Since his days as an assistant to Hall of Famer and four-time Kentucky Derby (Grade I) winner D. Wayne Lukas, a victory in the “Run for the Roses” on the first Saturday in May has been a goal for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

Given that he hails from Lexington, Ky., it’s a pretty good bet that his desire to win a Kentucky Derby was strong well before his Lukas years. And he came close to achieving that goal in 2005, when he saddled 71-1 longshot Closing Argument to a runner-up finish behind 50-1 shot Giacomo in that year’s Kentucky Derby. A half-length separated those horses.

With the 2015 running of the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) now just a little over 150 days away, McLaughlin has a quartet of 2-year-olds that could possess the right stuff to emerge as significant players on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points system in the coming weeks.

That group includes a pair of entrants in Saturday’s Remsen (GII) at Aqueduct: Godolphin Racing’s Frosted and Cheyenne Stables LLC’s Classy Class. Both have displayed enough promise to be included among the 23 individual horses in the opening pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (“KDFW”) that opens a three-day run on Friday. McLaughlin’s group officially became a foursome when Shadwell Stable’s Mawthooq scored a 10 ½-length maiden victory at Aqueduct on Thursday in his second-career start.

The final member of McLaughlin’s small army is Imperia, a son of Medaglia d’Oro who will carry Godolphin’s colors at Churchill Downs in Saturday’s 88th running of the $200,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), a 1 1/16-mile race that is the co-feature with the $200,000-added Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies on the track’s popular “Stars of Tomorrow II” program.

Imperia narrowly missed in his August racing debut in a runner-up finish in a 1 1/16-mile grass race at Saratoga, but stepped immediately into stakes competition and won the Pilgrim (GIII) on the Belmont Park turf in late September.

The Pilgrim victory earned Imperia a shot at the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) at Santa Anita, but a myriad of traffic problems prevented him to do much more than break out of a strong gallop during the 1 1/16-mile race. He finished 10th of 14, but was beaten by only 3 ¾ lengths by the victorious Hootenanny.

But Imperia came of the race well and has two strong works at Florida’s Palm Meadows to his credit since his trouble-plagued Breeders’ Cup journey, and McLaughlin decided now was the time to see if he can handle dirt and that Churchill Downs was a good spot for the colt for that test.

“He’s trained very well on dirt,” McLaughlin said. “Sometimes you start a horse on the turf because of the distance, and that’s what he wanted. We felt like we weren’t going to waste our time running short on the dirt, so we ran him long of the turf and he ran very well.”

Of Imperia’s next start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, McLaughlin said his colt “just didn’t have anywhere to run.” But after that he had a discussion with Godlphin's Jimmy Bell that led to his presence in the field of 12 2-year-olds for Saturday’s Kentucky Jockey Club.

“I said that maybe this was a good time to run him on the dirt and see if he would like it, rather than waiting until February to find out if he’s equally as good on the dirt,” McLaughlin recalled. “So we decided to go to Churchill to see if he likes that dirt.”

A big run by Imperia, McLaughin’s third Kentucky Derby Future Wager representative, and strong efforts by his Remsen hopes would only solidify what is perceived at this early stage to be one of the strongest hands held by any trainer looking toward the 2015 Spring Classics.

“We do have four colts that are possible,” he said. “We hope Imperia runs well enough that we can stay on the dirt. If not, we’ll go back to turf. But the other three are all dirt horses.”

McLaughlin will stay in New York to saddle his Remsen duo, so his brother Neal will come to Churchill Downs to send Imperia into the starting gate for the Kentucky Jockey Club.

CHICAGO-BASED BLOCK BIDS FOR MORE THANKSGIVING WEEKEND SUCCESS

Kentucky racing fans learned long ago that horses trained by Chicago-based Chris Block that shows up in the entry box for any race merit respect,. Most will be paying close attention to Lothenbach Stables’ homebred No Fault of Mine in Saturday’s 71st running of the $200,000-added Golden Rod (GII).

If recent history is a guide, Block could be most formidable when he ventures south to Churchill Downs on Thanksgiving Weekend. A venture into a time machine to 2010 would show a pair of wins in major races in the final weekend of the Fall Meet. Dundalk Dust, a 3-year-old filly who upset older foes in the Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day, was followed roughly 24 hours later by a triumph in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) by veteran star Giant Oak, who was awarded Churchill Downs’ fall highlight after apparent winner Successful Dan was disqualified to third.

A Golden Rod win by No Fault of Mine would not be considered a major upset. She is the 9-2 third choice in Churchill Downs’ oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line odds behind Pocahontas (GII) winner Cristina’s Journey (3-1) and West Coast Belle, winner of Churchill Downs Rags to Riches overnight stakes.

The well-named daughter of 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Blame romped to a 4 ½-length victory over Arlington Park’s synthetic Polytrack surface in her debut on Sept. 28. Block admits that the emphatic win was a bit of a surprise.

