When the highly-regarded 2-year-old Almost Famous faltered in upper stretch and finished a non-threatening fourth in the $61,800 Street Sense on opening day of the Churchill Downs Fall Meet, trainer Pat Byrne quickly admitted that he was completely mystified.
But following an equipment change and a sizzling work, Byrne will wheel Chuck and Maribeth Sandford’s son of Unbridled’s Song back in Satuday’s seventh race, a 1 1/16-mile allowance for 2-year-olds. It will be the colt’s first run at a two-turn distance and a race that Byrne hopes will put the colt back on track for a run in the $175,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) on the Nov. 30 “Stars of Tomorrow II” program that wraps up the 25-day racing session.
Almost Famous, a $500,000 purchase by the Sandfords at the Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old sale in March, had dazzled in his September racing debut. He turned back John C. Oxley’s Coastline in that race, a rival who came back to beat him soundly when he won their Street Sense rematch.
The colt was physically perfect after his dull run, so Byrne pondered the situation for a day and determined that Almost Famous needed to get right back to work.
“He just didn’t focus – he just kind of goofed around there,” Byrne said. “I gave him a day off, took him back to the track and galloped him with blinkers on and I think the blinks are the way to go.”
Almost Famous will wear blinkers in competition for the first time when he faces nine promising rivals.
“’He’s a genuine horse, but he’s just a green baby,” Byrne said. “When he ran the other day he was just never at the races.”
Corey Lanerie will ride Almost Famous on Saturday and will be his third jockey in as many races. Calvin Borel was aboard for his debut, but injuries suffered by the three-time Kentucky Derby winner in an October accident at Keeneland sent him to the sidelines and Joe Rocco Jr. subbed in the saddle for the Street Sense. Rocco was already committed to another mount in Saturday’s race when Byrne decided to enter Almost Famous, so Lanerie got the mount for an important outing for the colt.
“Borel’s got the mount, because he’s really high on him, and hopefully we’ll get to the Jockey Club with him,” Byrne said. “He’s a big strong colt and if he wins, we’ll run him back in the Jockey Club.”
The improved focus Byrne sought from Almost Famous was evident in his first work with blinkers, a three-furlong drill from the starting gate in :35.40 on Nov. 2.
Almost Famous has been on the early lead in each of his previous races, and his draw of the rail post in Saturday’s two-turn debut will likely mean that he’ll be rolling on the front end again.
“He’s a good colt and I was just beside myself when he didn’t run well (in the Street Sense),” Byrne said. “I kind of spoiled him a little bit.”
OAKLAWN ‘CAP WINNER CYBER SECRET BACK IN ACTION SATURDAY ON THE GRASS – It’s been a while since Charles Cella’s Cyber Secret peered through a starting gate, but he is set to return from a six-month break against a strong optional claiming allowance race at a mile on the grass.
Cyber Secret made considerable noise at Oaklawn Park early in the year when he reeled off four consecutive wins at the Arkansas track for trainer Lynn Whiting that included the Oaklawn Handicap (GII), where he upset reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Fort Larned, and the Razorback Handicap (GIII). He finished second, beaten six lengths by Take Charge Indy, in Churchill Downs’ Alysheba (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day, but was disqualified and placed eighth in the field of nine by the track’s stewards.
The Alysheba run is the most recent race for Cyber Secret, who has made 12 of his 15 career starts on the dirt. But he ran a strong second on turf last fall in a 1 1/16-mile outing on Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course. The strength of that performance led Whiting start his star’s comeback on the turf.
“I didn’t think he was really handling this racetrack, and I thought the same thing last fall,” Whiting said. “That’s why I tried him on the turf last fall and he got his best lifetime number, at that point in time, on the grass here in November. Then he went on to Arkansas, and he found another gear there.”
Cyber Secret launched his career with a win at Belmont Park for trainer Chad Brown, and then shipped to Churchill Downs for a seventh-place run in the 2011 Kentucky Jockey Club. He was purchased privately by Cella during the winter and turned over to Whiting, who won the 1992 Kentucky Derby with W.C. Partee’s Lil E. Tee. Cyber Secret was briefly pointed to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown races, but finished 2012 with only one win in eight races.
