The most accomplished juveniles in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas – Willis Horton’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) and Delta Princess (GIII) winner Take Charge Brandi and Zayat Stables LLC’s Delta Jackpot (GIII) runner-up Mr. Z – will each have one more dance before the universal birthday for Thoroughbreds arrives on Jan. 1 and those young stars embark on their 3-year-old campaigns.
Both horses will travel to Southern California’s Los Alamitos Race Course in an effort to put an exclamation point on their respective successful juvenile campaigns. Take Charge Brandi will bid to wrap-up the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old filly in the $350,000 Starlet on Saturday, Dec. 13, and Mr. Z will seek his breakthrough stakes victory in the $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity on Saturday, Dec. 20.
The setting at Los Alamitos which has been primarily a Quarter Horse venue throughout its history, will be very familiar to Lukas, who is the only trainer to be enshrined in both the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing Halls of Fame.
Both races are also part of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points systems that will determine the horses that will compete next spring in the 141st runnings of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI).
Lukas has four victories in each of those signature races at Churchill Downs.
Take Charge Brandi was not even a tiny blip of the Eclipse Award radar screen when she traveled to Santa Anita for the Juvenile Fillies off an eighth-place finish in Keeneland’s Darley Alcibiades (GI), which was her fourth consecutive loss following a sparkling debut win at Churchill Downs on June 22.
But she led throughout in springing a 61-1 upset in her Breeders’ Cup race and erased thoughts that her Santa Anita performance might have been a fluke with a win in the $400,000 Delta Princess on Nov. 22 at Louisiana’s Delta Downs.
In a year in which there is no standout among 2-year-old fillies, Lukas believes the back-to-back wins are enough to merit an Eclipse Award championship for Take Charge Brandi. If she extends her winning streak to three at Los Alamitos, he thinks it would be difficult for voters to look away from his chestnut filly.
“I want to take the doubt out of the vote,” Lukas said in his stable office. “Let’s make it easy.”
The Giant’s Causeway filly out of Charming, who is out of two-time Spinster (GI) winner and 2002 Kentucky Oaks runner-up Take Charge Lady. The latter is the dam of the Lukas-trained Will Take Charge, who won last year’s Travers (GI) at Saratoga and Churchill Downs’ Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) on his way earning the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old of 2013.
“We’ve been so blessed with that family, and my theory has always been, ‘If they get good, run ‘em and not put them in a stall,’” Lukas said. “I really thought she was coming up to the Delta Downs race as well as the Breeders’ Cup, so to get two like that was good. I think she’s going to run huge the next time.
“I’m not afraid to lead them over there.”
Mr. Z also won at first-asking at Churchill Downs when he took a six-furlong maiden race on June 28. He has failed to win in six subsequent starts, but has done enough to merit being included as a wagering interest in Churchill Downs’ first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool leading up to Derby 141.
He was beaten by a nose in his most recent outing in the $1 million Delta Jackpot won by Ocho Ocho Ocho. Other strong stakes efforts include runner-up finishes in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (GI) and Saratoga’s Saratoga Special (GII) and Sanford (GII). He also ran a solid fifth behind Texas Red in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) to amass career earnings of $439,726 despite a single visit to the winner’s circle.
“He’s a hard-knocker,” Lukas said. “I want to be here in May (in the Kentucky Derby) with him.”
Should Lukas guide Take Charge Brandi to champion status, she would be his 25th Thoroughbred champion. He trained 23 Quarter Horse champions prior to moving over to Thoroughbreds in 1978.
FALLS CITY UPSET BY FRIVOLOUS CAPS BIGGEST YEAR FOR VICKI OLIVER
Thanksgiving Day is a very special occasion in most years and in just about any circumstance, but it’s a safe bet that trainer Vicki Oliver has rarely had a better holiday or a greater reason for gratitude following the events of Thanksgiving 2014 at Churchill Downs.
Oliver’s joy was clearly evident in the winner’s circle celebration after she saddled 19-1 shot Frivolous for a half-length upset over odds-on favorite Don’t Tell Sophia in the 99th running of the $222,600 Falls City Handicap (GII), the traditional Thanksgiving feature at the Louisville track. The 1 1/8-mile race for older fillies and mares dates to the first race meet at the track then known as the Louisville Jockey Club.
With the victory, Frivolous improved her career record to 3-3-3 in 17 races and she has earned $333,498. Her 2014 campaign had included solid runs behind Falls City third-place finisher Molly Morgan in the Grade II Fleur De Lis (fourth) and Ellis Park’s Grade III Gardenia (third), along with a third-place run behind eventual Spinster (GI) winner Don’t Tell Sophia and Molly Morgan in Churchill Downs’ Locust Grove, and a runner-up finish to La Tia in the Arlington Matron (GIII) on synthetic Polytrack. Her most recent race had resulted in a solid fifth-place finish behind White Rose on turf in Keeneland’s Rood and Riddle Dowager Stakes.
Oliver has always held the 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker out of the Belong to Me mare Sixty Rocketts in high regard and she expected to her to become a stakes winner at three. But she was thrilled to see Frivolous achieve that goal in her ninth attempt in stakes completion.
“I was so thrilled for the filly,” Oliver said. “She was always knocking on the door and didn’t have the greatest trips. She’s a big, huge filly and I just don’t think she ever got clear when she was running – she was either stopped, or checked or didn’t have a chance to run.”
It was also a big win for Oliver’s family. She is the daughter of G. Watts Humphrey Jr., a member of the Churchill Downs Incorporated Board of Directors who owns and bred Frivolous. Oliver is married to trainer Phil Oliver, and both train horses for Humphrey.
“I trained her mother, as well, and I also have Drama Drama, who is her (5-year-old) half-sister,” Oliver said. “It’s fun that we have the whole family. It makes it more exciting.
“I’ve always believed that she had so much ability and I couldn’t believe we hadn’t won a stake with her. Now we’ve finally got it done.”
The Falls City triumph by Frivolous was Oliver’s first stakes win at Churchill Downs and is one of brightest moments of what she considers to be her best year as a trainer.
She has an overall record of 13-16-29 in 140 races with earnings of $1,107,421 following her Falls City victory. But the Thanksgiving win by Frivolous and a triumph in the Del Mar Oaks (GI) by the 3-year-old turf star Personal Diary, owned by her father and St. George Farm Racing LLC, have made 2014 a year to remember.
With a little luck, Personal Diary’s résumé could look even better. She finished second and fourth, respectively, following troubled trips in Churchill Downs’ Regret (GIII) and Mrs. Revere (GII), was third over a soft turf course in Keeneland’s Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup (GI).
“In total wins it might not be my best year, but when you consider the races we have won it’s been a huge year,” Oliver said. “We could have had an even bigger year, but the year we’ve had has been great.”
With the Falls City Handicap winner’s trophy as a reminder of the greatest win so far in the career of Frivolous, Oliver plans to ship the filly and her stable to Florida’s Payson Park early next week. She anticipates a race or two in Florida over the winter before she returns to Kentucky next year, but Oliver plans only a brief rest for her imposing filly.
“I don’t usually give her a huge break,” Oliver said. “Last year I gave her a little bigger break than I actually wanted to because she’d run hard as a 3-year-old. But it took me so long to get her back because she’s such a big, strong, heavy filly.
“I think I’ll probably just give her a couple of weeks in the paddock when I get down to Payson and just train her light for the month of December and not take her totally out of training. I don’t know. She’ll tell us.”
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.