While the journey of seven-time Grade I winner Game On Dude to Churchill Downs for Friday’s $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I) has been much discussed, another Clark hope will ship to the track with much less fanfare on Tuesday.
The Bob Baffert-trained Game On Dude is set for a Wednesday arrival, but trainer Chad Brown has Robert LaPenta’s Easter Gift set for a Tuesday arrival for Friday’s 139th running of the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.
The 4-year-old son of Hard Spun won the $350,000 Smarty Jones (GIII) at Parx Racing last year, and his most recent success this year was a June victory in Penn National’s $250,000 Mountainview Handicap, a race in which he defeated stakes veteran Norman Asbjornson and Pants On Fire, who would win Churchill Downs’ Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) in his next race.
Since then he finished second as the favorite to Vitoria Olimpica (BRZ) in the $100,000 Alydar at Saratoga and was fifth to Graydar in the $400,000 Kelso (GII) at Belmont Park on Sept. 13.
The Clark, which will feature a pair of Eclipse Award contenders in Game On Dude and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) runner-up and Travers (GI) winner Will Take Charge, is clearly a step-up for Brown’s colt, but his trainer said the race looked like a good place to see what Easter Gift has to offer.
“The horse is just training really well and it just fits,” Brown said by telephone from New York. “Something at a mile-and-an-eighth is what I was looking to run him in. He’s doing so well I think it’s worth a shot.”
Easter Gift will be ridden by Joel Rosario, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) at Churchill Downs aboard Orb. Brown’s colt comes into Friday’s race off a string of sharp workouts at Belmont Park, with the latest being a half-mile move in :48.34 on Saturday, Nov. 23 at Belmont Park. Easter Gift’s breeze was third fastest of 28 works at the distance over the sweeping 1 ½-mile Belmont track.
“It’s an opportunity and we’ll just have to see how it plays out,” Brown said. “But I couldn’t be happier with the way he’s training.”
Easter Gift has won three of six races this year and brings an overall record of 13-6-3-1 and earnings of $559,166 into the Clark.
The Clark Handicap’s known probable starters include (with trainers, weights): Bourbon Courage (Kellyn Gorder, 117), Easter Gift (Chad Brown, 116), Finnegans Wake (Dale Romans, 116), Game On Dude (Bob Baffert, 126), Golden Ticket (Kenny McPeek, 120), Prayer for Relief (Steve Asmussen, 118) and Will Take Charge (D. Wayne Lukas, 123). Possible: Jaguar Paw (Stephen Lyster, 115).
CLAIBORNE’S VEXED BREEZES FOR GOLDEN ROD – Only 13 horses had serious training moves at Churchill Downs on a wintry Monday, but one was Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilscheider’s Vexed, a contender for Saturday’s $150,000-added Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies.
The homebred daughter of Arch worked an easy five furlongs under jockey Greta Kuntzweiler in :49.40 over a fast track. Despite that rating, sub-freezing temperatures have kept Churchill Downs track crews from adding water to the surface over the past two days, so the surface was drier than usual, which contributed to the small total of works.
Given the recent early blast of winter weather that has hit the Louisville area, trainer Al Stall Jr. was happy to get his filly’s final work in.
“We’re in good shape,” Stall said by telephone from New Orleans. “We’ve kept our schedule and she seems to be fine.”
Stall had some weather concerns, but elected to send Vexed to the track and the move went well.
“We talked about the track this morning before the work,” Stall said. “(Retired jockey) Larry Melancon gallops for me and he thought it was okay.
“You’ve got to play that hand that’s dealt you. She rode (under tack) in the barn yesterday for an hour yesterday when the track was closed. But we felt it was okay to do something with her today.”
Vexed was impressive in a maiden victory in September at Churchill Downs, but was runner-up to Clever Beauty in her stakes debut in the $60,000-added Rags to Riches overnight stakes at Churchill Downs on Oct. 27. That one-mile race came after a pair of runs at seven furlongs, and the 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod will be the filly’s first run at a two-turn distance.
