Trainer Dale Romans will saddle a trio of stakes horses at Churchill Downs on Saturday: multiple graded stakes winner Molly Morgan in the $100,000-added Locust Grove; debut maiden winner Cristina’s Journey in the $200,000-added Pocahontas (Grade II) and Danny Boy in the $100,000-added Iroquois (GIII).
Romans and Donegal are seeking a repeat in the Iroquois after scoring a 34-1 surprise in last year’s renewal with Cleburne. Danny Boy, like Cleburne, broke his maiden going a mile on turf at Ellis Park.
“I start a lot of horses on the turf,” Romans said. “Especially for a little longer distance, I think a lot of them can run well on the grass; just some of them can’t take that to the dirt. I don’t think he’ll have a problem taking to the dirt, nor with the extra distance.
“Danny Boy is definitely on a similar path and has the same owners as Cleburne, but their personalities are a little different. Hopefully he’ll take us to victory again.”
Danny Boy will break from post position seven with Miguel Mena in the saddle. The 1 1/16-mile Iroquois is the ninth of 11 races on Saturday’s card with a scheduled post time of 4:55 p.m. ET.
GSN Racing’s Cristina’s Journey also won her debut at Ellis, going gate-to-wire in a six-furlong maiden race, winning by 4 ¼ lengths.
“She’s a ratable horse,” Romans said. “I don’t see her having any trouble going a little further either. Everybody that’s been on her says she’ll do what she wants. If she’s fast and can rate then I’d say she’ll be competitive.”
Cristina’s Journey will seek to give Romans his third victory in the 1 1/16-mile event, breaking from post four with Mena at the reigns. Romans captured the 2008-09 Pocahontas with Sara Louise and Sassy Image, respectively. Post time for the Pocahontas, the 10th race on Saturday’s card, is scheduled for 5:27 p.m. ET.
Bill Cubbedge’s Molly Morgan, upset winner of the Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) at Churchill Downs on June 14, will look to continue her winning ways for Romans in the Locust Grove. Her last effort was a victory in the Gardenia Handicap (GIII) at Ellis.
The Fleur de Lis was the first stakes victory for Molly Morgan, who finished fourth in the 2013 Gardenia and sixth in last year’s Locust Grove. Romans is undoubtedly pleased with the mare’s progress in 2014.
“She just needed to grow up,” Romans said. “I was lucky that her owner was patient enough with me to let her come around. It’s paid off this year.”
Molly Morgan also ran in the July 12 Delaware Handicap (GI) but could only manage a fifth-place finish in the six-horse, 1 1/4-mile event.
“I didn’t like her trip at Delaware a whole lot,” Romans said. “But if you look at her numbers, she ran as good up there as she has anywhere. She may have just gotten outrun up there. I think she can run with some of those horses if she would have had a perfect trip, but you can’t have a bump in the road and expect to beat them.”
Molly Morgan will break from the far outside in post seven, and Romans said the Breeders’ Cup Distaff could be a goal down the road if she keeps progressing.
“If she does well in this race then maybe we go on to the Spinster,” Romans said. “Then the obvious progression would be the Breeders’ Cup Distaff should she continue to improve. We’re going to take it one step at a time though.”
The Locust Grove goes as Saturday’s eighth race at 4:24 p.m.
LUKAS SEEKS FIRST IROQUOIS VICTORY WITH MR. Z, OPTIMISTIC FOR TAKE CHARGE BRANDI IN POCAHONTAS
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will send out a pair of promising 2-year-olds Saturday with Willis Horton’s Take Charge Brandi in the $200,000-added Pocahontas (GII) and Zayat Stables LLC’s Mr. Z in the $100,000-added Iroquois (GIII).
Although Lukas has captured 73 stakes wins at Churchill Downs in his esteemed career, he has sent 21 starters to the Iroquois in past years and never won.
Lukas has a strong chance with Mr. Z, the 5-2 morning line favorite who took his maiden debut under the Twin Spires on June 28, and followed it with back-to-back runner-up efforts in the Sanford (GIII) and Saratoga Special (GII) at Saratoga.
“He ran well at Saratoga this summer and we’ve been pleased with him,” Lukas said. “We chose this spot because it’s two turns and because it’s a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Running him in the Hopeful at Saratoga would have been too soon for him to come back.”
Mr. Z will have regular rider Corey Lanerie aboard and will break from post position two in Saturday’s Iroquois.
Take Charge Brandi has been on a similar path as Mr. Z, having won her maiden debut at Churchill and running in back-to-back stakes races up north.
She ran second in the Schuylerville (GIII) and followed that with a fifth-place effort in her last start, the Adirondack (GII) also at Saratoga.
“It’s the same type scenario with Take Charge Brandi,” Lukas said. “We’re confident that she can go the distance and again the ‘Win and You’re In’ for the Juvenile Fillies is significant.”
Take Charge Brandi also will have Lanerie aboard, and will break from post eight in the Pocahontas.
“I think both of my horses should benefit from going 1 1/16 miles. They’ve both won on this track before, so we’re in good shape and looking forward to Saturday.”
HIGHLY-TOUTED FLASHBACK SET TO RETURN IN ACK ACK FOR CATALANO
Highly regarded as a 3-year-old, Gary and Mary West’s Flashback is set to make his much anticipated 4-year-old debut in Saturday’s $100,000-added Ack Ack Handicap (Grade III) at Churchill Downs. The Ack Ack also will be Flashback’s first start since being moved to trainer Wayne Catalano’s barn earlier this year.
“We got him around six months ago,” Catalano said. “He’s been training really well for us.”
