It is a newcomer on the racing calendar, but Churchill Downs’ inaugural running of the $175,000-added Homecoming Classic during its new September Meet has drawn a high-powered roster of nominations that includes the names of five winners of Grade I stakes events.
Topping the roster of 28 accomplished 3-year-olds and up made eligible for the new 1 1/8-mile race on the main track is Janis Whitham’s Fort Larned, reigning winner of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) and winner of the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs. The latter was a performance that ranks among the top efforts by an older horse in North America in 2013.
Fort Larned’s most recent start was a fifth-place finish behind Cross Traffic in Saratoga’s Whitney (GI). He missed a scheduled start in the Woodward (GI) with a muscle strain, and trainer Ian Wilkes has indicated that the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI), which will also be run on Sept. 28, would be the next start for Fort Larned.
The 5-year-old son of E Dubai returned to training a week ago with a gallop at Churchill Downs and breezed four furlongs in :49 on Thursday, Sept. 12.
Fort Larned, being pointed by Wilkes toward a run in the 2013 Breeders’ Classic at Santa Anita, has a 9-2-1 record in 23 races and career earnings of $4,053,917.
Other Grade I-winning stars on the roster of Homecoming Classic nominees include William S. Farish Jr.’s Pool Play, winner of the 2011 Stephen Foster Handicap for trainer Mark Casse; Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Golden Ticket, winner of the 2012 Travers (GI) for trainer Ken McPeek in a dead-heat finish with Alpha; Twin Creeks Racing Stable LLC’s Graydar, winner of the 2013 Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park and the New Orleans Handicap (GII) at Fair Grounds for trainer Todd Pletcher; and Stuart Janney’s Hymn Book, winner of the 2012 Donn Handicap for trainer Shug McGaughey.
Other accomplished nominees include Mort Fink’s homebred Successful Dan, runner-up in the Whitney and winner of Keeneland’s Ben Ali (GIII) and the 2012 Alysheba (GII) at Churchill Downs; Southern Equine Stables LLC’s 3-year-old Moreno, runner-up to Will Take Charge in the 2013 Travers; John D. Gunther’s Last Gunfighter, owner of a trio of Grade III wins in the Monmouth’s Iselin Handicap, the Pimlico Special and Aqueduct’s Excelsior; Zayat Stable’s multiple graded stakes winner Prayer for Relief, winner of the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker (GIII); Clovertowne Farm’s Taptowne, runner-up in the recent Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) along with the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) and Prairie Meadows Cornhusker; and the Estate of Elaine Klein, Richard and Bert Klein’s Windswept, a winner of two of three races at Churchill Downs.
The Homecoming Classic will share the spotlight on the Sept. 28 “Downs After Dark” night racing program with 37th running of the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII), a one-mile race for 3-year-olds on the Matt Winn Turf Course that had previously been run during the track’s Spring Meet.
The list of 24 horses nominated to the Jefferson Cup is topped by Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Admiral’s Kitten, winner of the Secretariat (GI) at Arlington Park last time out for trainer Mike Maker. The homebred Kitten’s Joy colt has a 3-4-0 record in eight races with earnings of $459,080. The Ramseys’ Redwood Kitten, third in the Del Mar Derby (GII), also is nominated.
Other nominees include Arlington Classic (GIII) winner General Election; Shadwell Stable’s Sayaad, winner of the Dance of Life at Saratoga; Long Island Racing Stable’s New York Derby winner West Hills Giant; Westrock Stable’s Den’s Legacy, runner up in the La Jolla (GII), Sham (GIII), Robert B. Lewis (GII) and Affirmed (GIII); Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Arkansas Derby runner-up Frac Daddy, who finished 18th in the Kentucky Derby (GI); Copper Penny Stable’s 2012 Laurel Futurity winner Tate’s Landing; and Serena’s Dream Catcher Farm’s Balino, winner of Calder’s Naked Greed last out.
