G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s Frivolous grabbed the lead at the head of the stretch and turned back late challenges by 4-5 favorite Don’t Tell Sophia, Molly Morgan and Flashy American to spring a 19-1 upset in the 99th running of the $222,600 Falls City Handicap (Grade II) – the traditional Thanksgiving Day feature at Churchill Downs.
Frivolous, trained by Humphrey’s daughter Vicki Oliver, ran 1 1/8 miles on a “fast” main track in 1:51.24 under 117 pounds and jockey Jon Court, who turned 54 last Sunday. In doing so, the 4-year-old homebred collected her first stakes win and a $133,872 first prize that pushed her career earnings to $333,498 from a record of 3-3-3 in 17 starts.
Frivolous, an Empire Maker filly out of the Belong to Me mare Sixty Rocketts bred by Humphrey, raced in the clear just behind pacesetter Teen Pauline, who led the field of eight fillies and mares through ordinary fractions of :25.00, :49.11 and 1:13.47 before folding on the final turn.
Frivolous shot to the front at the top of the stretch and opened a length advantage on a fast-closing Don’t Tell Sophia, who trailed the field by as many as nine lengths. Frivolous never relented and turned back challenges by Don’t Tell Sophia to her outside and Molly Morgan, who closed along the inside rail, to win by a half-length.
“At the head of the stretch, she wanted to go,” Court said. “I called on her to put a little cushion between me and the field. I knew Don’t Tell Sophia would come flying at the end so I wanted to get out there where I was in a comfortable spot and keep my lane and hopefully fend her off, which she proved to do.”
Frivolous, a Kentucky-bred, paid $40.80, $14.20 and $6.80. Don’t Tell Sophia, ridden by Joe Rocco Jr., returned $3 and $2.20. Molly Morgan finished a neck back of the runner-up under Corey Lanerie and 122 pounds and paid $3.80.
Flashy American, Tiz Windy, Mufajaah, Strut the Course and Teen Pauline completed the order of finish. Endless Chatter and Imposing Grace were scratched.
A trouble-free trip was the key to success for Frivolous, according to her trainer.
“She’s always been a spectacular filly, she really has,” Oliver said. “She never really had the kind of trip we really wanted (in the past); she likes to be on the outside and Jon (Court) rode her perfect. She’s a free-striding filly. She got it today.”
For Oliver, it was her first stakes win at Churchill Downs and the third graded stakes win of her training career that began in 1999. Previously, she won the 2010 Gardenia Handicap (GIII) at Ellis Park with Direct Line and this year’s Del Mar Oaks (GI) with Personal Diary.
Court has had resurgence during the Fall Meet after he was sidelined for 21 weeks because of a broken right hand during a mishap in the final race on Kentucky Derby Day. He’s won with 14 of his 86 Fall Meet mounts and 10 of his last 35 to rank fifth in the local standings behind Lanerie (29 wins), Shaun Bridgmohan (19), Julien Leparoux (17) and Brian Hernandez Jr. (16). The Falls City was Court’s first graded stakes win since taking the 2013 Rebel (GII) at Oaklawn Park aboard Will Take Charge, and his first beneath the Twin Spires since prevailing in the 2012 Bashford Manor (GII) on Circle Unbroken.
“It’s been remarkably well and incredible,” Court said. “I’m very fortunate. I was very concerned coming back off the (broken) hand and they didn’t expect me to be back until 2015. But fortunately I was able to make it back many months earlier (on Sept. 27) and be able to start winning races. … Coming back and winning this one for the Olivers today is the icing on the cake with the candles for my birthday week.”
Meanwhile, this was the second straight year that $1,000 yearling purchase Don’t Tell Sophia, the winner of Keeneland’s Grade I Juddmonte Spinster and runner-up to Untapable in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI), finished second in the Falls City as the high weight.
“She ran hard,” owner/trainer Phil Sims said. “The pace was slow. They went the (first) quarter in :25 and we were 10 (lengths) off of it, and then they went the half in :49-and-change and we were still 10 off of it. She ran well despite the slow pace and the winner ran great. Carrying top weight is tough to do, and she was spotting everybody a lot of weight. But she ran well and we’re happy with her. It was a good try.”
The Falls City – a reference to the Ohio River falls or rapids that drop some 30 feet just west of downtown Louisville – is one of the four original stakes races that were created by Churchill Downs founder Col. M. Lewis Clark for the inaugural meet in 1875. The race has been run on Thanksgiving Day since 1978.
Racing on Thanksgiving Day at Churchill Downs has been a Louisville tradition since 1969. More than 7,000 turkey dinners with all the trimmings – the largest number anywhere in the region – were served.
The Falls City Handicap was the first of four graded stakes events that wind down Churchill Downs’ abbreviated 24-day Fall Meet. The $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) will be run on “Black Friday.” The $200,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and $200,000-added Golden Rod (GII) highlight Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” program, a 12-race card exclusively for 2-year-olds. Closing day for the five-week meeting is Sunday, which doubles as “Fan Appreciation Day” with free general admission, a 2015 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar giveaway courtesy of Humana and $1 beer, sodas, waters and hot dogs.
