Defending winner and two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan and 2015 Eclipse Award turf champion Main Sequence are the brightest lights among 74 older grass stars on the roster of early nominations to compete in the 29th running of the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (Grade I) at Churchill Downs Racetrack on Kentucky Derby Day, May 2.
Should Mort Fink’s homebred Wise Dan be entered in this year’s renewal of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, he would seek an unprecedented third straight victory – and a record third win overall – in the 1 1/8-mile grass race for 4-year-olds and up that has become one of the United States’ most important turf races since its debut in 1987. The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is positioned each year as the race that immediately precedes the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) on the 13-race Derby Day racing program that his year will include seven stakes events.
The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is scheduled to be televised as part of NBC’s broadcast of the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby.
The 2015 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic attracted 74 nominees during its early nomination phase, compared to 90 a year ago. Early nominations to the Turf Classic were due by Feb. 21 and each required a payment of $100.
Late nominations for the race are now being accepted. The deadline for late nominations is 11:59 p.m. (all times Eastern) on Wednesday, April 8 and each nomination during the late phase must be accompanied by a payment of $1,000. Supplemental nominations to the race may be made at the time of entry on Wednesday, April 29 and each will require payment of a $15,000 fee. The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is limited to 14 starters, with two “also-eligible” entrants.
Wise Dan, an 8-year-old gelding trained by Charlie LoPresti, was unbeaten in four 2015 races, but his perfect campaign was interrupted twice by health concerns. After season-opening victories in Keeneland’s Maker’s 46 Mile (GI) and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, he suffered a bout with colic that required emergency surgery. He returned to action in the late summer with wins in the Bernard Baruch (GII) at Saratoga and Keeneland’s Shadwell Turf Mile (GI). Wise Dan was being pointed toward a third consecutive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI), but an October ankle injury ended the season for the chestnut son of Wiseman’s Ferry.
Wise Dan held-off Juddmonte Farm’s homebred Seek Again to win the 2014 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, one of 15 wins in 16 turf outings during his stellar career. Last year’s Woodford Reserve victory enabled Wise Dan to join Einstein (2008-09) as the race’s only two-time winners. His career record heading into 2015 stands at 23-2-0 in 21 races and he has earned of $7,552,920. Along with his pair of gold “Horse of the Year” Eclipse Award statuettes, Wise Dan has four other Eclipse Awards – two each in the categories of turf champion and top older male.
Flaxman Holdings Ltd.’s Main Sequence, who started his career in England and is unbeaten in five stakes races since his stateside debut last July, completed his championship season with a victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI). He opened his 2015 campaign with a victory in the Grade II Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 15. The 6-year-old son of Aldeberan is trained by Graham Motion, who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom and is seeking his first triumph in the Woodford Reserve. Main Sequence dazzled in his U.S. bow when he rallied for a narrow victory in the United Nations (GI) at Monmouth Park. He followed his successful debut with dramatic late-running victories in the Sword Dancer Invitational (GI) at Saratoga and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (GI) at Belmont Park prior to capping his unbeaten season in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
His five triumphs in the U.S. boosted the career record for Main Sequence to 9-3-3 in 19 races and lifted his bankroll to $3,418,591.
Prominent among the other stars nominated to the 2015 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic are 2014 runner-up Seek Again, Donegal Racing and Rockingham Ranch’s Finnegans Wake, Phipps Stable’s Imagining, Terry Hamilton’s rising star Heart to Heart and David Heerensperger and Jose Nelson’s Winning Prize (ARG).
Seek Again lost by a head to Wise Dan in last year’s renewal. One of four Woodford Reserve nominees from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer and all-time Churchill Downs win leader Bill Mott, Seek Again won Saratoga’s Fourstardave Handicap (GII) in 2014. Mott won the Woodford Reserve with turf champion Paradise Creek in 1994 and Claiborne Farm’s Stroll in 2004.
