Michael Langdon’s improving Carve has won four races and nearly $500,000 in a “career year” in 2014, and is the early favorite to add another significant win to his finest racing season when he takes on five rivals in the second running of the $125,000-added Homecoming Classic on Saturday (Sept. 27) at Churchill Downs.
The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up over the main track had a flashy debut in 2013 when Janis Whitham’s reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) and Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) winner Fort Larned scored an easy win in its inaugural running. This year’s race is one of two major stakes events set for the final Saturday of the track’s second September Meet, which concludes its 12-date run on Sunday (Sept. 28).
The Homecoming Classic is scheduled as the ninth of 11 races on Saturday, which has a first race post time of 12:45 p.m. (all times EDT). The scheduled post time for the Homecoming Classic is 4:49 p.m., while the accompanying 38th running of the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds on turf is set as the 10th race at 5:20 p.m.
Carve, a 4-year-old gelded son of First Samurai trained by Brad Cox, will attempt to add a win in the Homecoming Classic to a 2014 record of 4-1-1 in seven races with earnings of $458,860. Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has installed Carve as the narrow 9-5 favorite in his morning line odds for the well-matched Homecoming Classic field.
Cox’s rising star comes into the race off a strong runner-up finish to Bradester in Churchill Downs’ $107,300 Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) on Sept. 6. That loss snapped a three-race win streak that began at the Louisville track in a June 14 allowance race and included stakes wins in the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII) at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows and the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes at Mountaineer. Carve’s career record has improved to 6-2-4 in 16 races with earnings of $708,391.
Despite his strong outing against the impressive Bradester in the Ack Ack over Churchill Downs’ one-turn mile course, Cox believes Carve prefers a two-turn distance like the Homecoming Classic’s 1 1/8 miles.
"Two turns will help him,” Cox said. “I think going two turns is a little bit better than one for him. He won here in the spring in a one-turn mile in an allowance, but all his other wins have been around two turns.”
Carve will carry high weight of 123 pounds in the Homecoming Classic and will concede two pounds to each of his rivals. He will break from post three under jockey Jesus Castanon, who has been aboard Cox’s veteran in all but one of his 2014 races.
Close behind in Battaglia’s morning line odds are 5-2 co-second choices: Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s multiple graded stakes winner Departing and Jake Ballis and Rashad Lewis’ lightly-raced graded stakes winner Cigar Street.
Departing enters the Homecoming Classic off a disappointing eighth-place run behind Moreno in the $1.5 million Whitney (GI) at Saratoga, but the 4-year-old gelding by the hot sire War Front has trained well for trainer Al Stall Jr. at Churchill Downs since that outing. The only millionaire in the Homecoming Classic field, Departing was a four-time stakes winner as a 3-year-old in 2013 before he was sent to Claiborne Farm for an extended rest following a fourth-place finish as the odds-on favorite in Remington Park’s Oklahoma Derby (GIII). He returned to racing at Churchill Downs with a one-mile allowance win during Kentucky Derby Week, and followed that effort with a third-place run behind Moonshine Mullin and reigning 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge in the Stephen Foster Handicap in mid-June.
Departing enters the Homecoming Classic with a 7-0-2 record in 12 career races and total earnings of $1,521,340. Regular jockey Robby Albarado will ride and break from post four on Saturday.
Cigar Street, a 5-year-old son of 2007 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner Street Sense, will carry the hopes of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, Churchill Downs’ all-time leader in victories (679) and stakes triumphs (80). Shaun Bridgmohan will ride Cigar Street, who finished a close second on a muddy track to Homecoming Classic rival Pick of the Litter in his most recent outing, an August allowance race at Saratoga. That race was the first for Cigar Street since a triumph in the $100,000 Skip Away (GIII) at Gulfstream Park 17 months earlier and it lifted his career slate to 4-1-0 in seven races with earnings of $200,738.
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who rode Cigar Street in the first three races of his career, will be back in the saddle aboard Mott’s star when he breaks from post five on Saturday.
Pick of the Litter, owned by Carolyn Vogel’s Crossed Sabres Farm, will seek his first stakes victory and third win of 2014 for trainer Dale Romans when he breaks from the outside post in the Homecoming Classic. Prior to his Saratoga win over Cigar Street, Pick of the Litter finished a solid fourth behind Valid and runner-up Bradester in the $211,000 Monmouth Cup (GII) at Monmouth Park. The 4-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy has yet to finish worse than second in four career outings on dirt at Churchill Downs, a record that includes a runner-up finish to Homecoming Classic favorite Carve in that rival’s allowance win in June.
Jockey Julien Leparoux will be aboard Pick of the Litter for the first time. Romans’ colt is the 4-1 fourth choice in Battaglia’s morning line odds and will start from the outside post in the six-horse field.
The field for the Homecoming Classic, from the rail out (with jockey, weight and morning line odds): Perfect Title (Brian Hernandez Jr., 121, 15-1), Call Me George (Leandro Goncalves, 121, 15-1), Carve (Castanon, 123, 9-5), Departing (Albarado, 121, 5-2), Cigar Street (Bridgmohan, 121, 5-2) and Pick of the Litter (Leparoux, 121, 4-1).