'Dude,' Will Take Charge Top Clark, Oaks Winner Believe You Can Heads Falls City as Nominees for Final Fall Stakes Released

Nov 17, 2013 John Asher

A showdown between two of the top stars in American racing looms at Churchill Downs on Friday, Nov. 29 as $5.6 million-earner Game On Dude, the beaten favorite in the recent $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I), and Will Take Charge, who was beaten a nose by Mucho Macho Man in the Classic, head a roster 19 older horses nominated to compete in the 139th running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI).

The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up is scheduled for the popular “Black Friday” racing program on Friday, Nov. 29 and is one of four major stakes races set for the three-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend that closes out the 25-day Fall Meet.

Nominations also have been released for the $150,000-added Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day. That roster is headed by Believe You Can, winner of the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI) in 2012.

The remaining stakes are Churchill Downs’ premier races for juveniles: the $175,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and the $175,000-added Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies. Those races will be co-featured on “Stars of Tomorrow II,” a racing program devoted exclusively to 2-year-olds that is scheduled for closing day, Saturday, Nov. 30.

Game On Dude, owned by a partnership that includes Bernard Sciappa, the Lanni Family Trust of Terrance Lanni, Diamond Pride Stable of baseball legend Joe Torre and Ernie Moody’s Mercedes Stable, is coming off a disappointing ninth-place run as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.

The Bob Baffert-trained 6-year-old gelding had won six consecutive stakes races prior to the Classic, a string that included Grade I triumphs in the Santa Anita Handicap (GI), Hollywood Gold Cup (GI) and Pacific Classic (GI). His career record stands at 28-15-5-1 and a victory in the Clark could bolster Game On Dude’s case for year-end Eclipse Award honors that include Horse of the Year and champion older male.

Game On Dude is expected to compete in the Clark and will be joined by Will Take Charge, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained 3-year-old who will attempt to nail down an Eclipse Award as the champion of his age group when he faces older rivals in the Clark.

Willis D. Horton’s son of Unbridled’s Song started his impressive campaign with a victory in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 21. He also won the Rebel (GII) at the Arkansas track, defeating Lukas-trained stablemate and eventual Preakness (GI) winner Oxbow.

He has won four of 10 races in 2013 and his career slate stands at 14-5-3-0 with earnings of $2,727,371.

Others considered likely for the Clark are Bourbon Lane Farm’s Bourbon Courage, winner of the 2012 Super Derby (GII) and third to classic winner Shackleford in the 2012 Clark; John C. Oxley’s Uncaptured, winner of the 2012 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill Downs and the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie, the second jewel of Canada’s Triple Crown; Zayat Stables LLC’s Prayer for Relief, a multiple graded stakes winner with victories this year’s Prairie Meadows Cornhusker (GIII) and the Governor’s Cup at Remington Park; and Donegal Racing’s Finnegans Wake, runner-up in the 2012 Secretariat (GI) on turf and fourth in the recent Fayette Stakes (GI) over synthetic Polytrack at Keeneland.

Considered “possible” for the Clark is Magic City Thoroughbred PartnersGolden Ticket, who dead-heated with Alpha for the win in the 2012 Travers (GI) and has turned in strong runner-up finishes this year to 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Fort Larned in Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and Goldencents in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI).

Trainer Larry Jones confirmed Saturday that his is pointing Brereton Jones’ homebred 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner  Believe You Can toward a run in the Falls City Handicap. The 4-year-old daughter of Proud Citizen tops a roster of 17 fillies and mares ages three and up that were nominated to the 98th running of the 1 1/8-mile race.

If Believe You Can starts in the centerpiece event of the Thanksgiving Day racing program, she would be the first Kentucky Oaks winner to do so since WinStar Farm’s Summerly, the 2005 Oaks winner for trainer Steve Asmussen. She concluded her career with a fourth-place run behind Oxbow Racing’s Ermine in the 2006 Falls City.

Other nominees considered likely for the Falls City include Philip Sims and Jerry Namy’s Don’t Tell Sophia, winner of the Chilukki (GII); Preston Stables LLC’s Flashy American, winner of Churchill Downs’ Locust Grove and fourth to Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) winner Beholder in the Santa Anita’s Zenyatta (GI); Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Fiftyshadesofhay, the Baffert-trained winner of the Black-Eyed Susan (GII) at Pimlico and the Iowa Oaks (GIII); Becky Winemiller’s Wine Princess, runner-up in the Chilukki and winner of the 2012 Monmouth Oaks (GIII) for trainer Steve Margolis; Janis Whitham’s Magic Hour, runner-up in the Gardenia (GIII); and Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Awesome Flower, third in the Chilukki and winner of the HBPA over synthetic Polytrack at Presque Isle Downs.

