Trainer Dale Romans is hoping for a big Saturday at Churchill Downs as he will saddle Crossed Sabres Farm’s Pick of the Litter in the $125,000-added Homecoming Classic and 44 Racing’s Sportscaster and Frank L. Jones Jr.’s Hesinfront in the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (Grade III). 

Pick of the Litter is coming off a victory in an allowance optional claiming contest at Saratoga on Aug. 22, where he stalked pacesetter Cigar Street throughout the 1 1/8-mile event and rallied off of the rail in the closing stages to finish a half-length in front of that rival. The race was the first for Grade III winner Cigar Street in almost 17 months.

“I don’t know if Cigar Street will be any tougher, but he’ll be tough,” Romans said. “Bill Mott has his horses ready to run. I don’t care if they’ve been off 17 years or 17 months. I think we saw Cigar Street as good as he could have been in that last race. With that said, he’s a very good horse and he’ll be difficult to beat. It’s not an easy race for anyone. I think the Churchill Downs racing office did a really good job putting together a non-graded stakes race like they did.”

Pick of the Litter, the 9-2 fourth-choice, will break from the outside stall in post position six Saturday, while Cigar Street will be directly to his inside in post five for the rematch.

Jockey Julien Leparoux will ride Pick of the Litter in the 1 1/8-mile Homecoming Classic, which has an approximate post time of 4:49 p.m. ET.

In the Jefferson Cup, Sportscaster will break from the rail with jockey Jesus Castanon in the saddle for Romans, who co-owns Sportscaster with NBA Hall of Famer and former University of Kentucky All-American Dan Issel and NBC Sports personality and Kentucky-native Tom Hammond.

“Dan and I have been friends for many years,” Romans said. “He’s been involved in racing a long time. He took a little hiatus and he, Tom Hammond and I bought this horse together and that’s how the name Sportscaster came about. Dan’s been a huge fan of Thoroughbred racing for a long time.”

On the opposite end of the gate, Hesinfront will break from the far outside in post eight with jockey Miguel Mena at the reigns. Hesinfront has been made the 9-2 third choice and Romans is expecting a big performance.

“I think shortening it up to a mile might help his chances,” Romans said. “He took a little time off this summer which I think helped him. He’s been an immature horse his whole life and I think he’s finally catching up with his crop. I’m looking for a breakthrough race out of him.”

The Jefferson Cup, run at the distance of one mile on the turf, will go as the 10th of 11 races Saturday with a 5:20 p.m. ET post time.

CAPTAIN DIXIE SEEKS FIRST STAKES WIN IN JEFFERSON CUP

Coming off a fifth-place finish in the Sept. 6 Dueling Grounds Derby, Randall Family Trust’s Captain Dixie seeks his first stakes victory in the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII) at Churchill Downs for trainer Kellyn Gorder.

Breaking from post position two, Captain Dixie was given odds of 10-1 on the morning-line, and Gorder thinks the 3-year-old son of Henrythenavigator should be closer to the lead on Saturday than he was in his last start.

“We thought he’d show more speed in his last race, but then he turned his head right at the start,” Gorder said. “He pretty much missed the break. I think if he’s not on the lead on Saturday, he’ll be close.”

Gorder said Captain Dixie came out of his last race fine and that he’s liked what he’s seen since. He also thinks the addition of jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. will help his horse’s chances.

“He came out of the last race really well and has been training great since,” Gorder said. “He had a nice work last week that went a half mile in :48. Ricardo Santana worked him and seemed like he really got along with the horse.”

With seven other colts challenging Captain Dixie, Gorder is expecting a solid effort and hopes he gets a clean trip.

“He’s a free running horse,” Gorder said. “He doesn’t like to be messed with that much. I guess we’ll play it on the break and see what happens, but I’m expecting him to show up.”

AUTUMN N’SPIRES FESTIVAL SUNDAY

Sunday is the final day of Churchill Downs’ September Meet and the finale will be highlighted by the Autumn N’Spires Festival, a new event combining the excitement of Thoroughbred racing with a social, festival-style atmosphere.

Live music on the Plaza stage will be performed by Southern Sirens, an all-girl Folk/Americana trio hailing from the Kentuckiana area, and the native-Louisville group A Lion Named Roar, known from FOX’s The Next Great American Band and self-described as “men that make pop music drenched in blue collar sweat and moral fiber.”

In addition to live music, the Plaza also will feature food trucks: Grind, Holy Mole, Busta Grill, Lil’ Cheezers, Longshot Lobsta and Jam Pan; and a bourbon bar which will offer specialty drinks Woodford N’Spired, Louisville’s Old Fashioned and the Kentucky Mule.

