll be sporting my Wildcat blue at the track on game day!”

SUNDAY IS ‘FAN APPRECIATION DAY’ WITH FREE ADMISSION & CALENDAR, $1 BEER

As the racing year at Churchill Downs Racetrack winds to a close on Sunday, the historic racetrack will offer a sincere “Thank You” to its guests with a multi-faceted “Fan Appreciation Day”:

  • Free general admission
  • Free 2015 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar that features classic Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby imagery to the first 5,000 fans through admission gates courtesy of Humana
  • $1 domestic draft beer (16 oz.)
  • $1 Pepsi product fountain drinks (22 oz.)
  • $1 bottled water
  • $1 hot dogs

 Also, fans have an opportunity to back a strong opinion or purchase a great holiday stocking stuffer by participating in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager that closes Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.

Additionally, Churchill Downs will salute its Fall Meet Champion Jockey, Trainer and Owner between races.

Post time for Sunday’s closing day card is 12:40 p.m. ET and admission gates will open at 11:30 a.m.

Follow this link for a PDF copy of Churchill Downs' Nov. 28 Race Day Notes, which includes additional racing and statistical information.

Frivolous Springs 19-1 Upset of Favored Don't Tell Sophia in Churchill Downs' Falls City Handicap

G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s Frivolous grabbed the lead at the head of the stretch and turned back late challenges by 4-5 favorite Don’t Tell Sophia, Molly Morgan and Flashy American to spring a 19-1 upset in the 99th running of the $222,600 Falls City Handicap (Grade II) – the traditional Thanksgiving Day feature at Churchill Downs.

Frivolous, trained by Humphrey’s daughter Vicki Oliver, ran 1 1/8 miles on a “fast” main track in 1:51.24 under 117 pounds and jockey Jon Court, who turned 54 last Sunday. In doing so, the 4-year-old homebred collected her first stakes win and a $133,872 first prize that pushed her career earnings to $333,498 from a record of 3-3-3 in 17 starts.

Frivolous, an Empire Maker filly out of the Belong to Me mare Sixty Rocketts bred by Humphrey, raced in the clear just behind pacesetter Teen Pauline, who led the field of eight fillies and mares through ordinary fractions of :25.00, :49.11 and 1:13.47 before folding on the final turn.

Frivolous shot to the front at the top of the stretch and opened a length advantage on a fast-closing Don’t Tell Sophia, who trailed the field by as many as nine lengths. Frivolous never relented and turned back challenges by Don’t Tell Sophia to her outside and Molly Morgan, who closed along the inside rail, to win by a half-length.

“At the head of the stretch, she wanted to go,” Court said. “I called on her to put a little cushion between me and the field. I knew Don’t Tell Sophia would come flying at the end so I wanted to get out there where I was in a comfortable spot and keep my lane and hopefully fend her off, which she proved to do.”

Frivolous, a Kentucky-bred, paid $40.80, $14.20 and $6.80. Don’t Tell Sophia, ridden by Joe Rocco Jr., returned $3 and $2.20. Molly Morgan finished a neck back of the runner-up under Corey Lanerie and 122 pounds and paid $3.80.

Flashy American, Tiz Windy, Mufajaah, Strut the Course and Teen Pauline completed the order of finish. Endless Chatter and Imposing Grace were scratched.

A trouble-free trip was the key to success for Frivolous, according to her trainer.

“She’s always been a spectacular filly, she really has,” Oliver said. “She never really had the kind of trip we really wanted (in the past); she likes to be on the outside and Jon (Court) rode her perfect. She’s a free-striding filly. She got it today.”

For Oliver, it was her first stakes win at Churchill Downs and the third graded stakes win of her training career that began in 1999. Previously, she won the 2010 Gardenia Handicap (GIII) at Ellis Park with Direct Line and this year’s Del Mar Oaks (GI) with Personal Diary.

Court has had resurgence during the Fall Meet after he was sidelined for 21 weeks because of a broken right hand during a mishap in the final race on Kentucky Derby Day. He’s won with 14 of his 86 Fall Meet mounts and 10 of his last 35 to rank fifth in the local standings behind Lanerie (29 wins), Shaun Bridgmohan (19), Julien Leparoux (17) and Brian Hernandez Jr. (16). The Falls City was Court’s first graded stakes win since taking the 2013 Rebel (GII) at Oaklawn Park aboard Will Take Charge, and his first beneath the Twin Spires since prevailing in the 2012 Bashford Manor (GII) on Circle Unbroken.

