The willingness to improvise is a trait of most good horsemen. Additionally, many successful operations run their horses in races where they can succeed, but are keen to roll the dice when an opportunity is presented. After all, as the saying goes: you can’t win it if you’re not in it.
Such may be the case with veteran 53-year-old trainer Al Stall Jr., a winner of more than 1,300 races and 28 graded stakes since 1991 who’ll start Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider’s Departing and Spendthrift Farm LLC’s Medal Count in the 26th running of the $200,000 Firecracker (Grade II) on Saturday night at Churchill Downs.
The Firecracker for 3-year-olds and up at one mile on the Matt Winn Turf Course is one of four stakes events on a deep 11-race nighttime card billed as “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” – closing night of Churchill Downs’ 38-day Spring Meet.
“I drove through the stable gate for work (Wednesday) morning and wasn’t planning on putting any horse in the Firecracker and the next thing you know I’ve got two in there that look like they have chances,” said Stall, who is best known for up-ending previously unbeaten Zenyatta with eventual champion older male Blame in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
Departing is the 3-1 second choice on Mike Battaglia’s morning line odds (behind 5-2 favorite Frac Daddy) while Medal Count is 15-1.
Departing (16-7-2-3—$1,600,279), the 2013 winner of the Illinois Derby (GIII), West Virginia Derby (GII) and Super Derby (GII), finished a head back of Frac Daddy and 2 ½ lengths back of rail-skimming winner The Pizza Man in the $57,672 Opening Verse overnight stakes, Churchill Downs’ traditional Firecracker prep over 1 1/16 miles on turf on May 30. That race marked the 5-year-old gelding’s turf debut and was his first race in 183 days.
Stall considered a return to dirt and cut-back in distance for Departing next start in Saturday’s $70,000-added Kelly’s Landing overnight stakes at seven furlongs, but called an audible Wednesday morning.
“Departing had a great 3-year-old year (in 2013),” Stall said. “Whether he did or did not take a step forward as an older horse, his form doesn’t show it. Maybe he just caught the right fields as a 3-year-old.
“Being by War Front, we always had grass in the back of our mind. He’s trained well. He ran about the same type of race on the grass that we’d seen on the dirt as a 4-year-old. So we didn’t learn a whole lot. (The Opening Verse) wasn’t a bad race, it wasn’t a great race. It was okay; he handled the course properly which is more important than anything else.
“You would think he’d move forward off that race. We had 183 days off. I just hope he’s fitter and little more mentally dialed in. He’ll have a chance if that happens.”
Medal Count (13-3-2-1—$478,671), meanwhile, also was entered one week after a head-scratching last place finish in a 1 1/16-mile off-the-turf allowance/optional claimer over a “wet fast” surface in his first start for Stall on June 20. It was his first race after a 266-day layoff.
The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Dynaformer won the Transylvania (GIII), was second in the Blue Grass (GI), eighth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and third in the Belmont Stakes (GI) at age 3 while under the care of Dale Romans. He also showed promise on turf with a narrow defeat in the $230,417 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs before finishing last of seven in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (GI) at Belmont Park in late September.
“Entering Medal Count was an audible, too,” Stall said. “The race last week came off the turf and he didn’t try at all. This meet’s getting ready to end and you don’t want to take a horse to Saratoga – that’s a long haul – who might run in an allowance race and run up against the (Christophe) Clements and the Chad Browns. If he goes up there and tries it can be a wasted van ride, a lot of time and money.
“He’s given us an indication – the way he’s eating and his brightness – that he can turn right around and do it again. We’re just looking to see some effort out of him because a lot of times when you give those stud horses time away from the racetrack they don’t come back as true blue as they left. You can’t identify anything that’s bugging him so we’re just looking for a little effort out of him. He’s got the potential to fit right in there so it’s just a fact-finding mission.
“The race came up just like the Racing Office had advertised. That’s how this game works. We’ll take a win any way we can get it. But as far as the horses go, both of them look wonderful, they’re sound and happy. Now it’s up to them. Rain or shine, Departing will go. Medal Count will be turf only. But we’re going to go over there and see what happens.”
Saturday will be an action-packed day for the Stall barn. In addition to his Churchill Downs starters, the trainer has Claiborne Farm and Dilschneider’s 3-year-old filly Chide, a first-level allowance winner at Churchill Downs, entered in Belmont Park’s $300,000 Mother Goose (GI) at one mile.
