Chuck and Maribeth Sandford’s Almost Famous, one of the nation’s most tantalizing 2-year-old prospects, landed post position No. 1 and heads a field of 10 juveniles entered for Saturday’s 87th running of the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (Grade II) at Churchill Downs.
Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile race is the co-headliner on the final day of the 25-date Fall Meet. Billed as “Stars of Tomorrow II,” each of the 12 races is exclusively for 2-year-olds that may have aspirations of trail-blazing their way to next spring’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks.
The Kentucky Jockey Club – a “Prep Season” race on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” in which the Top 4 finishers will receive 10-4-2-1 points, respectively – goes as Race 11 at 5:35 p.m. (all times Eastern). First post is 12:40 p.m.
Almost Famous (3-2-0-0—$56,479), trained by Pat Byrne, was made the 6-5 morning line favorite by veteran oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.
The dark bay or brown Unbridled’s Song colt won at first asking over Coastline in his September debut, but finished a dull fourth to that rival in their next meeting in the $61,800 Street Sense, a one-mile overnight stakes on Oct. 27.
Puzzled by the performance, Byrne suggested that he “babied” Almost Famous between races so he added blinkers to his training equipment, worked him sharply from the starting gate and entered him in a 1 1/16-mile allowance off just two weeks rest. The end result in the race three weeks ago was a six-length romp in 1:44.98 that created a huge impression.
“He’s a nice horse,” said jockey Corey Lanerie, who pinch-hit for injured rider Calvin Borel in the allowance victory and will be aboard Saturday. “He’s made right. He’s got all the credentials to be a good horse. His disposition is good and he’s got a lot of class about him. He was in high-cruising speed (in the allowance win) and the good thing is he looked like he could have gone a little bit further.”
The Kentucky Jockey Club field (with jockeys and morning line odds): Almost Famous (Lanerie, 6-5), Culprit (Miguel Mena, 6-1), Mygalsal (Jon Court, 15-1), Awesome Sky (Shaun Bridgmohan, 15-1), Notability (Brian Hernandez Jr., 10-1), Tapiture (Ricardo Santana Jr., 6-1), Laddie Boy (Jesus Castanon, 15-1), Arctic Slope (Robby Albarado, 10-1), Dobra Historia (Julien Leparoux, 5-1) and Buck Magic (Joe Rocco Jr., 30-1).
George Prussin’s Dobra Historia (3-1-1-0—$42,425) was runner-up to Almost Famous in the Nov. 9 allowance for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Donegal Racing’s Culprit (3-1-0-1—$29,575), a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense trained by Dale Romans, rallied in his most recent start on Oct. 27 to score a half-length victory in a one-mile maiden race at Churchill Downs. Among the colts he defeated that day was Ron Winchell’s Tapiture (3-0-1-2—36,559), who was narrowly beaten in a three-horse photo finish in the Iroquois on Sept. 7 to remain winless in three promising starts.
"When he ran his nice race in the Iroquois we kind of made the decision to point him towards the Jockey Club,” said Tapiture’s trainer Steve Asmussen, who won the 2005 Kentucky Jockey Club with Private Vow. “We were disappointed in the maiden race he ran on opening day, but we were trying to use it as a prep and we’re just following through with the plan. We love how he’s trained since … he’s doing well and I’m anxious to see how he does.”
Another promising maiden entered in the Kentucky Jockey Club is Awesome Sky (2-0-1-0—$12,430), who will seek a second consecutive win in the race for owner-breeder John C. Oxley and trainer Mark Casse. They teamed to win last year’s renewal with Uncaptured. The Sky Mesa colt ran fifth last time out as the favorite in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on Nov. 7.
"We thought he kind of had a rough trip last time, when he got stuck in a lot of traffic,” said Norman Casse, the trainer’s son and assistant who oversees his father’s stable at Churchill Downs. “Sometimes you’ve just got to take a chance.”
In addition to Uncaptured, Oxley has won the Kentucky Jockey Club two other times with Jambalaya Jazz (1994) and Beethoven (2008).
Trainer Kenny McPeek (Arctic Slope) won the 2001 renewal with Repent, and Mott won in 1990 with Richman.
Bridgmohan has ridden a KJC winner twice: Private Vow and Santiva (2010). Other jockeys that have won a prior running of the race are Albarado (Captain Steve in 1999), Leparoux (Anak Nakal in 2007) and Mena (Uncaptured).
Saturday’s forecast for Louisville calls for mostly sunny skies with a high near 49 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
All starters will carry 122 pounds. Shortleaf Stable Inc.’s Arctic Slope (4-1-1-1—$84,815) was not an original nominee to the race and was supplemented at the time of entry for $5,250.
The Kentucky Jockey Club is named in honor of the holding company that operated Churchill Downs at the time of the race’s inaugural running in 1920.
In just eight years, Stars of Tomorrow has been the launching pad for numerous graded stakes winners. Thirty-three participants became Grade I winners, including 2010 Kentucky Derby champ Super Saver, who holds the KJC stakes record of 1:42.83; 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 Travers winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Will Take Charge.
Eighteen participants became millionaires: Fort Larned ($4,471,322), Court Vision ($3,746,658), Rachel Alexandra ($3,506,730), Shackleford ($3,090,101), Lawyer Ron ($2,790,008), Will Take Charge ($2,727,371), Pure Clan ($1,987,498), Super Saver ($1,889,766), Macho Again ($1,825,767), Giant Oak ($1,484,829), First Dude ($1,442,140), Swift Temper ($1,296,688), Believe You Can ($1,280,324), General Quarters ($1,226,655), Fly Down ($1,256,115), Any Given Saturday ($1,083,533), Overanalyze ($1,046,381) and Uncaptured ($1,020,147).