“It’s been remarkably well and incredible,” Court said. “I’m very fortunate. I was very concerned coming back off the (broken) hand and they didn’t expect me to be back until 2015. But fortunately I was able to make it back many months earlier (on Sept. 27) and be able to start winning races. … Coming back and winning this one for the Olivers today is the icing on the cake with the candles for my birthday week.”

Meanwhile, this was the second straight year that $1,000 yearling purchase Don’t Tell Sophia, the winner of Keeneland’s Grade I Juddmonte Spinster and runner-up to Untapable in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI), finished second in the Falls City as the high weight.

“She ran hard,” owner/trainer Phil Sims said. “The pace was slow. They went the (first) quarter in :25 and we were 10 (lengths) off of  it, and then they went the half in :49-and-change and we were still 10 off of it. She ran well despite the slow pace and the winner ran great. Carrying top weight is tough to do, and she was spotting everybody a lot of weight. But she ran well and we’re happy with her. It was a good try.”

The Falls City – a reference to the Ohio River falls or rapids that drop some 30 feet just west of downtown Louisville – is one of the four original stakes races that were created by Churchill Downs founder Col. M. Lewis Clark for the inaugural meet in 1875. The race has been run on Thanksgiving Day since 1978.

Racing on Thanksgiving Day at Churchill Downs has been a Louisville tradition since 1969. More than 7,000 turkey dinners with all the trimmings – the largest number anywhere in the region – were served.

The Falls City Handicap was the first of four graded stakes events that wind down Churchill Downs’ abbreviated 24-day Fall Meet. The $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) will be run on “Black Friday.” The $200,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and $200,000-added Golden Rod (GII) highlight Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” program, a 12-race card exclusively for 2-year-olds. Closing day for the five-week meeting is Sunday, which doubles as “Fan Appreciation Day” with free general admission, a 2015 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar giveaway courtesy of Humana and $1 beer, sodas, waters and hot dogs.

The first race on Friday, Saturday and Sunday is 12:40 p.m. ET.

FALLS CITY HANDICAP QUOTES

VICKI OLIVER of FRIVOLOUS (winner): “She’s always been a spectacular filly, she really has. She never really had the kind of trip we really wanted; she likes to be on the outside and Jon (Court) rode her perfect. She’s a free-striding filly. She got it today.

               Q: You scratched out of the Cardinal Handicap on turf last week … “I was hoping it actually was going to come off (the turf and switched to the main track) because it would have been an easier spot. But it worked out anyway!”

               Q: Don’t Tell Sophia has been known to close … “When I saw :25 (seconds for the first quarter) I knew we were okay because she’s a big, huge-striding filly that can carry that stride for a long time. She ran great in that mile-and-a-half I put her in (the Dowager at Keeneland on Oct. 19). I know that she can carry that speed for a long time. She’s hard to get by if you get to the front at the top of the lane. I just thought it was a long stretch and was hoping we’d prevail and we did.”

               Q: What are the plans over the winter? “I’m going to give her a break now. She’s a big filly so I don’t usually give her a big break. I’ll probably just back off for a month and then try to leg her back up for next year.”

               Q: What do you think was the key for her today? “Jon kept her out of trouble.”

JON COURT, jockey of FRIVOLOUS (winner): “I had a good trip. She basically was able to sit in a position. She’s just a big, nice-striding filly and kept her going and I had plenty of horse left to fend off the rest of the field. She ran a great race, we had a great trip and we got to celebrate in the winner’s circle.

               “At the head of the stretch, she wanted to go. I called on her to put a little cushion between me and the field. I knew Don’t Tell Sophia would come flying at the end so I wanted to get out there where I was in a comfortable spot and keep my lane and hopefully fend her off, which she proved to do just that today. 

               Q: How about this meet … “It’s been remarkably well and incredible. I’m very fortunate. I was very concerned coming back off the (broken) hand and they didn’t expect me to be back until 2015. But fortunately I was able to make it back many months earlier (on Sept. 27) and be able to start winning races. … Coming back and winning this one for the Olivers today is the icing on the cake with the candles for my birthday week.”

