Journeymen jockeys Brian Hernandez Jr and Miguel Mena will be seeking the biggest victory of their young careers in Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I), but both riders are doing their best to stay focused on their mounts at Churchill Downs prior to riding at Santa Anita on Saturday.
“I’m not really nervous right now because we’ve still got a couple more days,” Hernandez Jr. said. “I’ve still got to ride (Thursday and Friday). Come Saturday, I might be a little nervous then, but we’ll worry about that when it comes up.”
Hernandez Jr., who turns 27 Saturday, will be aboard Fort Larned in the Classic for trainer Ian Wilkes on Saturday, but will first guide morning-line favorite Neck ’n Neck, also trained by Wilkes, in Friday’s $100,000-added Ack Ack (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
“It’s a daily deal,” Hernandez Jr. said. “We race five days a week and you just have to take it day by day.”
Mena, who turns 26 on Tuesday (Nov.6), also will have mounts for the same trainer in the Ack Ack and Classic when he rides Stealcase and Pool Play this weekend, both from the barn of trainer Mark Casse.
“I’m just having fun,” Mena said. “I’m not nervous – yet. I’m just glad they gave me the opportunity. I’m staying focused on today and tomorrow and trying not to think about (the Classic) too much.”
After riding in the Classic on Saturday night, both riders will rush back to Louisville for mounts at Churchill Downs on Sunday. Post time for the Classic is 8:30 p.m. (all times Eastern) and Hernandez Jr. and Mena are both scheduled to ride their first race Sunday in Race 3 at 1:37 p.m.
FORT LOUDON WILL TRY TO REGROUP IN FRIDAY’S ACK ACK – Fred Brei’s Fort Loudon, runner-up to Willy Beamin in the King’s Bishop (GI) at Saratoga, will look to bounce back from a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Vosburgh (GI) in Friday’s $100,000-added Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
In prep for the Ack Ack, Fort Loudon breezed a “bullet” four furlongs in :48.60 at the Oklahoma Training Track in Saratoga on Oct. 27. He arrived at trainer Nick Zito’s barn at Churchill Downs on Oct. 30.
“He’s doing OK,” Zito said. “We’d like him to regroup after his last race. We want to try to erase the last race. No one knows why a horse sometimes runs a bad race, but we want to regroup. He’s a real nice 3-year-old and you saw how well he ran in the King’s Bishop.”
Fort Loudon will break from the outside in post eight in the Ack Ack and is the 5-1 co-third choice on Mike Battaglia’s morning line for the one-turn mile event. Neck ’n Neck, who won the Matt Winn (GIII) at Churchill Downs in June by 7 ¼ lengths, is the 3-1 morning-line favorite.
“The mile is a good distance for him (Fort Loudon),” Zito said. “It’s going to be a tough race and Neck ’n Neck looks like he owns Churchill Downs.”
The Ack Ack is scheduled as Race 9 on the 10-race program Friday with a post time of 4:38 p.m.
SALTY STRIKE SEEKS SIXTH CD VICTORY IN SATURDAY’S CHILUKKI – Craig Singer’s Salty Strike already has made quite a name for herself at Churchill Downs by winning five of her seven starts at the Louisville track and the connections are hopeful win number six will come in Saturday’s $150,000-added Chilukki (GII).
“This is her spot,” said Phil Bauer, assistant to trainer Ken McPeek. “Some horses love it or hate it here (at Churchill Downs). The ones that really like it seem to excel here. She trains here and has sort of a home-court advantage.”
Three of Salty Strike’s Churchill Downs victories came in stakes races, most notably the 2011 Dogwood (GIII). A 4-year-old dark bay or brown daughter of Smart Strike, Salty Strike also won the 2011 Dream Supreme and the 2012 Roxelana, her most recent race at Churchill Downs.
Salty Strike drew the outside post 11 for the one-turn mile Chilukki, but that doesn’t concern Bauer.
“With the long run down the backside, I think she’ll be fine,” Bauer said. “It seems like the speed is to the inside of us and she’s rated well in her last few races. I think it’ll be an unpressured trip and (jockey) Victor (Lebron) will be able to gauge what’s going on inside of him and by the time we hit the turn, hopefully he’s worked his way inside to save a little ground.”
The Chilukki will go as Race 9 on the 10-race program Saturday and has a post time of 4:37 p.m.
DOWN THE STRETCH – Bizzy Caroline, winner of the Regret (GIII) and Early Times Mint Julep (GIII) at Churchill Downs, is being pointed to the $100,000 Cardinal Handicap (GIII) on Nov. 10, according to Phil Bauer, assistant to trainer Ken McPeek … Jockey Oriel Chavez recorded his first career Churchill Downs victory aboard Juliet’s Promise in Wednesday’s fifth race … Trainer Paul Griffiths scored his first career win beneath the Twin Spires with Klea in Wednesday sixth race … Trainer Pat Byrne said Thursday that Take Charge Indy, third in the Fayette (GII) at Keeneland in his most recent start, will be pointed to the $400,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 23 and Positively, runner-up to Uncaptured in last Sunday’s Iroquois (GIII), will be pointed to the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) on Nov. 24 … Friday marks the return of Churchill Downs’ popular Friday Happy Hours. Between 3-5 p.m., there will be $2 Budweiser and Bud Light drink specials plus live music by J.D. Shelburne in the new Plaza area adjacent to the saddling paddock and Gate 1 … One lucky bettor from the Maryland hub had the only winning ticket in Wednesday’s sixth race Superfecta pool, worth $34,917.94 for the 10-cent minimum … The Oldham County Thoroughbred Supporters are hosting Oldham County Day at the Races at Churchill Downs on Sunday, Nov. 4. For more information, contact Del Lowell at (502) 639-1498 … Barn Notes will not be published on Friday and Saturday.
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