“She trained well coming to it, but I was looking for a two-turn race on grass for her and I couldn’t get it,” Block said by telephone from Chicago. “It was closing day (at Arlington) and I wanted to get a race in her before I went to Keeneland.

“She surprised me. She really accelerated when it was time to go and did it very professionally, as well. She handled everything like she had run before, which is nice to see. She’s got that kind of mind where she doesn’t seem to allow anything to bother her at all.”

The Chicago-based filly has a pedigree that carries a strong influence of Claiborne Farm, the legendary, more than century-old racing and breeding institution in Paris, Ky. Blame provided Claiborne with its first Breeders’ Cup Classic win, and No Fault of Mine is out of a mare by Flatter, whose racing career was significantly compromised by injury but has become a solid member of the Claiborne stallion roster since his racing days ended.When they (Lothenbach Stables) bred the mare to Blame, he was a freshman sire at that point and I didn’t know what to expect,” Block said. “When they sent her to me she still had a lot of growing to do, but her frame was there and I thought she could develop into a really nice-looking filly.

“She did everything right and was really kind of unassuming until I ran her that first time, but she made herself known the day she ran.”

No Fault of Mine has been at Churchill Downs since the Fall Meet opened in late October. She has had three works over the one-mile Louisville oval, including a five-furlong breeze in 1:00 on Nov. 9 that was the fastest of 26 at the distance. There were other options to run No Fault of Mine during the meet or on Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” card devoted exclusively to 2-year-olds, but Block said her body of work at Churchill Downs pointed her toward the Golden Rod.

“She’s trained very well there,” Block said. “It’s a pretty big step from a maiden win to a Grade II, but we also that that, with the way she’s been training, she deserved a shot to be in there.”

Block has another promising juvenile in his barn in Oak Brook, a full brother to Clark winner Giant Oak. The son of Giant’s Causeway owned by the Virginia H. Tarra Trust has a record of 1-2-0 in four races with the victory coming in his most recent outing at 1 1/16 miles on the grass on Nov. 13 at Churchill Downs.

“That colt should get a lot better with each race,” Block said. “He has really developed nicely. He was a little slow to start off with, but he’s picked it up nicely in his last couple of starts and I really look for him to go forward.”

The Clark was one of two Grade I triumphs for Giant Oak, who completed his career with a record of 5-5-6 in 31 races and earnings of $1,484,829. He won Gulfstream Park’s 2011 Donn Handicap (GI) in his next start. 

STARS OF TOMORROW PRODUCES

Saturday’s 10th annual Stars of Tomorrow II program is entirely devoted to hopeful 2-year-old stars that have aspirations of trail-blazing their way to next year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks.

Inaugurated in 2005, Churchill Downs’ Stars of Tomorrow programs have helped launched the careers of numerous graded stakes winners, including 34 Grade I winners and 20 millionaires led by 2010 Kentucky Derby champ Super Saver; 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile and Clark Handicap winner Shackleford; 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra; 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2013 Stephen Foster Handicap hero Fort Larned; 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can; and 2013 champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge.

LOUISVILLE/KENTUCKY RIVALRY FEATURED AT PIGSKINS & PONIES

Area sports fans that don’t have a ticket to Saturday’s annual showdown between the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky can watch and listen to the game at Churchill Downs while taking in the annual “Stars of Tomorrow II” racing program.

The noon EST game will be shown on the Plaza video board, select TV monitors around Churchill Downs and between races on the Big Board.

Also, attendees of the game at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium are invited to Churchill Downs after the game. They’ll be admitted free of charge with a ticket stub from the game.

Churchill Downs has showcased college football games during the races most Saturdays during the Fall Meet. Pigskins and Ponies also features all-day drink specials – $2 Bud/Bud Light, $3 Stella Artois and $1 Pepsi products and bottled water – in the Lower Club near the paddock, and free admission to college students with a current student I.D.

TRAFFIC ALERT ON SATURDAY

With kickoff for Saturday’s UofL/UK football game at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium scheduled at noon ET, Churchill Downs patrons are advised to enter the track from Interstate 264 (Watterson Expressway) and Taylor Blvd.

Those who exit I-264 can travel north on Taylor Blvd. and turn right on either Longfield Ave. or right on Central Ave. to get to Churchill Downs with minimal traffic congestion.

UK GRAD FLANERY GIVES THUMBS UP TO LIGHTING TWIN SPIRES RED THIS WEEK

Churchill Downs will show support for its neighbors, the University of Louisville this week, by lighting its historic Twin Spires with a glow of red in advance of Saturday’s football game against state rivals, the University of Kentucky.

