Calder or Fair Grounds Next for Nistle's Crunch; Return of Jedi Code Thrills Wilkes

Nov 11, 2008 Gary Yunt

FAIR GROUNDS OR CALDER NEXT STOP FOR NISTLE'S CRUNCH – A half-length victory in Sunday's Commonwealth Turf (GIII) by Alien Farm's Nistle's Crunch had trainer Ken McPeek eagerly looking ahead to the next start for the New Jersey-bred son of Van Nistelrooy.

            'I'd like to find a straight three-year-old race for him before the end of the year either at the Fair Grounds or Calder,' said McPeek, who came within 1 ¼ lengths of sweeping the weekend stakes at Churchill Downs with My Baby Baby's runner-up finish to Acoma in Saturday's Mrs. Revere (GII). 'He ran a real nice race.'

             The victory by Nistle's Crunch gave McPeek eight wins through the first 11 days of the 26-day meet, good for second in the trainer standings behind Mike Maker's 14 victories.  It's a of success McPeek could not have envisioned three years ago when he stepped away from the sport and turned his 160-horse stable over to his assistants.

            'There were a lot of things going on then and I had strings here and in New York and Chicago,' McPeek said. 'The biggest difference now is that everything is consolidated and more efficient. This is what I had in mind when I came back.'

            McPeek returned to training in 2006 and in that time has saddled 61 winners at Churchill Downs, where he currently has 36 horses stabled.  He has 20 horses at Keeneland and another dozen at his Magdalena Farm in Lexington.

            McPeek has yet to fire the biggest bullet in his Churchill Downs-based arsenal: Livin the Dream Racing's Dream Empress, winner of the Darley Alcibiades (GI) at Keeneland and runner-up to Stardom Bound in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) in her most recent start. Dream Empress is being pointed toward a run in the Nov. 29 Golden Rod (GII), a race that McPeek has finished second in twice with Take Charge Lady in 2001 and C J's Leelee last year.

'AWESOME' MEMORIES REMAIN FOR WILLEY – Kevin Willey has been an exercise rider for 33 years, but the gold standard for Thoroughbreds was set for him 10 years ago when he was the regular morning partner of Awesome Again.

            On Nov. 7, 1998 at Churchill Downs, Awesome Again defeated what is arguably the deepest Breeders' Cup Classic (GI) field ever assembled to complete the year undefeated in six starts.

            'Hard to believe it has been 10 years,' said Willey, who began galloping steeplechase horses in England when he was 14. 'We got him in the barn when he was four and he was tough at first. He had been on the farm and must have thought he was retired, but when he got back in to it, he was easy to gallop.'

            Prior to Awesome Again, Willey had galloped Touch Gold and champions Favorite Trick and Countess Diana.

            'Favorite Trick was like a five-year-old at two,' said Willey, who is in his second year working horses for trainer Todd Pletcher.

            'It is very rare (to find horses like those). You can feel what is under you. Those good horses, when they go to work they just lower their body and ease into their stride. Finding horses like that, the one percent that become champions, those are very, very rare.'

RETURN OF JEDI CODE THRILLS WILKES – When Janis Whitham's Jedi Code broke his maiden at second asking in last-to-first fashion at Churchill Downs, the son of Empire Maker showed up on many Kentucky Derby watch lists. A fifth-place finish for trainer Ian Wilkes in his 2008 debut at Gulfstream Park brought out the erasers.

'We discovered a chip in his knee after the Gulfstream race,' said Wilkes said.

Jedi Code did not return to the races until Sunday when he was a fast-closing second in a seven-furlong allowance race. Jedi Code was last in the field of 12 at the head of stretch and was blocked on a couple of occasions in the stretch before getting clear.

'I was really pleased, he ran a good race,' Wilkes said. 'It is great to get him started again. I wanted to give him a little longer, but this gives him a chance for next year.

'He had already missed the major three-year-old races this year and Mrs. Whitham was fine with that. You always want to see how they will do coming back and he did well Sunday.'

Wilkes said Jedi Code would not run back before the end of the meet Nov. 29, but be pointed to a four-year-old campaign beginning in Florida at Gulfstream Park.