Stall won’t be in Louisville on Saturday and he won’t be in New York. Instead, he’ll be at the Natchitoches Events Center in Natchitoches, La. as his mentor Frankie Brothers, the retired trainer and Louisville resident, is inducted into Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Stall said. “But don’t kid yourself. We’ll have the iPad with the video going so there’ll be plenty of hootin’ and hollerin’ come post time.”
BASHFORD MANOR – The field (from the rail out with jockeys and morning line odds) for Saturday’s 114th running of the $100,000 Bashford Manor (GIII) for 2-year-olds at six furlongs (Race 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET): He’s Comin in Hot (Jamie Theriot, 9-5); Patrick Rocks (Victor Carrasco, 10-1); Roman’s Chance (Miguel Mena, 20-1); Dothat Dance (James Graham, 20-1); Shoot Craps (Deshawn Parker, 2-1); Justanothermorgan (Aaron Court, 20-1); Sapphire Storm (Robby Albarado, 10-1); and Show Bound (Julien Leparoux, 5-2).
DEBUTANTE – The field (from the rail out with jockeys and morning line odds) for Saturday’s 115th running of the $100,000 Debutante (Listed) for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs (Race 7 at 9:05 p.m. ET): Langstars Charmer (Jareth Loveberry, 10-1); Adhara (Corey Lanerie, 2-1); Tia Chuy (Deshawn Parker, 20-1); Sheza Fine Justice (Cory Orm, 20-1); Cosmic Evolution (Calvin Borel, 5-1); Areolite (Julien Leparoux, 5-2); Thievery (Robby Albarado, 9-2); and Don’t Boss Me (Didiel Osorio, 6-1).
FIRECRACKER – The field (from the rail out with jockeys and morning line odds) for Saturday’s 26th running of the $200,000 Firecracker (GII) for 3-year-olds and up at one mile on the Matt Winn Turf Course (Race 8 at 9:39 p.m. ET): Frac Daddy (Corey Lanerie, 5-2); Sky Flight (Julien Leparoux, 7-2); Skip By (Rafael Hernandez, 20-1); R. Great Adventure (Jamie Theriot, 15-1); Hammers Terror (Robby Albarado, 5-1); Knights Nation (Brian Hernandez Jr., 6-1); Departing (Miguel Mena, 3-1); Medal Count (James Graham, 15-1); and Skyring (Joe Rocco Jr., 15-1).
KELLY’S LANDING – The field (from the rail out with jockeys and morning line odds) for Saturday’s sixth running of the $70,000-added Kelly’s Landing overnight stakes for 3-year-olds and up at seven furlongs (Race 9 at 10:11 p.m. ET): Good Lord (Miguel Mena, 15-1); Schivarelli (Corey Lanerie, 4-1); Souper Knight (Robby Albarado, 8-1); Stealcase (Rafael Hernandez, 8-1); Guns Loaded (Jon Court, 8-1); Ruble (Julien Leparoux, 5-1); Agent Di Nozzo (Joe Rocco Jr., 6-1); Russellin (Francisco Torres, 8-1); Brewing (James Graham, 12-1); Viva Majorca (Brian Hernandez Jr., 9-2); and Championofjustice (Jack Gilligan, 30-1).
ALL-STAKES 50-CENT PICK 4 ON SATURDAY NIGHT – Churchill Downs Racetrack will offer a special all-stakes 50-cent Pick 4 on Races 6-9 Saturday, comprising the Grade III, $100,000 Bashford Manor (Race 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET); $100,000 Debutante (Race 7 at 9:05 p.m. ET); Grade II, $200,000 Firecracker (Race 8 at 9:39 p.m. ET); and $70,000-added Kelly’s Landing overnight stakes (Race 9 at 10:11 p.m. ET). The ultra-competitive sequence, which asks bettors to pick the winners in each race, features 36 runners.
SATURDAY NIGHT’S ‘DOWNS AFTER DARK’ THEME IS ‘BOOTS, BREW & BBQ’ – The theme for Saturday night’s “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka.” is “Boots, Brew & BBQ” in which guests are encouraged to break out their best cowboy and cowgirl duds to enjoy draft beer, specialty cocktails, BBQ food trucks, mechanical bull rides, “Bet or No Bet Presented by Thorntons” (Races 6-9) and live music by Nashville artist Justin Adams. Admission gates open Saturday at 5 p.m. ET and the first of 11 races is 6 p.m. ET with the season finale set for 11:10 p.m. ET. General admission for Saturday night’s Spring Meet finale under the lights is $10. Reserved seats can be purchased in advance online at www.ChurchillDowns.com.