Flashback, who the 2013 Robert B. Lewis (GII), missed that year’s Kentucky Derby after a bone chip was discovered in his knee following back-to-back runner-up efforts in the San Felipe (GII) and Santa Anita Derby (GI) for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
The son of Tapit returned to action that fall and was beaten a head in the Damascus at Santa Anita in November. His last start was a fourth-place finish in the Malibu (GI) on Dec. 26.
“We had a couple of races picked earlier this year and things just didn’t exactly work out right for him,” Catalano said. “Then this race was sitting there and so we decided we’d take a shot.”
Catalano said that the ultimate goal if Flashback performs well Saturday would be the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Santa Anita on Oct. 31, a race won last year by his former rival Goldencents, who upset Flashback by 1 ¼ lengths in last year’s Santa Anita Derby.
“I’ll talk it over with my owners,” Catalano said. “If he runs well, we may be looking at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, but we’ll see how he does this weekend first.”
The one-mile Ack Ack Handicap is slated as the fourth of 11 races on Churchill’s Saturday card, with an approximate post time of 2:19 p.m.
GRADE I WINNER ON FIRE BABY LOOKS TO BOUNCE BACK IN LOCUST GROVE
Anita Cauley’s multiple Grade I winner On Fire Baby, who finished fifth in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (Grade II) in her last outing, has been training well and appears ready to bounce back in Saturday’s $100,000-added Locust Grove at Churchill Downs, according to conditioner Gary Hartlage.
“All systems are go for Saturday,” Hartlage said.
The 5-year-old daughter of Smoke Glacken went off as the 6-5 favorite in the June 14 Fleur de Lis, but failed to fire in the stretch, finishing 10 ¼ lengths back in fifth.
“She came out of her last race with some problems,” Hartlage said. “It wasn’t leg problems or anything; she just had some ulcers that were bothering her.”
On Fire Baby’s last workout was Aug. 29 at Churchill Downs where she covered seven furlongs in 1:29.20.
“We got everything cleared up and she’s been training really well lately. She’ll run her race or it’ll be her last. I look for her to run well. If she does, we’ll go on to the Spinster.”
The 1 1/16-mile Locust Grove will go as the eighth race under the Twin Spires Saturday with an approximate post time of 4:24 p.m.
FRIDAY IS COLLEGE RIVALRY NIGHT
Louisville is one of the best college sports cities in America and Churchill Downs is opening its September Meet this Friday with a salute to local college teams and to raise funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Fans are encouraged to show their school pride by wearing their team colors and participating in competitive games and contests, including Tailgating Olympics, cornhole trick shots and a dunk tank. Churchill Downs will donate $1 to the V Foundation for each fan in attendance.
Popular DJ 2nd Nature will be performing his artful blend of sights and high-energy sounds on the Plaza Stage, while local college cheer and dance teams perform at locations throughout the track.
Attendees also will be able to compete for a chance to win a VIP experience to the Jimmy V Men’s Basketball Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York on Dec. 9, which features matchups between U of L and Indiana and Illinois and Villanova.
The gates open at 4 p.m. and the first race is at 6 p.m. General admission is $10, reserved box seats are $20, the new 21+ Terrace Lounge is $25, Millionaires Row is $60 and 21+ Terrace Lounge VIP cabanas are $99.
THIS WEEK AT CHURCHILL DOWNS
Friday, Sept. 5 – Downs After Dark Presented by Old Forester: College Rivalry Night
- 10 races from 6-10:24 p.m. (Gates: 4 p.m.)
- Downs After Dark Presented by Old Forester
- Theme: College Rivalry Night. Fans are encouraged to show their school pride by wearing their team colors and participating in competitive games and contests, including Tailgating Olympics, cornhole trick shots and a dunk tank.
- Churchill Downs will donate $1 to the V Foundation for each fan in attendance.
- Popular DJ 2nd Nature will be performing his artful blend of sights and high-energy sounds on the Plaza Stage, while local college cheer and dance teams perform at locations throughout the track.
- Attendees also will be able to compete for a chance to win a VIP experience to the Jimmy V Men’s Basketball Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York on Dec. 9, which features matchups between U of L and Indiana and Illinois and Villanova.
- Co-Feature (Race 4 at 7:26 p.m.): $39,000 alw opt clm, 2yo, 1 M (T)
- Co-Feature (Race 8 at 9:39 p.m.): $39,000 alw, 3yo, 7 F
- Box Office hours: 12-9 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 6
- 11 races from 12:45-5:56 p.m. (Gates: 11:30 a.m.)
- Kentucky Derby & Oaks 141 logos revealed after Race 3 (1:47 p.m.)
- Co-Feature (Race 4 at 2:19 p.m.): $100,000-added Ack Ack Handicap (GIII), 3 & up, 1 M, 22nd running
- Co-Feature (Race 8 at 4:24 p.m.): $100,000-added Locust Grove, f & m, 1 1/16 M, 31st Running
- Co-feature (Race 9 at 4:55 p.m.): $100,000-added Iroquois (GIII), 2yo, 1 1/16 M, 33rd Running – A Road to the Kentucky Derby Prep Season Race (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1) and Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” Juvenile Division Challenge Race
- Co-feature (Race 10 at 5:27 p.m.): $200,000-added Pocahontas (GII), 2yo f, 1 1/16 M, 46th Running – A Road to the Kentucky Oaks Prep Season Race (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1) and Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” Juvenile Fillies Division Challenge Race
- Box Office hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 7
- 10 races from 12:45-5:27 p.m. (Gates: 11:30 a.m.)
- Feature (Race 9 at 4:55 p.m.): $39,000 alw, f & m, 1 1/16 M (T)
- Box Office hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.