Michael J Bruder’s Guys Reward had clear sailing from the outside and drew clear in deep stretch to win the 22nd running of the Grade II, $165,900 Firecracker Handicap by two lengths over Seruni on Sunday night to close out the 38-day Spring Meet at Churchill Downs. Turallure, the 3-5 favorite in the field of five older horses, finished fourth.
Guys Reward ran one mile in 1:38.46 on a Matt Winn Turf Course that was rated yielding after a mid-card thunderstorm delayed the fifth race by 50 minutes. It was the slowest clocking in the race’s two-decade history.
Churchill Downs’ Spring Meet leaders, trainer Dale Romans and jockey Corey Lanerie, teamed for the win. For Romans, it was his record third Firecracker triumph. He also won the race with Kitten’s Joy (2005) and Thorn Song (2008).
“It was a good way to end the meet,” said Romans, who won his ninth Churchill Downs training title – and first since the 2006 Spring Meet – with 23 wins, six more than runner-up Tom Amoss. “This is a nice race and I’ve always liked this race and this is our third win in here. He is a really good horse. He’s always been a nice horse, but the older he gets the better he gets. He just seems to be maturing and improving.”
Guys Rewards, a 5-year-old son of Grand Reward out of the Mr. Greeley mare Beach View, has a penchant for Churchill Downs. Five of his seven career victories have come over the Churchill Downs turf course, including three this season. Previously, he won the $73,392 Opening Verse, an overnight stakes race, on June 9.
The victory was worth $102,858 and increased Guys Rewards’ earnings to $516,155. It was his first graded stakes win in his 10th attempt against that company. He was bred in Kentucky by Haymarket Farm.
Night Party prompted the early pace of :24.82, :50.12 and 1:14.96 over the soggy turf with Seruni tracking in second and Guys Reward in close pursuit on the outside. Guys Reward moved closer from his three-wide path on the final turn and angled out in the clear for the drive home. He drew even with Seruni and Night Party with a furlong to go and kicked clear inside the final sixteenth of a mile under steady urging by Lanerie.
“At the quarter-pole I decided to go and get a jump on Turallure in case he was going to come running and my horse kicked on and ran hard all the way to the wire,” Lanerie said. “It’s a great way to end the meet and this is the icing on the cake. It’s been one of the best meets of my career.”
Lanerie wrapped his first Churchill Downs riding title with 71 wins during the 38-day season – 24 ahead of runner-up Shaun Bridgmohan’s 47. His rate of 1.87 wins-per-day was the highest at a Churchill Downs Spring Meet since Steve Brooks won 46 races during the 19-day season of 1948, some 64 years ago.
Guys Reward, carrying 118 pounds, paid $9 and $4.60 as the 7-2 second betting choice. There was no show wagering because of a late scratch by Mandurah. Seruni, ridden by Jon Court, returned $5.40. Night Party was another half-length back in third and three-quarters of a length ahead of odds-on favorite Turallure, who was fourth. Silver Rock finished last.
“He looked flat going into the first turn,” trainer Charlie Lopresti said of Turallure, who lost last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile by a nose to Romans-trainee Court Vision. “I thought he was just floundering. It was like he was just swimming out of water. That’s what he looked like to me and that’s kind of what (jockey) Julien (Leparoux) said. You know, that’s the second time he’s run bad (note: he finished seventh as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day). It’s just really disappointing with a horse that was that good last year. I don’t know if this turf was to his liking. You hate to keep making excuses for him – they all had to run over the same turf.”
In addition to Romans and Lanerie, Richard and Karen Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. was saluted as Churchill Downs’ Spring Meet champion owners with 15 wins. Paula Haughey’s PTK LLC was second with 11 trips to the winner’s circle. Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. also won last year’s Spring Meet title with eight victories.
Racing at Churchill Downs returns on Sunday, Oct. 28 for the 123rd Fall Meet, a 21-day meeting that will conclude on Sunday, Nov. 25.
FIRECRACKER HANDICAP QUOTES
Dale Romans, trainer of Guys Reward, winner: “It was a good way to end the meet. This is a nice race and I’ve always liked this race and this is our third win in here (previously won with Thorn Song in 2008 and Kitten’s Joy in 2005). He is a really good horse. He’s always been a nice horse, but the older he gets the better he gets. He just seems to be maturing and improving.”
Q. Any concern on him handling the yielding turf?: “No. He’s run well in the mud when races have come off the turf and so I think he can handle just about anything.”
Q. What’s next?: “I don’t know. We only plotted this far. I’ll have to look at it tomorrow and figure out what to do with him.”
Corey Lanerie, jockey on Guys Reward, winner: “The race went just like I thought it would. I thought the one (Night Party) and the two (Seruni) would be out in front and I would be in third. It went just as planned and I was in third going nice and easy. At the quarter-pole I decided to go and get a jump on Turallure in case he was going to come running and my horse kicked on and ran hard all the way to the wire. It’s a great way to end the meet and this is the icing on the cake. It’s been one of the best meets of my career.”
Philip Oliver, trainer of Seruni, second: “He ran very well. I’m very pleased. We got beat by a better horse today. I was very happy with him. We had a good trip and no excuses – we just got beat by a better horse.”
Q: Any thoughts on what’s next for him?: “I’ve run him pretty hard this last month. I’m going to give him about six weeks off and look for a spot.”
Jon Court, rider on Seruni, second: “He ran big. I saw Guy’s Reward out the corner of my eye making the move and swinging out toward the center of the track. Guy’s Reward was, in my mind, the horse to beat tonight, because I’d been watching him run.
“Seruni broke really well and contested the lead, and actually took the lead real early. But we had agreed not to have him on the ‘Bill Daly’, so to speak, and I was able to sit off the pace. (Jockey) Victor (Lebron on Night Party) set a nice, comfortable, smart pace, and I just laid off him When we rolled into the turn I knew everybody was going to create a little momentum, and I did the same and was able to maintain my second place. We all fired down the lane and Seruni ran really big and held on for second, but Dale has Guy’s Reward on his game.”
Charlie Lopresti, trainer of Turallure, fourth as 3-5 favorite: “I just don’t know. I don’t what to think about this horse. I don’t think he’s the same horse he was right now, and I can’t tell you why. It’s really disappointing.
“He looked flat going into the first turn. I thought he was just floundering. It was like he was just swimming out of water. That’s what he looked like to me and that’s kind of what (jockey) Julien (Leparoux) said. You know, that’s the second time he’s run bad. It’s just really disappointing with a horse that was that good last year. I don’t know if this turf was to his liking. You hate to keep making excuses for him – they all had to run over the same turf.”
Julien Leparoux, jockey on Turallure, fourth as 3-5 favorite: “Leaving the gate he was kind of flat, and in the first turn he was kind of sliding around and slipping a little bit. But on the second turn he grabbed the bit and I thought he was going to win easy, but in the stretch he gave me something for a little bit and then kind of flattened out after that. The last two times the track was not in good shape, so I don’t know if it’s really the track or he just needs a firm turf, or it’s something else. I just don’t know what happened and it’s kind of disappointing. But he feels good and he seemed to come back okay.”
Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4, 2013, and its 2012 Fall Meet is scheduled for Oct. 28-Nov. 25. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record eight times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.churchilldowns.com.
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