The first race on Friday, Saturday and Sunday is 12:40 p.m. ET.
FALLS CITY HANDICAP QUOTES
VICKI OLIVER of FRIVOLOUS (winner): “She’s always been a spectacular filly, she really has. She never really had the kind of trip we really wanted; she likes to be on the outside and Jon (Court) rode her perfect. She’s a free-striding filly. She got it today.
Q: You scratched out of the Cardinal Handicap on turf last week … “I was hoping it actually was going to come off (the turf and switched to the main track) because it would have been an easier spot. But it worked out anyway!”
Q: Don’t Tell Sophia has been known to close … “When I saw :25 (seconds for the first quarter) I knew we were okay because she’s a big, huge-striding filly that can carry that stride for a long time. She ran great in that mile-and-a-half I put her in (the Dowager at Keeneland on Oct. 19). I know that she can carry that speed for a long time. She’s hard to get by if you get to the front at the top of the lane. I just thought it was a long stretch and was hoping we’d prevail and we did.”
Q: What are the plans over the winter? “I’m going to give her a break now. She’s a big filly so I don’t usually give her a big break. I’ll probably just back off for a month and then try to leg her back up for next year.”
Q: What do you think was the key for her today? “Jon kept her out of trouble.”
JON COURT, jockey of FRIVOLOUS (winner): “I had a good trip. She basically was able to sit in a position. She’s just a big, nice-striding filly and kept her going and I had plenty of horse left to fend off the rest of the field. She ran a great race, we had a great trip and we got to celebrate in the winner’s circle.
“At the head of the stretch, she wanted to go. I called on her to put a little cushion between me and the field. I knew Don’t Tell Sophia would come flying at the end so I wanted to get out there where I was in a comfortable spot and keep my lane and hopefully fend her off, which she proved to do just that today.
Q: How about this meet … “It’s been remarkably well and incredible. I’m very fortunate. I was very concerned coming back off the (broken) hand and they didn’t expect me to be back until 2015. But fortunately I was able to make it back many months earlier (on Sept. 27) and be able to start winning races. … Coming back and winning this one for the Olivers today is the icing on the cake with the candles for my birthday week.”
PHIL SIMS, trainer of DON’T TELL SOPHIA (runner-up and favorite): “She ran hard. The pace was slow. They went the (first) quarter in :25 and we were 10 (lengths) off of it, and then they went the half in :49-and-change and we were still 10 off of it. She ran well despite the slow pace and the winner ran great. Carrying top weight is tough to do, and she was spotting everybody a lot of weight. But she ran well and we’re happy with her. It was a good try.”
Q: Is the plan for a little rest and then come back at Oaklawn? “We’ll come back in a couple of the long races at Oaklawn, I guess. She’ll get a little rest.”
Q: Have you ever had a horse give you thrills to match this one? “No, no. I’ll tell you what, these are hard to come by.”
JOE ROCCO JR., jockey on DON’T TELL SOPHIA (runner-up and favorite): “I’m only a little disappointed. I’m so proud of the big mare. She shows up every time. She’s just a model of consistency. She don’t owe me nothing. She always shows up and always comes running. I thought Corey’s horse (Molly Morgan) was the horse to beat. I was watching him getting through (on the rail). My mare is so big and it’s hard for her to switch leads. You almost always have to go around with her. I wish I could have been where he was.”
Q: It’s been quite a year with Don’t Tell Sophia … “I’m very happy to be a part of the team. She’s a nice mare.”
DALE ROMANS, trainer of MOLLY MORGAN (third): “She’s a grinder; she runs hard every time. I didn’t see any excuses. She got beat a nose for second by one of the best fillies in the country, and she got beat for the win by a filly that stepped-up and had a breakthrough race. You know when fillies get going in the right direction they’ll steadily improve, and that filly has a bright future.”
COREY LANERIE, jockey on MOLLY MORGAN (third): “She ran awesome. I set myself up to follow Julien (Leparoux aboard pace-setting Teen Pauline) and I thought his horse would take me to about the eighth pole, but she stopped up in there sooner than I wanted. I had to get off the rail for two or three jumps and I think it slowed her down a little bit, and it might have cost her the win. She got going again and she finished-up well along the fence.”
KENNY McPEEK, trainer of FLASHY AMERICAN (fourth): “She’s rock-solid. There’s not a lot of space between her and some of the better fillies in the nation. She keeps getting better.”
CHRIS LANDEROS, jockey on FLASHY AMERICAN (fourth): “It was a heck of a race. She ran huge. She’s a hard-trying mare and she gave me everything. I wish they had kind of backed-up a little more, but they didn’t. I was already committed to sit off of them and I had no excuse. I had a great trip.”