A trio of 3-year-old Thoroughbreds whose primary racing experience has occurred beyond the borders of the United States is set to descend upon Churchill Downs in search of a signature victory when they compete in the 38th running of the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (Grade III) over the Matt Winn Turf Course on Saturday (Sept. 27).
The Canada-based duo of Terry Hamilton’s Heart to Heart and John C. Oxley’s Speightsland and Joseph Allen’s French-raced Battlefront are expected to be among the top betting choices in a field of eight 3-year-olds entered to run in the one-mile Jefferson Cup. The race is one of two stakes events on Churchill Downs’ final Saturday racing program of its September Meet, which concludes with its racing program on Sunday (Sept. 28).
Post time for the first of Saturday’s 11 races is set for 12:45 p.m. (all times EDT). The Jefferson Cup is scheduled as Race 10 with a scheduled post time of 5:20 p.m. It will be preceded on the program by the second running of the $125,000-added Homecoming Classic for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles, which is the ninth race with a post time of 4:49 p.m.
Churchill Downs’ oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has installed the appropriately-named Heart to Heart as a narrow 5-2 favorite in his morning line odds for the Jefferson Cup, with fellow Canadian Speightsland as the 3-1 second choice. The leading American contender is Frank Jones Jr.’s homebred Hesinfront, the third choice in the morning line at 9-2. Battlefront, who makes his U.S. racing debut following an 11-month layoff, is a 6-1 risk and Battaglia’s fourth choice on the morning line.
Heart to Heart, a son of U.S. grass champion English Channel based at Toronto’s Woodbine and trained by Bryan Lynch, is in search of back-to-back stakes victories and his first graded stakes win following a front-running triumph in the $100,000 Better Talk Now at a mile on the grass at Saratoga. He had earlier finished eighth in the $941,325 Queen’s Plate, the first leg of Canada’s Triple Crown over the synthetic Polytrack course at Woodbine, and ran third in the $119,710 Toronto Cup over the turf course at his home track.
The Saratoga victory on Aug. 20 by the bay colt, a fan favorite wherever he runs because his face is adorned by very distinct heart-shaped blaze, improved his career record to 3-1-2 in 10 races with earnings of $196,489. The Better Talk Now was the Ontario-bred Heart to Heart’s second win in three races on turf.
Heart to Heart partnered with jockey Julien Leparoux in April to win an allowance race on the Keeneland turf by 6 ¼ lengths. Leparoux will ride the favorite from post three in the Jefferson Cup.
Speightsland, a Florida-bred son of Speightstown trained by Churchill Downs regular Mark Casse, will bid for his first stakes victory when Alan Garcia rides him from post four in the Jefferson Cup. He narrowly missed winning his stakes debut when finished a nose back of the victorious Stacked Deck in first turf outing in Woodbine’s one-mile $94,997 Charlie Barley on July 5. Speightsland followed that strong run with a victory by a head in a 1 1/16-mile grass allowance race at the Toronto track on Aug. 1.
Speightsland brings a career record of 2-1-1 in five races and earnings of $90,889 into Saturday’s race. He’ll carry 118 pounds.
Hesinfront only has two wins in 12 career races coming into the Jefferson Cup but both came over Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course. One of two sons of the hot sire War Front in the race, the Dale Romans-trained Hesinfront collected his first career win over the course last November and scored a comfortable victory in a June 28 allowance race. He finished fourth to Divine Oath in the American Derby (GIII) on the Arlington Park grass on July 12 and followed that effort with a late-running third in an allowance race on the Kentucky Downs grass on Sept. 13.
Miguel Mena will ride Hesinfront from the outside post in the field of eight 3-year-olds. The colt has $84,658 in earnings from a career slate that stands at 2-1-2 in a dozen races.
An unknown quantity in the Jefferson Cup field is Battlefront, a Kentucky-bred son of War Front who makes his U.S. debut after collecting a pair of wins from six 2013 races on grass at French tracks. The most recent of those outings occurred last October when he finished seventh of nine as the favorite in an allowance race at Deauville.
Previously trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, the Allen homebred is now conditioned at Churchill Downs by Ben Colebrook. Battlefornt will race on the anti-bleeding medication Lasix for the first time in his American racing bow and will start from post seven under jockey Robby Albarado.
Another 3-year-old entering new territory in the Jefferson Cup is Chuck and Maribel Sandford’s Almost Famous, a son of Unbridled’s Song who makes his debut on grass after racing on dirt nine times and once on synthetic Polytrack in his 10 previous races. All three lifetime wins by the Patrick Byrne-trained Almost Famous have come over the main track at Churchill Downs. He enters the Jefferson Cup off of solid runs on dirt in the $300,000 Smarty Jones (GIII) at Parx, where he finished fourth; the $300,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown, where he ran third as the favorite; and a third-place run behind Tapiture in the $109,400 Matt Winn (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
Joe Rocco Jr. will ride Almost Famous, an 8-1 risk in the morning line, from post five.
Other contenders in the Jefferson Cup include Sportscaster, who is trained by Romans and owned by 44 Racing, a partnership headed by former pro and college basketball star Dan Issel that also includes sportscaster Tom Hammond of NBC Sports among its members; Captain Dixie, runner-up in the $204,600 Centaur at Indiana Grand in July and fifth in the $230,417 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 6 for trainer Kellyn Gorder; and Chicago-based Stormy Pacific, runner-up in the $67,000 Straight Line at Arlington Park on Aug. 16 for trainer Dale Bennett.
All of the entrants in the Jefferson Cup will carry 118 pounds.
The field for the Jefferson Cup from the hedge out (with jockey, weight and morning line odds): Sportscaster (Jesus Castanon, 118, 10-1), Captain Dixie (Ricardo Santana Jr., 118, 10-1), Heart to Heart (Leparoux, 118, 5-2), Speightsland (Garcia, 118, 3-1), Almost Famous (Rocco Jr., 118, 8-1), Stormy Pacific (Eduardo Perez, 118, 10-1), Battlefront (Albarado, 118, 6-1) and Hesinfront (Mena, 118, 9-2).