As the steady Wine Princess nears the end of her racing days, trainer Steve Margolis is dealing with mixed emotions as his filly appears to be in career-best form.
There’s a good chance those feelings could be even more jumbled after Becky Winemiller’s regally-bred 4-year-old filly competes in the 28th running of the $150,000-added Chilukki (Grade II) under the lights at Churchill Downs.
The filly is the result of a mating of Horses of the Year Ghostzapper and Azeri, and oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has installed her as the 4-1 morning line favorite in a very competitive field of 12 in Saturday’s one-mile race for fillies and mares. The Chilukki has a post time of 8:15 p.m. (all times Eastern) and is the last event on a 10-race live program that will run adjacent to the simulcast of the 30th Breeders’ Cup Championships at Santa Anita. Post time for the first of Saturday’s live races at Churchill Downs is 2:15 p.m.
Wine Princess will head to the breeding shed at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm in Lexington following the end of her career on the track, and the knowledge that she is heading to a good home for her new career as a broodmare is good news to Margolis.
But her trainer also believes that she is an improving filly heading into to what likely will be two more starts that would include the Chilukki and a probable run back in the $150,000-added Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day.
"She’s run against some good horses,” Margolis said. “Even though she’s been beat a couple of times, she always runs good.”
Wine Princess ran third behind the Polytrack and turf specialist Emollient in her most recent start in the $500,000-added Spinster (GI) at Keeneland in her debut over the synthetic footing at the Lexington track. Prior to that she ran a strong second to Flashy American in the Locust Grove at Churchill Downs and was second to multiple stakes winner Joyful Victory in Monmouth Park’s Molly Pitcher (GII). She won a Churchill Downs allowance race at the Chilukki distance before her only clunker of the season: a fifth-place run behind Funny Proposition and two-time champion Royal Delta in Churchill Downs’ Fleur De Lis Handicap (GII) in mid-June.
Wine Princess notched a Grade III win in last year’s Monmouth Oaks, but a Grade I victory in the Spinster would have been a fine addition to her resume as she heads into her next career. But Margolis was very happy with the effort in which she finished 4 ¾ lengths behind the 3-year-old Emollient, who also won Keeneland’s Ashland (GI) in the spring and runs back in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (GI) this weekend, and finished 3 ½ lengths behind runner-up Summer Applause, who is set for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI).
“We took a shot,” Margolis said. “We took her over there and she had a real good work about eight or nine days out. The whole goal with her pedigree was to get some kind of black type in a Grade I race. She ran hard. She made a move and she had a shot to win. The other horses were just very, very good racehorses.”
In Saturday’s race Wine Princess will run over a track where she has a career record of 3-1-0 in five races and all three wins have come at the Chilukki’s one-turn mile distance.
“I like this cut back to this mile,” Margolis said. “I think the mile is a real good distance for her.”
The competition will be strong on Saturday as rivals to Wine Princess include a pair of rising 3-year-old stars in Dogwood (GIII) winner Sky Girl (5-1) and Indiana Oaks (GII) and Hollywood Starlet (GI) winner Pure Fun (9-2), and a group of veterans headed by Apple Blossom (GI) third-place finisher Don’t Tell Sophia (5-1), Gardenia (GIII) winner Devious Intent (10-1), Ontario Matron (GIII) Sisterly Love (5-1) and Gardenia runner-up Magic Hour (8-1).
Margolis is encouraged by the way Wine Princess is coming into Saturday’s race. In fact, he believes she continues to improve as she nears her final weeks of competition, and that will likely make Saturday’s race, regardless of result, a bittersweet experience.
“It’s a little funny, but with her 5-year-old year not far away, she seems to be doing better than ever,” Margolis said. “She’s running competitive and she’s running good against some top horses, so it would be great to run good Saturday here at Churchill and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
The career record of Wine Princess heading into Saturday’s race stands at 4-4-1 in 11 races with a bankroll of $330,761.
SUNDAY WINS BY FUTURE STARS HAVE CALHOUN ATOP TRAINERS’ RACE – Wins by a pair of promising 2-year-olds on Sunday’s “Stars of Tomorrow I” Fall Meet opener have trainer Bret Calhoun both atop the “Leading Trainer” standings heading into Thursday’s racing and looking down the road with new optimism.
The victories by Sierra Terra and Salvatore Simone’s Son of a Preacher and Royal Colors Racing LLC and Carl Moore Management LLC’s Springboard were at least somewhat surprising to Calhoun. And, while both wins indicated the possibility of good things in the future for both colts, the trainer’s enthusiasm was tempered a bit on Monday when Calhoun discovered that Springboard came out of the race with a shin issue.
“He’ll be on the shelf for a little while,” Calhoun said. “It was the highs and lows – the highs of him running great, and the next morning he had a shin problem. It’s not anything major, but he is going to be out for a while.”
Springboard might have been the more impressive of Calhoun’s winners as he romped to a 5 ½-length victory over favorite Spirit of Freedom in his debut on dirt. The son of Spring at Last had failed to win in previous runs on grass at Kentucky Downs and synthetic Polytrack at Keeneland.
"The funny thing about him is that I had lost some confidence in him coming into this race,” Calhoun said. “I was disappointed that a horse that was as prepared as I thought I had him in his first two outs did not run any better in those races. I was disappointed and I had actually discussed moving him south to New Orleans and not running him at Churchill. But the owners really wanted to try him on the dirt there and run him out of his own stall, and he looked like the horse we had been waiting to see. We did add the blinkers to him and I think that was a huge factor also – maybe the biggest factor of all.”
Calhoun said Springboard was impressive enough that he would have been considered for the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) on the Nov. 20 “Stars of Tomorrow II” program. Calhoun admits that the win by Son of a Preacher, who took his six-furlong debut by 2 ¼ lengths, was a surprise – but a very nice one.
“We liked the horse, but I didn’t’ think I had him completely ready,” Calhoun said. “I was looking at that more as a race to prepare him for the future, so we were pleasantly surprised. He was very professional, got himself in good position early, split horses and did things like a seasoned veteran.”
Calhoun said the son of Pulpit would likely run next in an allowance race on the closing day “Stars of Tomorrow” card.
CHURCHILL DOWNS RIDERS SET FOR BREEDERS’ CUP ACTION: Jockeys Alan Garcia and Brian Hernandez Jr. will be at Santa Anita on Friday for rides aboard Breeders’ Cup hopes. Garcia pilots Brujo de Olleros (Dirt Mile) and Street Sailing (Juvenile Fillies Turf) while Hernandez rides Taptowne (Dirt Mile). Garcia and Hernandez will be joined in California by Robby Albarado, Leandro Goncalves and Rosie Napravnik for Championship Saturday. Albarado rides Medal Count (Juvenile) and Silver Max (Mile); Garcia pilots Mexicoma (Juvenile); Goncalves guides Sum of the Parts (Sprint); Hernandez teams with defending winner Fort Larned in the Classic; and Napravnik rides Untapable (Juvenile Fillies).
BARN TALK: While Bret Calhoun’s opening day double has leading the Fall Meet trainers’ race after two days, jockey Corey Lanerie has notched five wins so far for an early lead in the battle for leading rider. Norberto Arroyo Jr., Alan Garcia, Miguel Mena, Roberto Morales and Ricardo Santana Jr. are tied for the runner-up spot with two wins heading into Thursday’s racing. No owner had more than a single win after two days of Fall Meet competition.