The known probable starters the 70th running of the Golden Rod (with trainers) include: Bird Maker (Ian Wilkes), Canaryinacoalmine (Steve Margolis), Madly Truly (Mark Casse), Naïve Enough (Ignacio Correas IV), Playful Love (Wilkes), Stonetastic (Kelly Breen), Streethomealabama (Kenny McPeek) and Vexed (Al Stall Jr.). Possible: Daddy’s Memory (Cecil Borel), Room Service (Wayne Catalano) and Spangled Banner (Eoin Harty).
ASMUSSEN’S TAPITURE ENTERS KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB PICTURE – He remains without a victory three starts into his career, but Ron Winchell’s Tapiture will run in Saturday’s 87th running of the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and the colt looms as an interesting contender in the 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-olds.
Trainer Steve Asmussen confirmed Monday that the 2-year-old son of Tapit would make his fourth start in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Though he remains a maiden heading Saturday’s the race, he has kept strong company in his brief career.
He ran into the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Strong Mandate in his Saratoga debut and finished as the runner-up to the colt that would go on to win the Hopeful (GI) and finish third to New Year’s Day in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). He stepped into stakes competition for Asmussen in his next start on Sept. 7 at Churchill Downs and ran third to Donegal Racing’s Cleburne, but Tapiture was beaten by just a half-length in that race at the Kentucky Jockey Club distance.
Then came a disappointing third-place run behind fellow Kentucky Jockey Club contender Culprit in a one-mile maiden race at Churchill Downs on Oct. 27’s opening day “Stars of Tomorrow I” card, but he has done much to please Asmussen since.
“When he ran his nice race in the Iroquois we kind of made the decision to point him towards the Jockey Club,” Asmussen said. “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. I’m very concerned with the weather we’re having this week. The track was closed yesterday and we’ve had a little hiccup in our training schedule, but he’s doing well and I’m anxious to see how he does.”
Ricardo Santana Jr will ride Tapiture for Asmussen, who won the Kentucky Jockey Club in 2005 with Private Vow.
Two Kentucky Jockey Club hopes turned in their final workouts for the race on Monday.
George Prussin’s Dobra Historia breezed four furlongs in :48.80, which was the second-fastest of 11 Monday moves at the distance. The Bill Mott-trained son of Unbridled’s Song was runner-up on Nov. 9 at Churchill Downs to likely Kentucky Jockey Club favorite Almost Famous in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race.
The morning’s bullet work was turned in by Awesome Sky, who is expected to seek his first career victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club and a second consecutive win in the race for owner-breeder John C. Oxley and trainer Mark Casse.
The Sky Mesa colt breezed four furlongs in :47, the best work of the day by nearly two seconds.
Awesome Sky ran fifth last time out as the favorite in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on Nov. 7. That effort followed a runner-up finish over Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack surface in his career debut on Oct. 18.
“As long as he comes out today’s work good, we’re going in the Jockey Club,” said Norman Casse, the trainer’s son and assistant who oversees his father’s stable at Churchill Downs. “We thought he kind of had a rough trip last time, when he got stuck in a lot of traffic. Sometimes you’ve just got to take a chance.”
Oxley, who is seeking his fourth Kentucky Jockey Club victory, and Casse took last year’s running with Uncaptured. Oxley’s other winners were Jambalaya Jazz (1994) and Beethoven (2008).
Known probable starters for the 87th running of the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), (with trainers): Almost Famous (Pat Byrne), Awesome Sky (Mark Casse), Culprit (Dale Romans), Dobra Historia (Bill Mott), Laddie Boy (Chuck Peery) and Tapiture (Steve Asmussen). Possible: All Cash (D. Wayne Lukas) Bro Rodrigeaux (Lukas), Financial Mogul (Rick Violette Jr.), and Ichiban Warrior (Todd Pletcher), Sheikinator (Ken McPeek).