Reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan, a winner of five straight Grade I races, will carry the high weight of 128 pounds when he faces seven rivals in the 23rd running of $150,000-added Firecracker Handicap (GII) on Saturday night at Churchill Downs.
The Firecracker Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at one mile on the Matt Winn Turf Course is one of three stakes events on the “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” nighttime racing program. Post time for the first race is 6 p.m. (all times Eastern) and the Firecracker will go as Race 9 of 11 at 10:11 p.m.
Mort Fink’s homebred Wise Dan enters the Firecracker off a 4 ¾-length victory in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on Kentucky Derby Day. In his only other start of 2013, he won the Maker’s 46 Mile (GI) on the turf at Keeneland by a length. He was ridden in both of those starts by Jose Lezcano, but Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has the call Saturday.
“He’s doing as well as I could ask,” trainer Charlie LoPresti said.
Wise Dan won the Firecracker in 2011 in his turf debut and has since won six of his seven turf starts, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI). No horse has won the Firecracker twice.
Kitten’s Joy holds the record for most weight carried by a winner of the Firecracker. He carried 124 pounds when he won the race by a length in 2005. Five years ago, Curlin won the 2008 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs while toting 128 pounds.
The main rival for Wise Dan could be Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Lea, who is weighted at 117 pounds. A 4-year-old chestnut son of First Samurai, Lea ended his 2012 campaign with a victory in the Commonwealth Turf (GIII) at Churchill Downs in November.
In his lone start of the year, Lea cruised to a 3 ¼-length win in an off-the-turf allowance/optional-claiming race on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs on June 1 in his dirt debut. Trained by Al Stall Jr., Lea has a record of four wins, one second and one third from six starts.
Also weighted at 117 pounds as the co-second high weight is Gary and Mary West’s Corporate Jungle, who most recently finished second in the Swoon’s Son at Arlington Park in his first start for trainer Tom Proctor. While in the barn of trainer Chad Brown, Corporate Jungle won the 2012 Appleton (GIII) at Gulfstream Park and finished second behind Wise Dan in the 2012 Fourstardave Handicap (GII) at Saratoga.
The other graded-stakes winner in the field is Bob and Cathy Zollars’ Daddy Nose Best, who won the El Camino Real Derby (GIII) and Sunland Derby (GIII) in 2012 for trainer Steve Asmussen. He was most recently second behind Silver Max in the Opening Verse at Churchill Downs on June 1.
The field for the Firecracker Handicap from the rail out (with jockey and weight): Corporate Jungle (Alan Garcia, 117), Wise Dan (Velazquez, 128), Dimension-GB (Victor Lebron, 113), Lea (Brian Hernandez Jr., 117), Finnegans Wake (Jesus Castanon, 116), Daddy Nose Best (Rosie Napravnik, 116), Seruni (Corey Lanerie, 115) and Ol Army (Jon Court, 114).
The other stakes on Saturday’s card are the 112th running of the $100,000-added Bashford Manor (GIII) for 2-year-olds at six furlongs and the $65,000-added Kelly’s Landing for 3-year-olds and up at seven furlongs. The Bashford Manor will go as Race 7 at 9:05 p.m. and the Kelly’s Landing is scheduled as Race 3 at 6:56 p.m.
The field for the Bashford Manor, from the rail out (with trainer): Gun Roar (Steve Asmussen), My Corinthian (Dane Kobiskie), Hollywood Talent (Wesley Ward), Debt Ceiling (John Robb), Runkle (Kellyn Gorder), D’cajun Cat (Asmussen) and Sandbar (Neil Howard).
The field for the Kelly’s Landing, from the rail out (with trainer): Right to Vote (Ron Moquett), Flashpoint (Asmussen), Ghost Is Clear (Mike Maker), Laurie’s Rocket (D. Wayne Lukas), He’s So Proud (Jack Frost) and Good Lord (Forrest Kaelin).
The theme for Saturday night’s event is “Star-Spangled Night” and fans are encouraged to “dress to impress” for a pre-Fourth of July holiday celebration with lots of red, white and blue. Gates open at 4 p.m. and general admission is $10.
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 140th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 3, 2014 and its 2013 Spring Meet is scheduled continues through Sunday, June 30. 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.