PHIL SIMS, trainer of DON’T TELL SOPHIA (runner-up and favorite): “She ran hard. The pace was slow. They went the (first) quarter in :25 and we were 10 (lengths) off of  it, and then they went the half in :49-and-change and we were still 10 off of it. She ran well despite the slow pace and the winner ran great. Carrying top weight is tough to do, and she was spotting everybody a lot of weight. But she ran well and we’re happy with her. It was a good try.”

Q: Is the plan for a little rest and then come back at Oaklawn? “We’ll come back in a couple of the long races at Oaklawn, I guess. She’ll get a little rest.”

Q: Have you ever had a horse give you thrills to match this one? “No, no. I’ll tell you what, these are hard to come by.”

JOE ROCCO JR., jockey on DON’T TELL SOPHIA (runner-up and favorite): “I’m only a little disappointed. I’m so proud of the big mare. She shows up every time. She’s just a model of consistency. She don’t owe me nothing. She always shows up and always comes running. I thought Corey’s horse (Molly Morgan) was the horse to beat. I was watching him getting through (on the rail). My mare is so big and it’s hard for her to switch leads. You almost always have to go around with her. I wish I could have been where he was.”

Q: It’s been quite a year with Don’t Tell Sophia … “I’m very happy to be a part of the team. She’s a nice mare.”

DALE ROMANS, trainer of MOLLY MORGAN (third): “She’s a grinder; she runs hard every time. I didn’t see any excuses. She got beat a nose for second by one of the best fillies in the country, and she got beat for the win by a filly that stepped-up and had a breakthrough race. You know when fillies get going in the right direction they’ll steadily improve, and that filly has a bright future.”

COREY LANERIE, jockey on MOLLY MORGAN (third): “She ran awesome. I set myself up to follow Julien (Leparoux aboard pace-setting Teen Pauline) and I thought his horse would take me to about the eighth pole, but she stopped up in there sooner than I wanted. I had to get off the rail for two or three jumps and I think it slowed her down a little bit, and it might have cost her the win. She got going again and she finished-up well along the fence.”

KENNY McPEEK, trainer of FLASHY AMERICAN (fourth): “She’s rock-solid. There’s not a lot of space between her and some of the better fillies in the nation. She keeps getting better.”

CHRIS LANDEROS, jockey on FLASHY AMERICAN (fourth): “It was a heck of a race. She ran huge. She’s a hard-trying mare and she gave me everything. I wish they had kind of backed-up a little more, but they didn’t. I was already committed to sit off of them and I had no excuse. I had a great trip.”

Godolphin's Imperia, One of Four Highly-Regarded Juveniles in McLaughlin Barn, Tries Dirt in Kentucky Jockey Club

Since his days as an assistant to Hall of Famer and four-time Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner D. Wayne Lukas, a victory in the “Run for the Roses” on the first Saturday in May has been a goal for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

Given that he hails from Lexington, Ky., it’s a pretty good bet that his desire to win a Kentucky Derby was strong well before his Lukas years. And he came close to achieving that goal in 2005, when he saddled 71-1 longshot Closing Argument to a runner-up finish behind 50-1 shot Giacomo in that year’s Kentucky Derby. A half-length separated those horses.

With the 2015 running of the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) now just a little over 150 days away, McLaughlin has a quartet of 2-year-olds that could possess the right stuff to emerge as significant players on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points system in the coming weeks.

That group includes a pair of entrants in Saturday’s Remsen (GII) at Aqueduct: Godolphin Racing’s Frosted and Cheyenne Stables LLC’s Classy Class. Both have displayed enough promise to be included among the 23 individual horses in the opening pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (“KDFW”) that opens a three-day run on Friday. McLaughlin’s group officially became a foursome when Shadwell Stable’s Mawthooq scored a 10 ½-length maiden victory at Aqueduct on Thursday in his second-career start.

The final member of McLaughlin’s small army is Imperia, a son of Medaglia d’Oro who will carry Godolphin’s colors at Churchill Downs in Saturday’s 88th running of the $200,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), a 1 1/16-mile race that is the co-feature with the $200,000-added Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies on the track’s popular “Stars of Tomorrow II” program.