BARN TALK – Jockey Calvin Borel was off all of his mounts Tuesday and Wednesday because of the death of his mother Ella who passed away Monday night in Louisiana at age 87. Borel will be back to ride Thursday. … Miguel Mena, currently the fifth-leading rider of the Fall Meet with nine victories through the first 11 days, is headed to the Fair Grounds to ride this winter according to his agent Steve Elzey. Mena, who turned 22 last week, was the second-leading rider here in the Spring Meet with 65 winners. Also going to New Orleans is Elzey's other rider, Jesus Castanon. … Antrim County, a three-time winner on the main track during the spring meet, posted his first victory in four tries over the Matt Winn Turf Course when he went wire-to-wire under Joe Johnson in Sunday's fifth race. Antrim County was owned by Boys Haven Equine and trained by Jay Wilkinson. Boys Haven is a non-profit home for troubled youth located on Goldsmith Lane in Louisville and the Equine Program teaches youngsters how to care for a horse. The Boys Haven stable is housed at the Trackside Training Center. Antrim County won six races for Boys Haven, but was claimed out of his Sunday victory for $50,000 by trainer Bret Calhoun for Carl Moore. … Robby Albarado, who won his first Churchill Downs riding title at this year's Spring Meet, rode two winners Sunday and sliced his deficit to five (24-19) behind Julien Leparoux in the race for leading rider. … A daily double of birthday wishes goes out to trainers Jim Baker and Don Winfree who turn 51 and 61, respectively, today.

WORK TAB – Elisabeth Alexander's Magna Graduate, winner of the opening-day Ack Ack Handicap (GIII), worked five furlongs in 1:02.60 over a fast track Tuesday morning for trainer Steve Asmussen. Winner of the 2005 Clark Handicap, Magna Graduate is under consideration for this year's renewal on Nov. 28. Working a half-mile Tuesday morning on the main track was Donald Adam's Arlington Matron (GIII) winner Indescribable, who covered a half-mile in :47.80, second fastest of 46 at the distance. The Bill Mott trainee is nominated to Saturday's Cardinal Handicap (GIII).  Works of note on Monday over a fast track was a quartet of five-furlong moves. Mike McCarty's Storm Treasure, 11th to Barbaro in the 2006 Kentucky Derby (GI) and most recently third in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, worked five-eighths in 1:02.40 for trainer Steve Asmussen. … Zayat Stables' Massive Drama, winner of the 2007 Hollywood Prevue (GIII), was clocked in 1:02 for trainer Dale Romans; Frank Calabrese's stakes-winning filly Dreaming of Liz worked in 1:02.20 for trainer Wayne Catalano and 2006 Bassinet winner Devil House covered the distance in 1:01.40.

THIS WEEK'S FEATURED RACE – This week's feature is the 35th running of the $100,000-added Cardinal Handicap (Grade III), a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares over the Matt Winn Turf Course, on Saturday, Nov. 15. Last year's winner was Stuart Janney III & Phipps Stable's Criminologist, who was ridden by John Velazquez and trained by Shug McGaughey.

INAUGURAL 'RIDER CUP' ON SATURDAY – Churchill Downs will stage its inaugural 'Rider Cup' for charity on Saturday, Nov. 15. The unique event will showcase American-born jockeys versus foreign-born jockeys in a competition for points in Races 4-8. Before each of the five designated races, celebrity team captains (Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day will captain Team USA and the Team World will be captained Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr.) will choose one jockey to represent their respective team with hope of earning coveted points. Points will be awarded on a 3-2-1 scale for first, second and third place finishes in each race. If neither jockey hits the board, the rider with the best finish will be awarded a half-point. The team with the most points at the conclusion of Race 8 will be crowned the winner and a $10,000 donation will be made to the charity of the winning team's choice. The charity of the second place team will win a $5,000 donation. Pre-race selections by the captains will be showcased on-track with Churchill Downs' John Asher serving as host.

HORSES AND HOPE ON SUNDAY – 'Horses and Hope,' a new initiative created by Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear with the Kentucky Cancer Program, will be held Sunday, Nov. 16. The event, centered on the women who work in the barn areas at Kentucky racetracks, is designed to provide breast cancer awareness, education, screening and treatment referral.