SATURDAY IS CLOSING NIGHT – Saturday is the final day of a memorable 38-day Spring Meet at Churchill Downs. Racing on the Kentucky circuit shifts to Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. for a 31-day meet that begins Friday, July 3. Racing will be staged there every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 1:50 p.m. ET through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7.
Simulcast wagering at Churchill Downs will be offered on the second floor of the Clubhouse in the ITW area this Sunday from 11:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. ET and will move to The Parlay (located just inside the Gate 1 entrance) on Wednesday, July 1. Simulcast wagering will remain there through Labor Day. Free admission for simulcasting will be offered every Wednesday as well as Thursday, July 2; Thursday, July 9; and Monday, July 27. Popular summer signals Del Mar and Saratoga begin Thursday, July 16 and Friday, July 24, respectively.
Live racing returns to Churchill Downs on Thursday, Sept. 10 for a 12-day September Meet every Thursday-Sunday for three weeks through Sunday, Sept. 27.
TRENDING – Corey Lanerie, who has won seven of the last eight Churchill Downs riding titles, enters the final three days of the 38-day Spring Meet with a one-win lead, 37-to-36, over nine-time local champ Julien Leparoux. … Leparoux led all jockeys with six wins from 14 mounts last week (June 18-21). … Lanerie and Brian Hernandez Jr. lead all riders with 11 victories over the last 10 racing dates. … Four-time leading trainer Mike Maker entered closing week with a 21-16 lead in the trainer standings over 14-time Churchill Downs leader Steve Asmussen. Maker has eight horses entered over the final three days and Asmussen has 14 entries. … Maker led all trainers with five wins from 14 starters last week. He also has the most winners over the last 10 racing dates with seven trips to the G.H. MUMM Winner’s Circle. … Churchill Downs’ all-time leading owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey will collect their record-extending 23rd title as a leading owner at Churchill Downs. They enter closing week with a commanding 16-6 lead over Maggi Moss and Gary and Mary West after going 4-for-5 last week and 6-for-12 over the last 10 days.
COREY LANERIE’S REMAINING MOUNTS:
- Thursday (seven mounts, including three morning line favorites): Mauve (Race 1, 8-1); Rastanora (Race 3, 3-1*); Miss Hunny (Race 4, 5-2*); Coverallyourbases (Race 5, 6-1); Katie the Cutie (Race 6, 7-2*); Compass Rose (Race 7, 15-1); and Mygalsal (Race 8, 10-1).
- Friday (five mounts): Katy Lied (Race 2, 10-1); Latent Princess (Race 3, 5-1); Tiz Kismet (Race 6, 5-1); Yarmorka (Race 7, 15-1); and Bourbon Soul (Race 8, 5-1).
- Saturday (nine mounts, including three morning line favorites): Urban Bourbon (Race 1, 9-2); Heart Love Kiss (Race 2, 9-2); Bear’s the Name (Race 4, 6-1); Maryanna Star (Race 5, 4-1*) or Tanzspiel-IRE (Race 5 AE MTO, 4-1*); Adhara (Race 7, 2-1*); Frac Daddy (Race 8, 5-2*); Schivarelli (Race 9, 4-1); Wings of Prayer (Race 10, 8-1) or Dave Hoeght (Race 10 AE, 12-1); and Love Your Humor (Race 11, 10-1).
JULIEN LEPAROUX’S REMAINING MOUNTS:
- Thursday (four mounts): Elusive Checkers (Race 3, 4-1); Tizsational (Race 4, 3-1); Jubal (Race 5, 12-1); and Cozy Kitten (Race 8, 3-1).
- Friday (five mounts): Seneca Destiny (Race 2, 5-2); Sahara Sunrise (Race 3, 8-1); Corinthian Wind (Race 6, 8-1); Titanium (Race 7, 9-2); and Hot Tin Roof (Race 8, 12-1).
- Saturday (10 mounts, including two morning line favorites): Battle Tap (Race 1, 7-2*); Belpiana (Race 2, 8-1); Suwanee Son (Race 4, 7-2*); Academic Break (Race 5, 12-1) or Asperites-IRE (Race 5 AE, 5-1); Show Bound (Race 6, 5-2); Areolite (Race 7, 5-2); Sky Flight (Race 8, 7-2); Ruble (Race 9, 5-1); Generous Kitten (Race 10, 10-1) or Vigilante (Race 10 AE, 4-1) or Estiqaa (Race 10 AE MTO, 8-1); and Valdina Saint (Race 11, 5-1).
MIKE MAKER’S REMAINING STARTERS:
- Thursday (one starter): Cozy Kitten (Race 8, 3-1).