Whiting would like to win Saturday’s turf outing, but hopes that the race will propel the 4-year-old colt to a strong start on his 2014 campaign when Cyber Secret returns to action in Hot Springs in January. Five of his six career wins have come over the dirt course at Oaklawn.
The son of Broken Vow tuned up for Saturday’s run with a half-mile breeze over the turf course on Tuesday. He completed the distance around the dogs in :49.20.
“I wanted to start him back on the grass here to just get a race under him and take him to the next step,” Whiting said. “I think he’s very capable of handling it (the turf). I’ve worked on the grass here twice and he black-lettered both times. He was a sharp horse this morning. He was very good today.
“The only concern I’ve got is that he’s going to be a little too sharp,” Whiting said. “He’s been away from the races for a while and there’s some early speed in the race and I just don’t want him to be chasing it.”
Cyber Secret will bring a career record of 6-1-0 in 15 races with earnings of $555,963 into Saturday’s comeback race. jturday’s race will not be an easy spot for a return as it has also attracted Michael Bruder’s Guys Reward, winner of Churchill Downs’ Firecracker Handicap (GII) and Opening Verse in 2012; G. Watts Humphreys’ Seruni, runner-up to Guys Reward in both of those 2012 races and third to reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan in this year’s Firecracker; and Vinery Stable’s Regally Ready, winner of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GI) and Churchill Downs Turf Sprint (GIII), both over the Matt Winn Turf Course; and Major Marvel, the front-running winner of the Unbridled at Louisiana Downs last time out.
“We’re just trying to position ourself,” Whiting said. “We’ll be playing a home game at Oaklawn, and I think he’s set up for a big year next year.”
BARN TALK – Jockey Rosie Napravnik took off her mounts for the second consecutive day on Thursday because of lingering body soreness from a pair of mishaps. One incident occurred at Churchill Downs, where she was thrown by her mount at the start of a race nearly two weeks ago, and the second was a traffic mishap in Louisville late last week. Agent Steve Bass said Napravnik’s car was rear-ended by another vehicle, but she escaped without serious injury and traveled on to Southern California to ride in last Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI), where she finished eighth aboard Pocahontas (GII) winner Tapiture. But Bass said lingering soreness from those mishaps prompted her to stay home for at least another day. “She needed a couple of days,” Bass said. “She’ll be back up (Friday) or she’ll be back up on Saturday.” Napravnik was thrown from her mount Be Nice or Leave at the start of the seventh race at Churchill Downs on Oct. 27, the opening day of the Fall Meet. On the previous day, Napravnik had wrapped-up the Fall Meet riding title at Keeneland, her first riding title at the Lexington track. … A. Stevens Miles’ Neck ‘n Neck, winner for the 2012 Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) and Indiana Derby (GII), breezed three furlongs in :36.20 over a muddy track at Churchill Downs. Trainer Ian Wilkes hopes to run the 4-year-old son of Flower Alley in the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) on Friday, Nov. 30, but looks to find a prep race for the colt over the next few days. Neck ‘n Neck is entered for “main track only” in Saturday’s second race, a one-mile optional claiming allowance race on grass, but the forecast on Friday and Saturday calls for sunshine and it appears unlikely that Saturday’s race would be moved to the main track. There were no races that would fit Neck ‘n Neck on Sunday’s racing program. … Thursday’s 10 races at Churchill Downs were won by 10 different jockeys. Corey Lanerie scored on one of those Wednesday victories and entered Thursday’s racing program with a 12-7 lead over Miguel Mena in the battle for leading jockey of the Fall Meet. … Steve Asmussen saddled Gillian S. Campbell’s Airofdistinction to win the 8th race, but still trailed Bret Calhoun by a margin of 7-4 in the race for leading trainer. Through Wednesday’s Calhoun’s starters had a record of 7-3-0 in 16 races.