Imperia narrowly missed in his August racing debut in a runner-up finish in a 1 1/16-mile grass race at Saratoga, but stepped immediately into stakes competition and won the Pilgrim (GIII) on the Belmont Park turf in late September.

The Pilgrim victory earned Imperia a shot at the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) at Santa Anita, but a myriad of traffic problems prevented him to do much more than break out of a strong gallop during the 1 1/16-mile race. He finished 10th of 14, but was beaten by only 3 ¾ lengths by the victorious Hootenanny.

But Imperia came of the race well and has two strong works at Florida’s Palm Meadows to his credit since his trouble-plagued Breeders’ Cup journey, and McLaughlin decided now was the time to see if he can handle dirt and that Churchill Downs was a good spot for the colt for that test.

“He’s trained very well on dirt,” McLaughlin said. “Sometimes you start a horse on the turf because of the distance, and that’s what he wanted. We felt like we weren’t going to waste our time running short on the dirt, so we ran him long of the turf and he ran very well.”

Of Imperia’s next start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, McLaughlin said his colt “just didn’t have anywhere to run.” But after that he had a discussion with Godlphin's Jimmy Bell that led to his presence in the field of 12 2-year-olds for Saturday’s Kentucky Jockey Club.

“I said that maybe this was a good time to run him on the dirt and see if he would like it, rather than waiting until February to find out if he’s equally as good on the dirt,” McLaughlin recalled. “So we decided to go to Churchill to see if he likes that dirt.”

A big run by Imperia, McLaughin’s third Kentucky Derby Future Wager representative, and strong efforts by his Remsen hopes would only solidify what is perceived at this early stage to be one of the strongest hands held by any trainer looking toward the 2015 Spring Classics.

“We do have four colts that are possible,” he said. “We hope Imperia runs well enough that we can stay on the dirt. If not, we’ll go back to turf. But the other three are all dirt horses.”

McLaughlin will stay in New York to saddle his Remsen duo, so his brother Neal will come to Churchill Downs to send Imperia into the starting gate for the Kentucky Jockey Club.

CHICAGO-BASED BLOCK BIDS FOR MORE THANKSGIVING WEEKEND SUCCESS

Kentucky racing fans learned long ago that horses trained by Chicago-based Chris Block that shows up in the entry box for any race merit respect,. Most will be paying close attention to Lothenbach Stables’ homebred No Fault of Mine in Saturday’s 71st running of the $200,000-added Golden Rod (GII).

If recent history is a guide, Block could be most formidable when he ventures south to Churchill Downs on Thanksgiving Weekend. A venture into a time machine to 2010 would show a pair of wins in major races in the final weekend of the Fall Meet. Dundalk Dust, a 3-year-old filly who upset older foes in the Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day, was followed roughly 24 hours later by a triumph in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) by veteran star Giant Oak, who was awarded Churchill Downs’ fall highlight after apparent winner Successful Dan was disqualified to third.

A Golden Rod win by No Fault of Mine would not be considered a major upset. She is the 9-2 third choice in Churchill Downs’ oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line odds behind Pocahontas (GII) winner Cristina’s Journey (3-1) and West Coast Belle, winner of Churchill Downs Rags to Riches overnight stakes.

The well-named daughter of 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Blame romped to a 4 ½-length victory over Arlington Park’s synthetic Polytrack surface in her debut on Sept. 28. Block admits that the emphatic win was a bit of a surprise.

“She trained well coming to it, but I was looking for a two-turn race on grass for her and I couldn’t get it,” Block said by telephone from Chicago. “It was closing day (at Arlington) and I wanted to get a race in her before I went to Keeneland.

“She surprised me. She really accelerated when it was time to go and did it very professionally, as well. She handled everything like she had run before, which is nice to see. She’s got that kind of mind where she doesn’t seem to allow anything to bother her at all.”

The Chicago-based filly has a pedigree that carries a strong influence of Claiborne Farm, the legendary, more than century-old racing and breeding institution in Paris, Ky. Blame provided Claiborne with its first Breeders’ Cup Classic win, and No Fault of Mine is out of a mare by Flatter, whose racing career was significantly compromised by injury but has become a solid member of the Claiborne stallion roster since his racing days ended.When they (Lothenbach Stables) bred the mare to Blame, he was a freshman sire at that point and I didn’t know what to expect,” Block said. “When they sent her to me she still had a lot of growing to do, but her frame was there and I thought she could develop into a really nice-looking filly.