Amazingly, the idea came from Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery, a Bellarmine College grad who holds a juris doctor from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

“Hey, it’s a home game,” Flanery said. “The Big Blue Nation might try to kick me out of the alumni association but UofL has always been a great neighbor to Churchill Downs. But the love only goes so far; I’ll be sporting my Wildcat blue at the track on game day!”

SUNDAY IS ‘FAN APPRECIATION DAY’ WITH FREE ADMISSION & CALENDAR, $1 BEER

 

As the racing year at Churchill Downs Racetrack winds to a close on Sunday, the historic racetrack will offer a sincere “Thank You” to its guests with a multi-faceted “Fan Appreciation Day”:

  • Free general admission
  • Free 2015 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar that features classic Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby imagery to the first 5,000 fans through admission gates courtesy of Humana
  • $1 domestic draft beer (16 oz.)
  • $1 Pepsi product fountain drinks (22 oz.)
  • $1 bottled water
  • $1 hot dogs

Also, fans have an opportunity to back a strong opinion or purchase a great holiday stocking stuffer by participating in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager that closes Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.

Additionally, Churchill Downs will salute its Fall Meet Champion Jockey, Trainer and Owner between races.

Post time for Sunday’s closing day card is 12:40 p.m. ET and admission gates will open at 11:30 a.m.

CLOSING WEEK AT CHURCHILL DOWNS

Friday, Nov. 28 (Day 24 of 26) – Clark Handicap Day

  • 12 races from 12:40-6:03 p.m. (Gates 11:30 a.m.)
  • Feature: 140th running of $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), 3&up, 1 1/8 M
  • Clark Handicap, a “Black Friday” tradition dating back to 1978, annually lures some of the top older horses in North America and is the centerpiece of four stakes events cumulatively worth $1.1 million that will be contested over the Thanksgiving/closing weekend
  • Special Wager: Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 (opens Friday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m. ET and closes Sunday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Nov. 29 (Day 25 of 26) – Stars of Tomorrow II

  • 12 races from 12:40-6:03 p.m. (Gates 11:30 a.m.)
  • 10th annual Stars of Tomorrow II program which is entirely devoted to hopeful 2-year-old stars that have aspirations of trail-blazing their way to next year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks
  • Stars of Tomorrow programs, inaugurated in 2005, have helped launched the careers of numerous graded stakes winners, including 34 Grade I winners and 20 millionaires led by 2010 Kentucky Derby champ Super Saver; 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile and Clark Handicap winner Shackleford; 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra; 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2013 Stephen Foster Handicap hero Fort Larned; 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can; and 2013 champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge
  • Co-Feature: 88th running of $200,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), 2yo, 1 1/16 M, RTKD Points: 10-4-2-1
  • Co-Feature: 71st running of $200,000-added Golden Rod (GII), 2yo f, 1 1/16 M, RTKO Points: 10-4-2-1
  • Pigskins and Ponies featuring college football games on Plaza video board (University of Kentucky at University of Louisville at noon); drink specials ($2 Bud/Bud Light, $3 Stella Artois and $1 Pepsi products and bottled water); tailgate-style food from Plaza Grill; and free admission to college students with current student I.D.
  • Come to the races after the UofL/UK football game. Free general admission with ticket stub.

Follow this link to a PDF copy of the Churchill Downs Race Day Notes for Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27.  The PDF version of the notes incudes addition information and statistical date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, Nov. 30 (Day 26 of 26) – Closing/Fan Appreciation Day

  • 11 races from 12:40-5:38 p.m. (Gates 11:30 a.m.)
  • Feature (Race 10 at 5:08 p.m.: $47,000 alw opt clm, f&m, 1 1/16 M (T)
  • Mandatory Payout of Single 6 Jackpot and Super Hi-5
  • Fan Appreciation Day
  • Free general admission
  • Free 2015 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar that features classic Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby imagery to the first 5,000 fans through admission gates courtesy of Humana
  • $1 domestic draft beer (16 oz.)
  • $1 Pepsi product fountain drinks (22 oz.)
  • $1 bottled water
  • $1 hot dogs
  • Salute Fall Meet Champion Jockey, Trainer and Owner between races
  • Special Wager: Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 (opens Friday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m. ET and closes Sunday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. ET)
  • Who’s the Champ? Betting Challenge in the ITW area on the second floor of the Grandstand. $35 to enter ($30 for TSC Elite members) and includes official program and meal voucher. Registration from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Churchill Downs Lounge. $2 Win/Place mythical wagers on Races 3-8. First prize: Fully-paid spot in the Horse Player World Series at The Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on March 25-28, including a four-night hotel stay and $250 travel voucher. Second prize: $500 betting voucher. Third prize: $250 betting voucher.

 

SELECT UPCOMING NATIONAL STAKES

 

Thursday, Nov. 27

 

Time     Track    Stakes Race

 

2:42             Aqu 8          $300,000 Fall Highweight H. (

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