Multiple stakes winner Carve puts his three-race win streak on the line Saturday at Churchill Downs in the 22nd running of the $100,000-added Ack Ack Handicap (Grade III) against a compact but competitive field of five older horses that includes recent Grade II runner-up Bradester and comebacker Flashback.
The one-mile Ack Ack, named for the Hall of Fame horse who won the 1969 Derby Trial and 1971 Horse of the Year honors, is one of four stakes races on the first Saturday of Churchill Downs’ 12-date September Meet. First post for the 11-race program is 12:45 p.m. ET with the Ack Ack scheduled as Race 4 at approximately 2:19 p.m. ET.
Michael Langford’s Carve, conditioned by Brad Cox, is the 120-pound starting Ack Ack high weight after back-to-back summer stakes wins in the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII) at 1 1/8 miles and $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes over 1 1/16 miles. Carve’s win streak began June 14 with a 3 ¾-length romp at Churchill Downs over the mile distance in 1:35.60. Overall, the First Samurai gelding has won six of 15 starts and $686,931, but he’s 4-for-6 with earnings of $435,400 since being transferred to the care of Cox for his 4-year-old campaign.
“He was my first graded stakes winner,” said 34-year-old Cox, who boasts a 23.9% career win clip since he began training in 2004. “He’s been big for our barn. It was a big accomplishment to get that first graded win and it was a nice purse. His last race at Mountaineer was a big effort as well.”
Joseph Sutton’s Bradester enters the Ack Ack after repeat runner-up efforts in graded stakes at Monmouth Park in July. The 4-year-old Lion Heart colt trained by Eddie Kenneally was runner-up to recent Woodward (GI) winner Itsmyluckyday in the $160,500 Salvator Mile (GIII) on July 6. He followed that effort with narrow half-length loss to Valid in the $211,000 Monmouth Cup (GII) on July 27, besting last year’s Ack Ack champ Pants On Fire by 4 ¾ lengths. Overall, Bradester has won four of 13 starts and $389,006.
Gary and Mary West’s Flashback was one of the most promising Kentucky Derby contenders in 2013 before a bone chip was discovered in his knee following a second-place finish behind Goldencents in that year’s Santa Anita Derby. The Tapit colt hasn’t raced since finishing fourth in the Malibu (GI) on the day after Christmas, and returns to action in earnest under the care of veteran trainer Wayne Catalano. Overall, Flashback has won two of six starts and $395,000, including a triumph in the 2013 Robert B. Lewis (GII) at Santa Anita.
“If he runs well, we may be looking at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, but we’ll see how he does this weekend first,” Catalano said.
The Ack Ack quintet is completed by a pair of 5-year-old geldings: B J D Thoroughbreds’ Right to Vote, second to Code West in the $176,050 Governor’s Cup at Remington Park three weeks ago and a neck back of Carve in the Cornhusker; and Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s multiple stakes winner Politicallycorrect, who seeks his first victory since taking the $100,000 Damascus at Santa Anita on the 2012 Breeders’ Cup undercard.
The complete Ack Ack field from the rail out (with jockeys, trainers and assigned weights): Flashback (Shaun Bridgmohan, Catalano, 118); Right to Vote (Ricardo Santana Jr., Ron Moquett, 118); Politicallycorrect (Joel Rosario, Wesley Ward, 116); Carve (Jesus Castanon, Cox, 120); and Bradester (Corey Lanerie, Kenneally, 119).
The Ack Ack is one of eight stakes races scheduled during the September. Other fixtures carded on Saturday are the $100,000-added Iroquois (GIII), which kicks off the 35-race “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series; the $200,000-added Pocahontas (GII), which starts the 31-race “Road to the Kentucky Oaks;” and the $100,000-added Locust Grove for fillies and mares. Each of those aforementioned races is a 1 1/16-mile event.