“She did everything right and was really kind of unassuming until I ran her that first time, but she made herself known the day she ran.”

No Fault of Mine has been at Churchill Downs since the Fall Meet opened in late October. She has had three works over the one-mile Louisville oval, including a five-furlong breeze in 1:00 on Nov. 9 that was the fastest of 26 at the distance. There were other options to run No Fault of Mine during the meet or on Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” card devoted exclusively to 2-year-olds, but Block said her body of work at Churchill Downs pointed her toward the Golden Rod.

“She’s trained very well there,” Block said. “It’s a pretty big step from a maiden win to a Grade II, but we also that that, with the way she’s been training, she deserved a shot to be in there.”

Block has another promising juvenile in his barn in Oak Brook, a full brother to Clark winner Giant Oak. The son of Giant’s Causeway owned by the Virginia H. Tarra Trust has a record of 1-2-0 in four races with the victory coming in his most recent outing at 1 1/16 miles on the grass on Nov. 13 at Churchill Downs.

“That colt should get a lot better with each race,” Block said. “He has really developed nicely. He was a little slow to start off with, but he’s picked it up nicely in his last couple of starts and I really look for him to go forward.”

The Clark was one of two Grade I triumphs for Giant Oak, who completed his career with a record of 5-5-6 in 31 races and earnings of $1,484,829. He won Gulfstream Park’s 2011 Donn Handicap (GI) in his next start. 

STARS OF TOMORROW PRODUCES

Saturday’s 10th annual Stars of Tomorrow II program is entirely devoted to hopeful 2-year-old stars that have aspirations of trail-blazing their way to next year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks.

Inaugurated in 2005, Churchill Downs’ Stars of Tomorrow programs have helped launched the careers of numerous graded stakes winners, including 34 Grade I winners and 20 millionaires led by 2010 Kentucky Derby champ Super Saver; 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile and Clark Handicap winner Shackleford; 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra; 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2013 Stephen Foster Handicap hero Fort Larned; 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can; and 2013 champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge.

LOUISVILLE/KENTUCKY RIVALRY FEATURED AT PIGSKINS & PONIES

Area sports fans that don’t have a ticket to Saturday’s annual showdown between the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky can watch and listen to the game at Churchill Downs while taking in the annual “Stars of Tomorrow II” racing program.

The noon EST game will be shown on the Plaza video board, select TV monitors around Churchill Downs and between races on the Big Board.

Also, attendees of the game at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium are invited to Churchill Downs after the game. They’ll be admitted free of charge with a ticket stub from the game.

Churchill Downs has showcased college football games during the races most Saturdays during the Fall Meet. Pigskins and Ponies also features all-day drink specials – $2 Bud/Bud Light, $3 Stella Artois and $1 Pepsi products and bottled water – in the Lower Club near the paddock, and free admission to college students with a current student I.D.

TRAFFIC ALERT ON SATURDAY

With kickoff for Saturday’s UofL/UK football game at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium scheduled at noon ET, Churchill Downs patrons are advised to enter the track from Interstate 264 (Watterson Expressway) and Taylor Blvd.

Those who exit I-264 can travel north on Taylor Blvd. and turn right on either Longfield Ave. or right on Central Ave. to get to Churchill Downs with minimal traffic congestion.

UK GRAD FLANERY GIVES THUMBS UP TO LIGHTING TWIN SPIRES RED THIS WEEK

Churchill Downs will show support for its neighbors, the University of Louisville this week, by lighting its historic Twin Spires with a glow of red in advance of Saturday’s football game against state rivals, the University of Kentucky.

Amazingly, the idea came from Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery, a Bellarmine College grad who holds a juris doctor from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

“Hey, it’s a home game,” Flanery said. “The Big Blue Nation might try to kick me out of the alumni association but UofL has always been a great neighbor to Churchill Downs. But the love only goes so far; I’ll be sporting my Wildcat blue at the track on game day!”

