VERSATILE VETERAN GENERAL QUARTERS FIRES ‘BULLET’ WORK, SET FOR FRIDAY RETURN – Owner-trainer Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters, a dual Grade I winner on turf and synthetic courses, prepared for a return to racing on Friday with a fast four-furlong work on the main track Sunday morning at Churchill Downs.
The gray son of Sky Mesa worked the half-mile over a fast surface in :47.80, which was the fastest of 55 works at the distance on Sunday. Later in the morning, McCarthy dropped General Quarters’ name in the entry box for a seven-furlong allowance race on dirt on Friday, June 10 that will be his first race since a seventh-place finish behind Debussy in last year’s Arlington Million (GI) at Arlington Park.
General Quarters worked in fractional times of :12.40 and :24.40 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.80, which compared favorably with the fastest works of the day at that distance.
“He went very nicely,” McCarthy said. “It was a very good work.”
General Quarters has a career record of 4-7-2 in 21 races that includes victories in the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) over the synthetic Polytrack course at Keeneland and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs. He ran third to eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner and Eclipse Award winner Blame in last year’s Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and finished 10th to Mine That Bird in the 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
General Quarters will have a challenging task in his return to racing as his six rivals in Friday’s ninth race include a trio of stakes winners. Those horses are Morton Fink’s Wise Dan, ninth to First Dude in the Alysheba (GIII) and winner of last fall’s Phoenix (GIII) at Keeneland; Maggi Moss’ Native Ruler, a multiple stakes winner with 15 career victories and earnings of $593,696; and Mimicry Partnership’s Grand Traverse, a stakes winner and career earner of $345,664.
Jockey Jamie Theriot, who has never ridden General Quarters, has the mount on Friday.
VETERAN POOL PLAY SIZZLES IN WORK, SET FOR DIRT DEBUT IN STEPHEN FOSTER – William S. Farish Jr.’s Pool Play, third to Musketier on turf in Keeneland’s Elkhorn (GIII) last time out, worked a “bullet” five furlongs on the main track at Churchill Downs on Sunday as trainer Mark Casse prepares the Canada-based veteran for an improbable debut on dirt in the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on Saturday, June 18.
The 6-year-old son of Silver Deputy completed the distance under exercise rider Melanie Giddings in :59.80. The work over the fast track was easily the fastest of 24 at the distance and further encouraged Casse’s plans to move Pool Play, who is out of a Cox’s Ridge mare, to the dirt for the Grade I test at Churchill Downs after 27 races on synethetic and turf courses.
“He’s never ran on the dirt, but he has a dirt pedigree,” Casse said by telephone from his base at Woodbine. “With him it’s all about the distance, and that’s why we went to grass. He’s never won a race on the grass, but he likes to go at least a mile and an eight or a mile and quarter.”
It has not been lost on Casse that the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) will be run over the dirt at the Louisville track on Saturday, Nov. 5
“He’s trained just unbelievable over the dirt at Churchill. We figured we might as well find out now because it could decide our plans for the fall.”
Pool Play has run well in three starts, all on turf, this year. Along with his race in the Eklhorn, he was a close fourth to Rahy’s Attorney in the Pan American (GIII) and Prince Will I Am in the Mac Diarmida (GII), both at Gulfstream Park. His most recent victories came over the synthetic Polytrack surface at Woodbine, where he closed out 2010 with an allowance victory at 1 1/16 miles and the $150,000 Valedictory at 1 ¾ miles. Both wins came at the expense of runner-up Eye of the Leopard, winner of the 2009 Queen’s Plate.
The well-traveled veteran also finished a close second to Hold Me Back in last year’s Dominion Day (GIII) at Woodbine and won the 2009 Durham Cup (GIII) over the same synthetic course. He has a career record of 5-6-5 in 27 races and has earned $582,429 in four years of racing.
Casse, a three-time winner of Canada’s Sovereign Award who earned the Churchill Downs’ 1988 Spring Meet training crown during the early years of his career, is among those who believes that Churchill Downs’ main track is kinder than most dirt ovals to horses that have an affinity for turf and synthetic surfaces. He notes the dominant Kentucky Derby victories by Animal Kingdom this year and the ill-fated Barbaro as examples.
In Pool Play, Casse believes he has a horse that believes fits Churchill Downs’ main track very well. A string of solid works here since Pool Play’s arrival has strengthened that opinion and made the Stephen Foster the veteran’s prime summer objective – and a fascinating handicapping question for fans when that big race comes along.
“We had the Brooklyn at Belmont we could go to, they wanted us to go the Manhattan (GI on the Belmont Park turf), but, to me, now is the time to find out if he can run on dirt.” Casse said. “If he can, they run a pretty big race there this fall and the mile and a quarter won’t be a problem for him.”