The 87th running of the Kentucky Jockey Club (“KJC”) attracted 43 nominees headed by Hopeful (GI) winner Strong Mandate, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) for Lukas; Oxley’s Coastline, winner of the Street Sense overnight stakes at Churchill Downs; and Chuck and Maribeth Sandford’s Almost Famous, an impressive six-length winner of Churchill Downs allowance race at the KJC distance of 1 1/16 miles on Nov. 9.

Strong Mandate has completed his 2-year-old campaign and Coastline is expected to ship to Louisiana’s Delta Downs for the $1 million Delta Jackpot (GIII), so the Pat Byrne-trained Almost Famous looms as the possible favorite in the KJC, which is part of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points system that will determine eligibility to compete in the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) on Saturday, May 3.

The son of Unbridled’s Song, purchased at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old sale in Florida for $500,000, has won two of three career starts – all at Churchill Downs – with the only blemish being a fourth-place finish in the Street Sense.

Other KJC nominees include Silverton Hill’s Angry Moon, a recent maiden winner at Churchill Downs; Donegal Racing’s Culprit, a maiden winner at Churchill Downs during “Stars of Tomorrow I” on Oct. 27; George Prussin’s Dobra Historia, runner-up to Almost Famous for trainer Bill Mott in the Nov. 9 allowance; the Ramsey’s Street Sense runner-up Ichiban Warrior; Starlight Racing’s Intense Holiday, fourth in Aqueduct’s Nashua; Magic City ThoroughbredsSheikinator, a maiden winner on Saturday’s “Downs After Dark” card; Windy Hill Farm’s Smarty’s Echo, runner-up in Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity (GI); and the Steve Asmussen-trained Tapiture, a close third for owner Ron Winchell in September’s Iroquois (GIII) at Churchill Downs.

There were 27 2-year-old fillies nominated to the 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod and that group is headed by Landaluce Educe Stable’s Rosalind, third in the recent Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI), and Green Lantern Stable’s Clever Beauty, Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Vexed and Robert Masterson’s Tepin, the 1-2-3 finishers in Churchill Downs’ $60,000 Rags to Riches overnight stakes at a mile on Oct. 27.

Trainer Kenny McPeek is looking at both the Golden Rod and the Hollywood Starlet (GI) at Betfair Hollywood Park for Rosalind. The daughter of Broken Vow also ran third in Churchill Downs’ Pocahontas (GII) was runner-up to My Conquestadory in Keeneland’s Darley Alcibiades (GI).

Other notable nominees include Oxley’s Madly Truly, winner of Woodbine’s Mazarine (GIII) for trainer Mark Casse; Stoneway Farm’s Stonetastic, runner-up in the Pocahontas; Bowman Racing’s Silver Valley, winner of the Mountaineer Juvenile Fillies; WinStar Farm and Blazing Meadow Farm’s Sweetsoutherndame, runner-up in the Arlington-Washington Lassie; Patti and Hal Earnhardt III’s Be Proud, a Santa Anita allowance winner for Baffert; Marylou Whitney Stable’s Bird Maker and Narola Racing’s Playful Love, recent Churchill Downs maiden winners for trainer Ian Wilkes; Hidden Brook Farm’s Canaryinacoalmine, a September maiden winner at Churchill Downs; Mary Grum’s Daddy’s Memory, a Scat Daddy filly who scored a 10 ¾-length maiden win at Churchill Downs on Oct. 31; Sagamore Farm’s Naïve Enough, a winner of back-to-back races at Laurel; and Needmore Flattery, a five-time winner of stakes restricted to Ohio-bred fillies.

Complete rosters of Thanksgiving weekend stakes nominees are available on the Churchill Downs website at http://www.churchilldowns.com/horsemen/stakes-nominations.

KEEP UP READY FOR RIVER CITY REPEAT BID, LANERIE TO RIDE – When Mill Ridge Farm’s veteran turf star Keep Up is at the top of his game, his signature stretch run is a marvelous thing to watch.

The lightly-raced 6-year-old introduced himself and his spectacular late move to Churchill Downs fans and American racing a year ago with a swift rally from 10th to grab a victory in the $100,000-added River City Handicap (GIII). He’ll travel from trainer Alex Clarkson’s training base at Keeneland to Churchill Downs on Saturday, Nov. 23 in search of back-to-back wins in the 1 1/8-mile race for older horses on turf.

