GENERAL QUARTERS, WISE DAN LEAD COMPETITIVE FRIDAY ALLOWANCE – Anyone taking a first glance at Friday’s ninth race at Churchill Downs might think that they were looking at a stakes race; however, it’s an allowance that just happened to come up very tough. The field of seven in the $64,700 allowance/optional claimer is headed by multiple Grade I-winner General Quarters, who is racing for the first time since late last summer, and Wise Dan, winner of last year’s Phoenix (GIII) at Keeneland.
Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters, winner of the 2009 Blue Grass (GI) at Keeneland and the 2010 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs, has not raced since finishing seventh in the Arlington Million (GI). He was sidelined last September when he injured his left front leg during training.
McCarthy has taken his time preparing General Quarters for his return and hopes the 5-year-old son of Sky Mesa will deliver a good performance Friday. “There are some really nice sprinters in the race, but hopefully he (General Quarters) will bring his run and be there at the end,” McCarthy said.
General Quarters fired a “bullet” work Sunday in preparation for Friday’s race and McCarthy was very pleased with the workout. “He went very nicely,” said McCarthy of General Quarters’ four furlong work in :47.80 over a fast main track at Churchill Downs. “It was a very good work.”
Morton Fink’s Wise Dan, the other graded stakes winner in the field, has been working forwardly at Keeneland since an eighth place finish in the Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables (GIII) on Kentucky Oaks Day and will look to get back in the winner’s circle Friday. “His (Wise Dan) last couple of races were very tough and I’m glad we were able to get him in an allowance race,” trainer Charlie Lopresti said. “I think this is a good spot for him and hopefully he can get back on the winning track.”
Lopresti believes the main competition for his two-time Churchill Downs winner will come from General Quarters. “I haven’t looked at the field very closely yet, but I saw General Quarters is in and he’ll be tough,” Lopresti said.
The field is also highlighted by nine-time stakes winner Native Ruler and the stakes-winning 8-year-old, Grand Traverse. Maggi Moss’s Native Ruler has nearly $600,000 in career earnings and won the Bet On Sunshine stakes at Churchill Downs in 2008. Mimicry Partnership’s Grand Traverse is a 10-time winner with $361,499 in career earnings.
The ninth race will be the feature of the 11-race twilight program at Churchill Downs, which begins at 2:45 p.m. (all times Eastern) Friday. Post time for the ninth race is 6:54 p.m.
ROMANS, MOTION WILL FACE OFF IN MINT JULEP PRIOR TO BELMONT – The eyes of the horse racing world will be on Belmont Park at 6:36 p.m. Saturday to witness the Belmont Stakes (GI) rubber match between the Graham Motion-trained Animal Kingdom, winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), and Preakness (GI) winner Shackleford, who is trained by Dale Romans. But Motion and Romans will face off at Churchill Downs about an hour before the starting gate springs open in the 143rd running of the Belmont with 4-year-old fillies running the 35th running of the Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (GIII), the feature race of an 11-race Saturday program beneath the Twin Spires.
Check the Label, who is trained by Motion for Lael Stables, will enter Saturday’s Mint Julep off a second-place finish to Embur’s Song in the Doubledogdare (GIII) over the Polytrack at Keeneland – her lone start of 2011. The 122-pound high weight for the Mint Julep, Check the Label’s biggest victory came in the Grade I Garden City at Belmont Park, where she finished a length ahead of Barbara Hunter’s homebred Snow Top Mountain, who will also run in the Mint Julep. Jeremy Rose will travel to Louisville to take the mount.
Weighted at 116 pounds is the Romans-trained Tapitsfly, who races under the colors of Frank L. Jones Jr. A 4-year-old daughter of Tapit, Tapitsfly captured the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Oak Tree at Santa Anita in 2009. Tapitsfly was injured following that victory and had a chip removed from her ankle, but resumed training at the end of 2010 and will make her fifth start of the year on Saturday. In her most recent start she finished seventh behind Aviate-GB in the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile Presented by American Commercial Lines (GII) on Kentucky Derby Day. Miguel Mena will have the mount aboard Tapitsfly.
The field for the Early Times Mint Julep, from the rail with jockey and weight: Ravi’s Song (Corey Lanerie, 114), Bella Medaglia (Jamie Theriot, 113), Vivo Per Lei (Leandro Goncalves, 113), Silver La Belle (Brian Hernandez Jr., 112), Abuela (Marcelino Pedroza Jr., 113), Sweetest Song (Calvin Borel, 115), Tapitsfly (Mena, 116), Snow Top Mountain (Robby Albarado, 119), My Baby Baby (Manny Cruz, 116), Askbut I Won’ttell (Eduardo Perez, 117) and Check the Label (Rose, 122).