CHAMPION GROUPIE DOLL RETURNS TO TRACK – She got a little extra rest following her first victory of 2013, but champion mare Groupie Doll returned to the track Saturday at Churchill Downs to continue her quest for a repeat in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI) at Santa Anita.
The reigning Eclipse Award filly and mare sprint champion, who set a track record in winning the six-furlong, $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters (GII) at Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Downs on Monday night, jogged a mile and galloped mile with exercise rider Jada Schlenk in the saddle.
Trainer William “Buff” Bradley said Keeneland’s $200,000 Thoroughbred Club of America (GII) on Oct. 5 remains the next objective for Groupie Doll, who won both the Presque Isle Downs Mile and the TCA during her championship season.
But this year’s campaign is vastly different than the January-to-late-November schedule of 2012. She made her first start of 2013 with a third-place run behind Devious Intent in the Gardenia (GIII) on Aug. 10 at Ellis Park.
“She shedrowed yesterday and went back to the track today and she was really good,” Bradley said. “She was pulling Jada pretty good today, so it was good to see her back. She was into the bit good and she was feeling good.”
Bradley – who is the co-breeder of daughter of Bowman’s Band with his father, Fred Bradley, and co-owns the champion with his father, Carl Hurst and Brent Burns – was very pleased, but not surprised, by her return to form on Monday over the Pennsylvania track’s synthetic racing surface.
“We’re definitely back on track, and I thought coming out of the Gardenia that we were on track,” he said. “So everything has worked out.”
A victory in the TCA would push the Bradley homebred past the $2 million mark in career earnings. Monday’s victory improved Groupie Doll’s racing record to 10-4-3 in 19 races and boosted her earnings to $1,908,850.
PURE FUN NEARS COMEBACK FOR MCPEEK – After taking the summer off following a dull effort in the Longines Kentucky Oaks, Magdalena Racing Stable’s Pure Fun continues to train sharply for her return to competition.
The 3-year-old daughter of Pure Prize, who finished sixth to King of Prussia Stable’s Princess of Sylmar in the Oaks, worked a sparkling four furlongs in :47.40 on Friday. The move tied with the work by Strong Mandate, the 2-year-old winner of the Hopeful (GI), as the fastest of 44 moves at the distance. It was the third “bullet” fired by Pure Fun in the last four works by trainer Kenny McPeek’s winner of the 2012 Hollywood Starlet (GI).
“It was a really good breeze,” McPeek said Saturday. “She’s been reeling off the workouts and this is the best one she’s had yet. We’re feeling good about her.”
McPeek will soon be looking for a race for Pure Prize, who has yet to win in three 2013 starts. She opened her campaign with a third-place run in Turfway Park’s Bourbonette Oaks (GIII) at Turfway Park and then ran seventh against males in the Coolmore Lexington (GIII) at Keeneland.
"I wish we had a 3-year-old filly race for her at Churchill,” McPeek said. “We’ll probably point her toward the Indiana Oaks.”
The $200,000 Indiana Oaks (GII), a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies, is set for Saturday, Oct. 5 at Hoosier Park.
BARN TALK – A couple of likely starters in the first running of the $175,000-added Homecoming Classic worked over a fast Chruchill Downs racing strip on Saturday. Golden Ticket, dead-heat winner of the 2012 Travers, breezed five furlongs in a brisk 1:00.80, which was the day’s second-fastest work at the distance. Trainer Kenny McPeek confirmed that the Homecoming Classic was the near-term objective for the 4-year-old son of Speightstown, who last two starts have been a runner-up finish to Fort Larned in the Stephen Foster and a victory in the Prairie Meadows Handicap. But 2011 Foster winner Pool Play grabbed the morning’s spotlight as he worked the same distance for trainer Mark Casse in 1:00.60, the fastest of 26 moves. ... Priscilla Vaccarezza’s Little Mike, winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) and Arlington Million (GI), breezed five furlongs in 1:03.20. Trained by 2012 Eclipse Award winner Dale Romans, Little Mike ran sixth last time out in the 2013 Arlington Million.