Finnegan’s Wake showed an affinity for new surroundings when he moved to the Southern California barn of trainer Peter Miller last fall and has crafted a 3-1-0 record in five races on the West Coast. Those triumphs include a current three-race streak in Del Mar’s Hollywood Turf Cup (GII) in late 2014 and a pair of Grade II wins this year in Santa Anita’s San Gabriel and San Marcos.
Imagining won the 2014 Man O’ War (GI) at Belmont Park and lost by a head to champion Main Sequence in the Sword Dancer for trainer Shug McGaughey, who won the 1999 Woodford Reserve with Claiborne Farm’s superstar Lure. Heart to Heart, a fan favorite because of the distinctive and prominent heart-shaped star on his face, reeled off three consecutive wins in 2014 that included the Better Talk Now at Saratoga and Churchill Downs’ Grade III Jefferson Cup and Commonwealth Turf. The Brian Lynch trainee ended his year with a fourth-place run in Santa Anita’s Mathis Brothers Mile (GII). Winning Prize (ARG) won the 2014 Kilroe Mile (GI) and Arcadia (GII) at Santa Anita for trainer Neil Drysdale.
Other 2015 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic nominees include Donato Lanni and John F. Youngblood’s Avanzare, winner of the Arcadia (GII); Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Big Blue Kitten, winner of the Grade I Sword Dancer and United Nations in 2013; John Wentworth’s Fair Grounds Handicap (GIII) winner Chocolate Ride; the Ramseys’ John B. Connally (GIII) winner Coalport; Let’s Go Stable’s W.L. McKnight (GIII), Kent (GIII) and American Derby (GIII) winner Divine Oath; Glen Hill Farm’s homebred Enterprising, winner of Del Mar’s La Jolla (GIII); Glen Hill’s Global View, winner of Churchill Downs’ 2014 American Turf (GII); Wachtel Stable and George J. Kerr’s Canadian Turf (GIII) winner Long On Value; St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Ring Weekend, winner of the Hill Prince (GIII), Saranac (GIII) and Tampa Bay Derby (GII) for Motion; Gainesway Stable’s Villandry, the winner of Churchill Downs’ River City Handicap (GIII); and Diamond M Stable’s War Dancer, winner of Churchill Downs’ Louisville Handicap (GIII) for trainer Kenny McPeek.
The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic’s early nominees include a pair of prominent females in the Ramseys’ Stephanie’s Kitten, the 6-year-old winner of Belmont Park’s Flower Bowl (GI) and runner-up to champion Dayatthespa in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (GI) in 2014 for trainer Chad Brown, and G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and St. George Farm Racing’s Personal Diary, a 4-year-old homebred daughter of City Zip who won last summer’s Del Mar Oaks (GI) for trainer Vicki Oliver.
Todd Pletcher nominated 13 grass stars to the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic to lead all trainers. Brown nominated five horses, while Mark Casse, Kiaran McLaughlin, Motion and Mott each made four horses eligible.
The Ramseys, who earned Eclipse Awards in 2014 as America’s top owner and breeder, led all owners with seven nominations. Shadwell Stable was next with four, one more than Charles Fipke and John Oxley.
The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic made an auspicious debut in 1987 when reigning Eclipse Award turf champion Manila took its inaugural running. Manila had won a memorable running of the Breeders’ Cup Turf the previous year, defeating luminaries that included Theatrical, Estrapade and European star Dancing Brave. Along with Manila and Wise Dan, American turf champions that have competed in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic include Paradise Creek, who won the race during his 1994 championship campaign, and 1992 Eclipse Award champion Sky Classic, runner-up to Cudas in that year’s Turf Classic renewal. Two-time winner Einstein, a versatile Brazilian-bred son of 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck, was a finalist for the Eclipse Award for and a finalist for turf champion in 2008 and top older male in 2008 and 2009.
Priscilla Vaccarezza’s Little Mike won the race in 2012, a year during which the Dale Romans-trained gelding also won the Arlington Million (GI) and Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) and was one of three finalists for U.S. turf champion.