BLOCK HOPES ASKBUT I WON’TTELL WILL LAUNCH STRONG SPRING MEET STRETCH RUN – Chicago-based trainer Chris Block’s stable has long been a power at Arlington Park and Chicago-area tracks, but his team flexed considerable muscle in Kentucky during last year’s Churchill Downs Fall Meet when it won two major closing week stakes attractions in the Falls City Handicap (Grade II) won by Dundalk Dust and Giant Oak’s triumph via disqualification in the $500,000-added Clark Handicap (GI).
Those victories were the second and third Fall Meet stakes wins, respectively, for Block, who is hoping for a similar closing bid by his stable in the ongoing Spring Meet. On Saturday Block will look to the horse that got the ball rolling for his team in the Fall Meet to build momentum again in the searing heat of June.
Team Block’s Askbut I Won’ttell notched the first of Block’s three stakes wins last fall in the Cardinal (GIII) on the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Saturday undercard. She returns from a three-month break as one of the major contenders for the $100,000-added Early Times Mint Julep for fillies and mares ages three and up at a mile and a sixteenth on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
The Florida-bred mare is the first of three Block trainees targeted for stakes runs in the Spring Meet’s final weeks. The others are Giant Oak, who is set to run in the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on June 18, while Mister Marti Gras, a recent allowance winner on turf on turf who is now being pointed toward a run in the $175,000-added Firecracker Handicap (GII) on July 4, the final program of the meet.
Askbut I Won’ttell followed her Cardinal victory with a win over Trip for A.J. in the My Charmer (GIII) at Calder Race Course, but that rival turned the tables on Block’s 5-year-old mare when she scored a half-length victory over Askbut I Won’ttell in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf at Gulfstream Park.
Saturday’s Early Times Mint Julep will be the first race for Askbut I Won’ttell since she finished fifth- in a strong renewal of the $150,000-added Hillsborough (GIII) on March 12 at Tampa Bay Downs. The Hillsborough was won by Denomination, who returned to win the Violet (GIII) at Monmouth Park on May 30, and its third-place finisher was Keertana, who returned to take the Bewitch (GIII) at Keeneland and then became the first mare to defeat males in the 1 ½-mile Louisville Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
“We gave her a little time in between that last race and this race,” Block said. “She ran well (in the Hillsborough), but you could just see she didn’t run like she had been and was a little flat. So we backed off, freshened her up a little bit and targeted this race as her next spot.”
The daughter of Horse Chestnut brings a record of 6-4-2 in 18 races and career earnings of $384,362 into the Early Times Mint Julep.
With the Virginia H. Tarra Trust’s Giant Oak looming as one of the likely favorites for the Stephen Foster, the newcomer in Block’s bid for a spring stakes three-bagger is Lothenbach Stables’ Mister Marti Gras. The four-year-old gelded son of Belong to Me rallied from sixth to win a one-mile allowance race on the Matt Winn Turf Course on June 3. Mister Marti Gras, the runner-up in both the American Derby (GII) at Arlington and Hawthorne Derby (GIII) at three, closed strongly that day to win over a grass course that had its temporary rail up and positioned 15 feet off the hedge, a configuration that often favors horses with early speed.
“That was kind of a race to see if he responded well here over this course,” Block said. “Speed usually holds up when that rail is up, so that’s part of why I’ll just take a look at the Firecracker with him. I figured he overcame the (speed) bias in his race here.”
The only Fall Meet stakes star missing from Block’s spring arsenal is Dundalk 5 LLC’s Dundalk Dust, who has raced only once since her Falls City triumph: a last-of-seven effort behind Ravi’s Song as the favorite in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds. Dundalk Dust is training steadily at Churchill Downs and her return to racing is not far off, but Block is not sure when the Illinois-bred daughter of Military would run.
“She had some stomach issues over the winter, and that contributed to her poor performance in New Orleans,” Block said. “We think we’ve got her back and turned around.”
A natural spot for Dundalk Dust’s return would have been the Fleur De Lis (GII), a 1 1/8 mile race for older fillies and mares run in recent years on Stephen Foster Day. But that race is on hiatus for 2011.
“That would have been perfect,” Block said. “I’d love to run her here on the dirt, but I don’t know that I’ll get that opportunity. So I’m kind of taking a wait-and-see approach right now.”