Keep Up is coming into this year’s River City off a late-running allowance win at 1 1/8 miles over the Keeneland turf. The son of Unbridled’s Song tuned-up for the week’s River City run with a sparkling five-furlong work in :59.40 on Saturday over the Lexington track’s synthetic Polytrack surface.

Clarkson’s star has won just two of his six races this year, with a victory in the Swoon’s Son on the Arlington Park grass being his other win in 2013. But Clarkson, who knows his horse very well, said Keep Up loves this time of year.

“He’s doing great,” Clarkson said by telephone from Lexington. “He’s a cold weather horse, basically. He’s in great shape. Last time he ran I loved the way he was ready and on ball. He breezed (Saturday) as good as he’s ever breezed.”

The racing career for Keep Up consists of just 17 races spanning four racing seasons. Out of 1998 Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Keeper Hill, Keep Up was plagued early on by injuries that limited him to just five races in 2010 and 2011.

But last year he we won four of six starts and, while he has collected only a pair of wins in six races this year, Clarkson believes that his veteran is gearing up for a big finish on the season. Saturday’s work at Keeneland was the second-fastest of 26 at the distance and followed a strong five-furlong move in 1:00 eight days earlier.

“We’ll have a month since his last race and his breezes over the last two weeks” Clarkson said. “He has never been better, so I’m delighted for him.”

Clarkson’s only significant concern heading into next Saturday’s River City is that jockey Miguel Mena will not be available to ride Keep Up. Mena was aboard for last year’s River City win and his recent victory at Keeneland, but he is committed to ride on Saturday at Delta Downs.

Clarkson has been able to secure a more-than-capable substitute in Corey Lanerie, a three-time riding champion at Churchill Downs and the current leader in the race for the Fall Meet’s top jockeys.

“It would be nice to have someone who knows the horse,” Clarkson said, “but all Corey has to do is watch the last replay and he’ll have no problem.”

The career of Keep Up has been a tribute to both Clarkson’s horsemanship and medical progress. He had tendon issues in his right-hind leg prior to joining Clarkson’s stable and it took time for his new trainer to get return him to the races.

'When I got him he had the stem cell in his right-hind tendon and it took 120 days of jogging to bring him back to normal,” Clarkson said. “He just went on with it from there. He’s a big horse – he’s about 17-one (hands). He’s massive, but he’s kind. He’s a nice horse to be around and we spend a lot of time with him.”

So the graded stakes-winning Keep Up is a “big horse” for Clarkson in every sense of the phrase. But that size has worked against the horse in some of his races this year. While his trainer believes Keep Up is primed for a very strong effort, he wouldn’t mind if his star is blessed with a little racing luck.

“He needs to get a clear run,” Clarkson said. “He’s so big you can’t stop him – he’s his lose momentum if you check him.  In his first two races this year he got knocked sideways (in a race at Keeneland) and then he stumbled leaving the gate (at Churchill Downs). He can’t afford to do these things and win.”

Keep Up will bring a career record of 17-7-1-4 and earnings of $299,382 heading into his attempt to win a second consecutive running of the River City.

If he completes the double’s he’ll be one of only three River City winners to do so. The last horse to win back-to-back runnings of the River City was Dr. Kashnikow in 2001-02. Same Old Wish also won consecutive renewals in 1996-97.

Horses considered as “possible” River City starters by racing officials (with assigned weight): King David (121 pounds), Daddy Nose Best (118), Guys Reward (118), Grand Arch (117), Keep Up (117), Skyring (117), Villandry (116) and Set the Sail (115).  

BARN TALK – Trainer Charlie LoPresti plans to enter a pair of horses in Saturday’s River City Handicap. Gainesway Stable’s Villandry, sixth in the recent Fayette (GII) on Polytrack at Keeneland, and Elisabeth Alexander’s Set the Sail, who was eighth in the Fayette but won a turf allowance at Churchill Downs in September, will be entered when the race is drawn on Wednesday. …  Right to Vote, winner of the 2013 Kelly’s Landing at Churchill Downs, breezed five furlongs over sloppy footing in 1:02. Ron Moquett trains the 4-year-old son of Political Force who finished sixth in his most recent outing in the Bet On Sunshine overnight stakes. … Chilukki (GII) winner Don’t Tell Sophia, a candidate for the upcoming Falls City Handicap, breezed a strong five furlongs on Saturday over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface. The 5-year-old daughter of Congaree covered the distance in 1:00.40 for co-owner and trainer Phillip Sims. The move was the sixth-fastest of 26 at the distance.

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