ODDS AND ENDS

Martin Racing Stable LLC’s multiple graded stakes winner Marchman worked a half mile beneath the Twin Spires on Friday for trainer Bret Calhoun. Calhoun said he is pointing to the Oct. 4 Woodford (GIII) at Keeneland as his next start. … Graded stakes winner Cigar Street arrived to Churchill Downs on Thursday afternoon from New York, ready for a start in Saturday’s Homecoming Classic. The 5-year-old son of Street Sense jogged Friday morning for trainer Bill Mott. …  Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider’s Burden, a first-time starter in Friday’s eighth race, is a half-brother to Grade II stakes winners Sign (2012 Pocahontas) and Vexed (2013 Golden Rod). The Al Stall Jr. trainee is a Blame colt out of the ultra-productive Mighty mare Cross. … Iconic Claiborne Farm can take sole possession of career stakes wins at Churchill Downs if Departing, co-owned with Dilschneider, prevails in Saturday’s $125,000-added Homecoming Classic. The renowned Paris, Ky. racing and breeding operation has 32 local stakes wins, a mark shared by world famous Calumet Farm, which is seeking its first local stakes triumph since 1984 under new operator Brad Kelley. … Robby Albarado, who rides Battlefront in Saturday’s $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII), has won the race a record four times: King Cugat (2000), Senor Swinger (2003), Rush Bay (2005) and Brilliant (2006). … Heading into the final three days of the 12-date September Meet, the average field size was 7.53 (685 total starters) with favorites winning 40.7% of the 91 races. … Simulcast wagering at Churchill Downs will continue on the second floor of the Clubhouse in the ITW area through the end of November. … Horses and Hope, the breast cancer initiative of Kentucky’s First Lady Jane Beshear and the Kentucky Cancer Program, are scheduled to be on the Churchill Downs backstretch Monday with their mobile mammography to provide brief one-on-one interventions, group education and screening referrals to track workers and their families.

CLOSING WEEK AT CHURCHILL DOWNS

Friday, Sept. 26 – Happy Hour

  • 10 races from 2:45 p.m.-7:19 p.m. (Gates 1:30 p.m.)
  • Feature: $41,000 alw opt clm, 3 & up, f & m, 1 M (T).
  • Happy Hour in The Plaza from 3-7 p.m. Drink specials ($2 Budweiser/Bud Light; $3 Stella Artois), live music by Minnie Murphy & register to win box seats to the 2015 Kentucky Derby & Kentucky Oaks.
  • 22nd annual YMCA Safe Place Services Turf Classic (a seven-furlong race featuring Louisville firefighters on the Matt Winn Turf Course after Race 7 at approximately 5:49 p.m.)
  • 8th annual Ladies Day at the Races, a fundraiser to benefit the Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs (buffet, fashion show, silent & live auctions in Millionaires Row 6)

Saturday, Sept. 27 – Pigskins & Ponies/$125,000 Homecoming Classic/$100,000 Jefferson Cup (GIII)

  • 11 races from 12:45-5:49 p.m. (Gates: 11:30 a.m.)
  • Co-Feature (Race 9 at 4:49 p.m.): $125,000-added Homecoming Classic, 3 & up, 1 1/8 M.
  • Co-Feature (Race 10 at 5:20 p.m.): $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII), 3yo, 1 M (T).
  • College Football shown on 16’ x 20’ Plaza video screen: Vanderbilt at UK (12 p.m.) and Wake Forest at Louisville (3:30 p.m.).
  • Drink specials in the Plaza: $2 Budweiser/Bud Light; $3 Stella Artois, $1 Pepsi products & bottled water.
  • Free admission to college students with a current student ID.
  • 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). 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: 1,000,000 TSC Elite Points ($1,000) plus $500 entry fee for Churchill Challenge. Second prize: 500,000 TSC Elite Points ($500). Third prize: 250,000 TSC Elite Points ($250).

Sunday, Sept. 28 – Autumn N’Spires Festival / Closing Day

  • 10 races from 12:45-5:20 p.m. (Gates: 11:30 a.m.)
  • Feature (Race 9 at 4:49 p.m.): $41,000 alw opt clm, 3&up, 1 M (T)
  • Autumn N’Spires: Churchill Downs will feature live music performances by Southern Sirens and A Lion Named Roar in the Plaza, which will be accompanied by six food trucks (Grind, Holy Mole, Lil’ Cheezers, Busta Grill, Jam Pan & Longshot Lobsta) and a specialty bourbon bar.
  • Salute Spring Meet Champion Jockey, Trainer & Owner between races
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