            In conjunction with the event, the color of pink will be scattered throughout Churchill Downs on Sunday, including the saddle towels for the featured fifth race that will honor 'Horses and Hope.' Pink will also be featured on jockey's arm bands, groom's vests, outriders, flags, bunting and trophies for winning horse owners. There also will be a special pink cosmopolitan drink on sale with proceeds going to 'Horses and Hope.'

            More than 700 cancer survivors are expected to attend the races in Millionaire's Row Four on Sunday. After the fifth race, there will be a group picture near the Aristides statue in the paddock garden.

THIS WEEK'S GUEST ANNOUNCER: MICHAEL WRONA – Native Australian Michael Wrona, the voice of Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, will describe this week's racing action (Tuesday, Nov. 11 through Sunday, Nov. 16) as Churchill Downs continues its search to replace the late Luke Kruytbosch as the next 'Voice of the Kentucky Derby'. There will be a different track announcer each week during the five-week Fall Meet. Calder's Bobby Neuman and Louisiana Downs' Travis Stone were the Week 1 and 2 guest announcers, respectively. Also scheduled for a turn behind the microphone are Gulfstream Park, Monmouth Park and Suffolk Downs' Larry Collmus (Nov. 19-23) and England's Mark Johnson (Nov. 26-29). Churchill Downs officials are seeking input from customers and encouraging comment via email at [email protected].

ROBBY ALBARADO GLASS GIVEAWAY ON SATURDAY – The week's promotional calendar is highlighted by the second of three collectable hurricane glass giveaways that salute popular Cajun jockeys who ride at Churchill Downs. A Robby Albarado glass, sponsored by GE, will be given away to the first 5,000 paid and pre-paid admissions on Saturday, Nov. 15.

            Fans who receive the glass can come back to Churchill Downs on Sunday, Nov. 16 for an autograph session with Albarado on the second floor of the clubhouse between 11-11:30 a.m.

            A glass depicting Calvin Borel, sponsored by Thorntons, was given away Nov. 8. A Kent Desormeaux glass, presented by Kentucky Derby Party, will be given away on Nov. 22.

JOCKEY TALK ON SATURDAY – Every Saturday during the Fall Meet, members of Churchill Downs jockey colony meet and greet with the fans in the paddock area between 11:30 a.m. and noon. This Saturday's jockeys will be announced Friday.

FRIDAY HAPPY HOURS – New Orleans-themed 'Friday Happy Hours' – featuring $2 Budweiser Select, $2 hurricanes, $2 Fischer's hot dogs and live jazz music – will be held Friday from 3-5 p.m. in the upper Jockey Club's paddock balcony area.   

'IN SEASON' AIRS ON WAVE-3 SATURDAY – 'In Season,' Churchill Downs' weekly magazine-style television program hosted by John Asher, will air Saturday on NBC affiliate WAVE-3 in the Louisville area. The live half-hour program will be broadcast from 9:30-10 a.m. ET.

JUNIOR JOCKEY CLUB WEEKEND ACTIVITIES – A special appearance by the Louisville Metro Police Department Horse Patrol on Saturday, Nov. 15 will highlight this weekend's activities at Churchill Downs' Junior Jockey Club located near the Guest Services Booth inside Gate. 10. Crafts, featuring embossed horse pictures, will also be featured Saturday for children age 4-10. Sunday's activities include the decoration of pine cones. Coloring books, crayons, individual games and reading material are available as well, and Churchill Downs' mascot Churchill Charlie will be on hand both days for photographs between 1-1:30 p.m.

HANDICAPPING CONTEST WEDNESDAYS, SUNDAYS – Racing fans can pit their handicapping skills against the best Louisville has to offer every Wednesday and Sunday in the popular twice-weekly 'Who's the Champ?' Handicapping Contest. For a $30 entry fee ($25 for Twin Spires Club members), participants will compete for weekly cash prizes and an invitation to the Nov. 23 final where the top two finishers will win coveted berths in the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship X slated for Jan. 23-24, 2009 in Las Vegas.

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