- Friday (three starters): Seneca Destiny (Race 2, 5-2); Miss Mizzen Silver (Race 6, 8-1); and Kitten’s Angel (Race 6, 5-1).
- Saturday (four starters): Suwanee Son (Race 4, 7-2*); Asperites-IRE (Race 5 AE, 5-1); Hammers Terror (Race 8, 5-1); and Generous Kitten (Race 10, 10-1).
KEN & SARAH RAMSEY’S REMAINING STARTERS:
- Thursday (one starter): Cozy Kitten (Race 8, 3-1).
- Friday (one starter): Kitten’s Angel (Race 6, 5-1).
- Saturday (three starters): Suwanee Son (Race 4, 7-2*); Asperites-IRE (Race 5 AE, 5-1); and Generous Kitten (Race 10, 10-1).
COREY LANERIE’S PREVIOUS SEVEN CHURCHILL DOWNS LEADING JOCKEY TITLES – 2012 Spring Meet (71 wins); 2012 Fall Meet (29 wins); 2013 September Meet (19 wins); 2013 Fall Meet (36 wins); 2014 Spring Meet (57 wins); 2014 September Meet (13 wins); and 2014 Fall Meet (36 wins).
JULIEN LEPAROUX’S PREVIOUS NINE CHURCHILL DOWNS LEADING JOCKEY TITLES – 2006 Spring Meet (87 wins); 2007 Spring Meet (69 wins); 2007 Fall Meet (27 wins); 2008 Fall Meet (63 wins); 2009 Spring Meet (62 wins); 2009 Fall Meet (27 wins); 2010 Fall Meet (28 wins); 2011 Spring Meet (53 wins); and 2011 Fall Meet (34 wins).
MIKE MAKER’S PREVIOUS FOUR CHURCHILL DOWNS LEADING TRAINER TITLES – 2008 Fall Meet (31 wins); 2011 Fall Meet (15 wins); 2013 Spring Meet (35 wins); and 2013 Fall Meet (16 wins).
KEN & SARAH RAMSEY’S RECORD-EXTENDING 23 CHURCHILL DOWNS LEADING OWNERS TITLES – 2000 Spring Meet (19 wins); 2000 Fall Meet (six wins); 2001 Spring Meet (14 wins); 2001 Fall Meet (nine wins); 2002 Spring Meet (19 wins); 2002 Fall Meet (seven wins); 2003 Spring Meet (14 wins); 2003 Fall Meet (12 wins); 2004 Spring Meet (19 wins); 2005 Fall Meet (seven wins); 2006 Spring Meet (21 wins); 2007 Fall Meet (seven wins); 2008 Spring Meet (20 wins); 2008 Fall Meet (24 wins); 2009 Spring Meet (18 wins); 2009 Fall Meet (nine wins); 2010 Fall Meet (six wins); 2011 Fall Meet (12 wins); 2013 Spring Meet (32 wins); 2013 September Meet (six wins); 2013 Fall Meet (18 wins); 2014 September Meet (seven wins); 2014 Fall Meet (12 wins); and 2015 Spring Meet (began Thursday with 16 wins).
DOWN THE STRETCH – Today’s final Twilight Thursday of the Spring Meet will feature $1 12-ounce draft beer, food trucks and music by Billy Goat Strut Revue in the Plaza from 5-8 p.m. … Veteran jockey Deshawn Parker, a perennial leading rider at Mountaineer and winner of more than 4,800 races since 1988, will seek the first graded stakes win of his career Saturday night aboard the Dane Kobiskie-trained Shoot Craps in the $100,000 Bashford Manor (Grade III). He is 0-for-7 in graded stakes with his only runner-up effort coming aboard Bourbon Courage in the 2012 West Virginia Derby (GII). … Jockeys Chris Landeros, Jareth Loveberry, Luis Quinonez and Ricardo Santana Jr. have stakes engagements on Friday night at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows. Shaun Bridgmohan, Landeros, Quinonez and Santana have mounts there on Saturday night. … Wednesday was Bridgmohan’s 34th birthday. … Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher (Super Saver in 2010) will celebrate his 48th birthday on Friday. … Three-time Longines Kentucky Oaks-winning owner Brereton C. Jones (Proud Spell in 2008, Believe You Can in 2012 and Lovely Maria in 2015) will celebrate his 76th birthday Saturday. … Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Lynn Whiting (Lil E. Tee in 1992) celebrates his 76th birthday Sunday. … Jockey Joe Johnson celebrates his 48th birthday Monday. … Congratulations to Churchill Downs Racetrack General Manager Ryan Jordan, who was recognized this week by Louisville Business First as a 2015 “Forty Under 40” honoree.