MEET LEADERS AT A GLANCE – Jockey Corey Lanerie, trainer Steve Asmussen and owners Richard and Karen Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds are the leaders in their respective categories through 22 days of the 39-day Spring Meet. Below is a look at the leaders entering Thursday’s action:
1. Corey Lanerie (27-for-124, 22% win-percentage, $788,714 in earnings)
2. Shaun Bridgmohan (23-for-120, 19%, $728,960)
3. Julien Leparoux (20-for-109, 18%, $731,969)
4. Calvin Borel (16-for-123, 13%, $513,501)
5. Jon Court (14-for-88, 16%, $365,109)
1. Steve Asmussen (12-for-60, 20%, $936,531)
2. Tom Amoss (9-for-24, 38%, $240,376)
2. Dale Romans (9-for-58, 16%, $713,669)
3. Eddie Kenneally (8-for-31, 26%, $198,428)
4. Ken McPeek (7-for-35, 32%, $376,014)
4. Tim Glyshaw (7-for-23, 30%, $109,880)
1. Richard and Karen Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds (5-for-23, 22%, $110,570)
2. Robert C. Baker and William L. Mack (4-for-13, 31%, $77,315)
2. Tom Ludt’s Vinery Stables (4-for-7, 57%, $134,116)
3. Billy, Donna and Justin Hays (3-for-29, 10%, $75,600)
3. Mace and Samantha Siegel’s Jay Em Ess Stable (3-for-13, 23%, $94,318)
3. Merrill Scherer, Dan Lynch and Ken Sentel (3-for-15, 20%, $84,442)
3. Robert Lothenbach’s Lothenbach Stables, Inc. (3-for-9, 33%, $98,745)
3. Ahmed Zayat’s Zayat Stables LLC (3-for-9, 33%, $537,453)
3. Don Adam’s Courtlandt Farms (3-for-15, 20%, $216,669)
BARN TALK – Nominations for the 111th running of the $100,000-added Debutante (GIII) for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs close Saturday. The Debutante, which is scheduled to be run on the main track at Churchill Downs on Saturday, June 25, was won last year by Eldon Farm Equine, LLC’s Just Louise under Robby Albarado for trainer Dale Romans. …
Churchill Downs-based jockeys Julien Leparoux, Shaun Bridgmohan, Jesus Castanon and Kent Desormeaux will ride in New York on Saturday as part of the Belmont Stakes Day card. Leparoux, Bridgmohan and Desormeaux will ride at Churchill Downs on Thursday and Friday, but Castanon has already traveled to New York and will make his next start aboard Shackleford in the Belmont (GI).
Friday is the final 2:45 p.m. twilight racing program of the meet before "Downs After Dark" night racing returns with a 6 p.m. first post for the final three Fridays on June 17, June 24 and July 1. Also, the music of Wax Fang will headline the finale performance of the new Paddock Concert Series. The concert will begin shortly after the final race around 8 p.m. General admission will be $3 until 7 p.m. and $10 thereafter. The first 850 people in attendance for the concert will be allowed access into the saddling paddock to watch the concert up close in a VIP viewing area free of charge. A $20 Budweiser Select Balcony reserved ticket (available for purchase online at churchilldowns.com/tickets) includes front-row access, a prime undercover balcony overlooking the paddock and stage, extended drink specials throughout the night and a special gift from Budweiser Select. …
Friday Happy Hours presented by Budweiser Select will take place in the paddock area from 6-8:15 p.m., with $2 Budweiser products, frozen specialty drinks and hot dogs showcased. Also, the band Eight Inch Elvis will be on hand to entertain paddock patrons between races from 5-8 p.m. …
WORKTAB – Columbine Stable’s J.B.’s Thunder, winner of the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland last October, worked four furlongs in :51.00 over a “fast” main track at Churchill Downs on Thursday morning for trainer Al Stall Jr. The 3-year-old son of Thunder Gulch has not raced since finishing ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) beneath the Twin Spires. …
Robert C. Baker and William L. Mack’s Dublin, who won the 2009 Hopeful (GI) at Saratoga and was seventh in the following year’s Kentucky Derby (GI), recorded his third consecutive “bullet” at Churchill Downs when he worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 for trainer Wayne Lukas on Thursday morning. The 4-year-old son of Afleet Alex was fifth in the 2010 Preakness (GI) in his most recent start. …
Zayat Stables LLC’s Diva Ash, winner of the $113,800 Edgewood on the Kentucky Oaks Day undercard in her most recent start, breezed five furlongs around the dogs on a firm Matt Winn Turf Course in 1:01.80 for trainer Dale Romans. Diva Ash is nominated to run in the $125,000-added Regret (GIII), which is scheduled to be run on June 18 as part of the Stephen Foster Day undercard.
Right Time Racing LLC’s two Kentucky Oaks (GI) starters, Bouquet Booth (fifth) and Street Storm (eighth), each breezed five furlongs over the Matt Winn Turf Course on Thursday for trainer Steve Margolis. Bouquet Booth covered the distance in 1:01.80 and Street Storm completed the work in 1:03.20. Both fillies are nominated to the Regret (GIII). …
WHO’S HOT – The hottest jockeys over the last five racing days (May 29- June 5) are Julien Leparoux (7-for-28), Corey Lanerie (7-for-32) and Robby Albarado (6-for-19). Ken McPeek (3-for-11) and Steve Asmussen (3-for-11) are the hottest trainers over the same period. The hottest owners are Lothenbach Stables, Inc. (2-for-2), Stoneway Farm (2-for-2) and Charles E. Fipke (2-for-4).
WEATHER – Thursday: mostly sunny with a 30% chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms, 93. Friday: partly sunny with a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 91. Saturday: partly sunny with a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 90. Sunday: mostly sunny, 87. Monday: mostly sunny with a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 87. Tuesday: partly sunny with a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 89. Wednesday: mostly sunny with a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 89.