SUNDAY IS ‘FAN APPRECIATION DAY’ WITH FREE ADMISSION & CALENDAR, $1 BEER

 

As the racing year at Churchill Downs Racetrack winds to a close on Sunday, the historic racetrack will offer a sincere “Thank You” to its guests with a multi-faceted “Fan Appreciation Day”:

  • Free general admission
  • Free 2015 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar that features classic Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby imagery to the first 5,000 fans through admission gates courtesy of Humana
  • $1 domestic draft beer (16 oz.)
  • $1 Pepsi product fountain drinks (22 oz.)
  • $1 bottled water
  • $1 hot dogs

Also, fans have an opportunity to back a strong opinion or purchase a great holiday stocking stuffer by participating in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager that closes Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.

Additionally, Churchill Downs will salute its Fall Meet Champion Jockey, Trainer and Owner between races.

Post time for Sunday’s closing day card is 12:40 p.m. ET and admission gates will open at 11:30 a.m.

CLOSING WEEK AT CHURCHILL DOWNS

Friday, Nov. 28 (Day 24 of 26) – Clark Handicap Day

  • 12 races from 12:40-6:03 p.m. (Gates 11:30 a.m.)
  • Feature: 140th running of $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), 3&up, 1 1/8 M
  • Clark Handicap, a “Black Friday” tradition dating back to 1978, annually lures some of the top older horses in North America and is the centerpiece of four stakes events cumulatively worth $1.1 million that will be contested over the Thanksgiving/closing weekend
  • Special Wager: Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 (opens Friday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m. ET and closes Sunday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Nov. 29 (Day 25 of 26) – Stars of Tomorrow II

  • 12 races from 12:40-6:03 p.m. (Gates 11:30 a.m.)
  • 10th annual Stars of Tomorrow II program which is entirely devoted to hopeful 2-year-old stars that have aspirations of trail-blazing their way to next year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks
  • Stars of Tomorrow programs, inaugurated in 2005, have helped launched the careers of numerous graded stakes winners, including 34 Grade I winners and 20 millionaires led by 2010 Kentucky Derby champ Super Saver; 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile and Clark Handicap winner Shackleford; 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra; 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2013 Stephen Foster Handicap hero Fort Larned; 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can; and 2013 champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge
  • Co-Feature: 88th running of $200,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), 2yo, 1 1/16 M, RTKD Points: 10-4-2-1
  • Co-Feature: 71st running of $200,000-added Golden Rod (GII), 2yo f, 1 1/16 M, RTKO Points: 10-4-2-1
  • Pigskins and Ponies featuring college football games on Plaza video board (University of Kentucky at University of Louisville at noon); drink specials ($2 Bud/Bud Light, $3 Stella Artois and $1 Pepsi products and bottled water); tailgate-style food from Plaza Grill; and free admission to college students with current student I.D.
  • Come to the races after the UofL/UK football game. Free general admission with ticket stub.

Follow this link to a PDF copy of the Churchill Downs Race Day Notes for Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27.  The PDF version of the notes incudes addition information and statistical date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, Nov. 30 (Day 26 of 26) – Closing/Fan Appreciation Day

  • 11 races from 12:40-5:38 p.m. (Gates 11:30 a.m.)
  • Feature (Race 10 at 5:08 p.m.: $47,000 alw opt clm, f&m, 1 1/16 M (T)
  • Mandatory Payout of Single 6 Jackpot and Super Hi-5
  • Fan Appreciation Day
  • Free general admission
  • Free 2015 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar that features classic Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby imagery to the first 5,000 fans through admission gates courtesy of Humana
  • $1 domestic draft beer (16 oz.)
  • $1 Pepsi product fountain drinks (22 oz.)
  • $1 bottled water
  • $1 hot dogs
  • Salute Fall Meet Champion Jockey, Trainer and Owner between races
  • Special Wager: Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 (opens Friday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m. ET and closes Sunday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. ET)
  • Who’s the Champ? Betting Challenge in the ITW area on the second floor of the Grandstand. $35 to enter ($30 for TSC Elite members) and includes official program and meal voucher. Registration from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Churchill Downs Lounge. $2 Win/Place mythical wagers on Races 3-8. First prize: Fully-paid spot in the Horse Player World Series at The Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on March 25-28, including a four-night hotel stay and $250 travel voucher. Second prize: $500 betting voucher. Third prize: $250 betting voucher.

 

SELECT UPCOMING NATIONAL STAKES

 

Thursday, Nov. 27

 

Time     Track    Stakes Race

 

2:42             Aqu 8          $300,000 Fall Highweight H. (