DICKEY CONSIDERS FOSTER BID FOR FLAT OUT – After watching veteran trainer Charles “Scooter” Dickey’s work with Preston Stables LLC’s talented but tender-footed Flat Out, few in Kentucky racing could ever doubt that Dickey is a very patient man.
But patience could be more of a virtue in Thoroughbred racing than most any other endeavor, and that trait appears ready to be rewarded with the fragile 5-year-old son of Flatter. After long periods on the sidelines with troublesome quarter cracks, Flat Out finished a strong runner-up in the $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII) on May 30.
Flat Out was sandwiched between Grade I winners in the victorious Awesome Gem and third-place finisher Game On Dude. Dickey was so encouraged by the effort that he is considering a bid by Flat Out in the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap over his home track on June 18.
“He just ran last Monday and right now he seems to have come out fine from the race,” Dickey said. “So we’ll just watch it and see if that’s where we want to run back.”
Flat Out launched his start-and-stop career with a bang when he notched his first career win in his second start at Oaklawn Park and briefly entered the Kentucky Derby picture with a stretch-running, 3 ½-length victory in the $50,000 Smarty Jones in his next outing. A fourth-place finish to Old Fashioned in the Southwest (GIII) and a sixth-place run behind Papa Clem in the Arkansas Derby (GII) left his connections with concerns about whether he would have sufficient graded stakes earnings to compete in the Derby. But he was still candidate for the Run for the Roses when a fractured shoulder sent Flat Out to the sidelines for an extended stay.
It would be a year and a half before Flat Out returned to racing with an allowance victory at Fair Grounds on Dec. 5, 2010. But that would be his last start until last week’s big comeback effort after a layoff of nearly six months in the Lone Star Park Handicap.
Flat Out’s shoulder healed long ago. The problem since then has been Flat Out’s feet.
“It’s mostly quarter cracks,” Dickey said. “When we were waiting to go to the Derby, he had that crack in shoulder, and since then it’s just been quarter cracks.”
The race at Lone Star improved Flat Out’s career record to 3-1-0 in seven races with earnings of $174,100. Now Dickey will watch him over the next few days and assess Flat Out’s chances for the possible debut in Grade I stakes competition in the Foster.
“He’s got such a big heart,” Dickey said. “He’s just such a good horse to be around and to work with, but when you can’t go, you can’t go,” Dickey said. “Hopefully he’ll stay with us now for a while and we can run him a few more times.”
CHECK THE LABEL ASSIGNED HIGH WEIGHT FOR MINT JULEP – Lael Stable’s Check the Label, winner of the Garden City (GI) over yielding turf last fall at Belmont Park, has been assigned the high weight of 122 pounds by racing secretary Ben Huffman for the 35th running of the $100,000-added Early Times Mint Julep (GIII) for fillies and mares to be run at 1 1/16 miles over the Matt Winn Turf Course on Saturday, June 11.
Check the Label, who is trained by Graham Motion, winning trainer of this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), sports a record of 6-3-1 from 15 starts, including an allowance win beneath the Twin Spires in November 2009 and a second-place finish in the Caressing Handicap at Churchill Downs later in that month. After crossing the line first in three straight graded stakes turf contests, Check The Label captured the biggest win of her career in the Garden City.
Check the Label followed the Garden City with a sixth-place finish in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (GI) at Keeneland that ended her racing year. She returned from a six-month break to finish runner-up to Embur’s Song in the Doubledogdare (GIII) over Polytrack in her most recent start on April 22. Check the Label is listed as a probable starter for the Mint Julep.
The next high weights are Flaxman Holdings, Ltd.’s Aruna, who is also trained by Motion and won the most recent running of the Mrs. Revere (GII) at Churchill Downs before finishing second to Aviate-GB in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Presented by American Commercial Lines (GII) on the Kentucky Derby Day undercard in her most recent start, and Never Retreat, a multiple graded-stakes winner with $618,759 in career earnings. Aruna and Never Retreat are weighted at 120 pounds.
Weighted at 119 pounds and another probable starter in the race is Barbara Hunter’s Snow Top Mountain, a half-sister to Louisville Handicap (GIII) heroine Keertana and second to Check the Label in the Garden City.
Also believed to be probable starters by Churchill Downs’ officials and their weights are Askbut I Won’ttell (117), Tapitsfly (116) and Ravi’s Song (114). No Explaining-IRE (118), Perfect Shirl (115) and Shameless (113) are possible starters.
Entries for the 35th running of the Early Times Mint Julep will be taken on Wednesday, June 8.
WORK TAB (Track: FAST) – Team Block and Rich Ege’s Askbut I Won’ttell worked five furlongs in 1:02.20 over a “fast” main track at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning for trainer Chris Block. The 5-year-old daughter of Horse Chestnut-SAF captured the Cardinal Handicap beneath the Twin Spires last fall and is probable for the Early Times Mint Julep (GIII) on Saturday. …
Block also worked Dundalk 5 LLC’s Dundalk Dust, winner of the 2010 Falls City Handicap (GII) at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old daughter of Military traveled five furlongs in 1:01.20.
Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman’s Ventana, who captured the Maryland Sprint Handicap (GIII) on the Preakness Day undercard in his most recent start, worked four furlongs in :49.20 for trainer Bob Baffert.
Seeking the Title, a 4-year-old daughter of Seeking the Gold, worked four furlongs in :48.20 for trainer Dallas Stewart. Seeking the Title won the 2010 Iowa Oaks (GIII) for owner Charles Fipke.
Charles Cella’s stakes winner Uncle Brent, who last raced in the Peter Pan (GII) at Belmont Park, worked six furlongs in 1:13.60 for trainer Lynn Whiting. Uncle Brent was the only six furlong-worker Sunday.
THE WEEK AHEAD BENEATH THE TWIN SPIRES - Churchill Downs' upcoming week will be highlighted by the 35th running of the Grade III, $100,000-added Early Times Mint Julep Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf and a simulcast of the 143rd running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes from Belmont Park. Both will take place Saturday. Churchill Downs will offer advance Belmont Stakes wagering all day Friday, starting at 11:30 a.m. ...
Belmont Park's 13-race Belmont Stakes program will begin at 11:35 a.m. EDT, and will feature $1 million guaranteed pools for an all graded stakes Pick 6 (Races 6-11 starting at 2:34 p.m.) and Pick 4 (Races 8-11 starting at 3:59 p.m.). The 1 1/2-mile Belmont -- the third and final leg of the Triple Crown -- is scheduled as Belmont Park's Race 11 at approximately 6:36 p.m. The simulcast of the race ontrack will follow Race 11 at Churchill Downs and will be prominently shown on television monitors throughout the facility, including the infield and paddock JumboTrons. ...
A unique wager offered Friday by the New York Racing Association is the Brooklyn/Belmont double that links Belmont Park's two 1 1/2-mile marathon stakes events: Friday's Grade II, $150,000 Brooklyn Handicap for older horses and Saturday's Belmont for 3-year-olds. ...
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. There will also be a live band to entertain paddock patrons between races from 5-8 p.m. ...
Foam fun and a 2:15 p.m. puppet show on Saturday and sponge paint on Sunday highlight the weekend's activities at Churchill Downs' Junior Jockey Club located near the Guest Services Booth inside Gate 10. The Junior Jockey Club for children age 3-10 is open every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Churchill Downs' mascot Churchill Charlie will be on hand for photographs between 2-2:30 p.m. Coloring books, crayons, individual games and reading material are available as well. ...
Sunday is the last chance of the spring for locals to win a $1,500 first prize and a coveted VIP trip to the Horseplayer World Series at The Orleans Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The cost to enter the final "Who's the Champ?" Handicapping Contest is $25 (or 25,000 Twin Spires Club points) and it will take place in the Champions Club Lounge.
BARN TALK – Miguel Mena will be off all his mounts Sunday at Churchill Downs to rest following a fall at Prairie Meadows on Saturday. Mena is expected to be back in action Thursday with four mounts at Churchill Downs. …
Trainer Ken McPeek’s two most recent stakes winners, Salty Strike and Noble’s Promise, came out of their races in good order. Salty Strike, who captured the Dogwood (GIII) for Craig B. Singer, will be pointed to the Test (GI) at Saratoga on Aug. 6. Chasing Dreams Racing 2008, LLC’s Noble’s Promise will be pointed to the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (GI) at Saratoga on Aug. 7. …
Dullahan, the 2-year-old half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, will make his debut in Thursday’s fifth race at Churchill Downs for owner Donegal Racing and trainer Dale Romans. “He’ll be one to watch,” said Romans of the chestnut son of Even the Score.
Jockey Robby Albarado is close to moving into third-place in career wins at Churchill Downs. Albarado, who has 921 victories beneath the Twin Spires, is just four wins behind Don Brumfield on the all-time list. Albarado has mounts in races six through nine Sunday. …
WHO’S HOT – The hottest jockeys over the last five racing days (May 28- June 4) are Corey Lanerie (8-for-35), Shaun Bridgmohan (7-for-35) and Robby Albarado (6-for-16). Steve Asmussen (4-for-12) is the hottest trainer over the same period. The hottest owners are Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. (2-for-8) Lothenbach Stables, Inc. (2-for-4), Stoneway Farm (2-for-3) and Vinery Stables, LLC (2-for-2).
WEATHER – Sunday: partly sunny with a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 91; Monday: mostly sunny, 91; Tuesday: mostly sunny and hot, 96; Wednesday: mostly sunny and hot, 94; Thursday: mostly sunny with a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 92; Friday: partly sunny with a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 90.