Giant Oak signaled his readiness for Saturday's 29th running of the $600,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I) by working a bullet five furlongs in :59.60 over a fast track after the renovation break Sunday morning at Churchill Downs.

            With jockey Shaun Bridgmohan up and working in company with Gleam of Hope, a 3-year-old stakes winner from the barn of Tony Reinstedler, Giant Oak posted fractions of :12.20, :23.60, :35.60, :47.80 and out six furlongs in 1:13. The work was the fastest of 33 at the distance.

            The 4-year-old Giant Oak started four lengths behind Gleam of Hope and tracked his workmate to the stretch where he slipped through along the rail and finished on even terms.

            Immediately after the work, Bridgmohan was on the phone to trainer Chris Block, who was at Arlington Park.

            "He needs company sometimes in the mornings because he can be a bit on the lazy side and this gives him something to focus on," Block said. "In his last start (a sixth-place finish in an Illinois-bred stake on Polytrack at Arlington Park), he didn't get a lot out of it and got in trouble. I wanted to get a good breeze in him today to set him up for Saturday."

            Bridgmohan, who has ridden Giant Oak in his past two starts in Kentucky, will have the mount Saturday. Giant Oak was third in the Ben Ali (GIII) at Keeneland in April and last fall finished fourth, beaten 1 ¼ lengths by Blame in the Clark Handicap (GII).

            Blame, owned by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm, also is headed for the Stephen Foster and he had his final work Sunday morning at Keeneland.

            "He worked well," trainer Al Stall Jr. said. "He went in 1:01 flat and worked in company with Apart, who broke his maiden at Churchill last month (on May 16 by 7 ½ lengths)."

            Blame was assigned 120 pounds for the Stephen Foster and Giant Oak 115 by Churchill Downs racing secretary Ben Huffman.

 

EARLY TIMES MINT JULEP TOP THREE COULD MEET AGAIN SOON - The top three wagering choices in Saturday's Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (GIII) ran to their backing, finishing within a length of each other in the 1 1/16-mile test on the Matt Winn Turf Course.

            Nelson McMakin's Hot Cha Cha held off defending champion Acoma by three-quarters of a length with favored Keertana another head back in third.

            "We got back to Keeneland last night at 8 o'clock and she is doing great this morning," trainer Phil Sims said of Hot Cha Cha, who gave Sims his first stakes victory at Churchill Downs.

            Hot Cha Cha had run well in defeat in her previous starts at Churchill Downs, finishing third behind Keertana in last spring's Regret (GIII), running fourth as the favorite in the 14-horse Mrs. Revere (GII) last fall and then running second in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (GII) on May 1 in her previous start.

"She had a great trip yesterday," Sims said of Hot Cha Cha's hedge-skimming run under jockey James Graham. "It seems like the other times she ran there, she would have trouble, but yesterday it finally worked out."

Sims said Hot Cha Cha likely would run next in the $100,000 Locust Grove Handicap (GIII) here on July 3 at a mile or wait for the $200,000 Modesty Handicap (GIII) at 1 3/16 miles at Arlington Park on July 17.

That is the same schedule for Acoma, who tasted defeat for the first time in six starts at Churchill Downs in the Early Times Mint Julep.

            "It is great to have her back and I feel like she ran a winning race," trainer David Carroll said of Acoma, who is owned by Helen Alexander and Helen Groves. "It was not a hard race on her as she only really ran hard the last sixteenth of a mile. It was probably the perfect race for her."

            Saturday's race was the first start for Acoma in 6 ½ months since winning the Cardinal Handicap (GIII) to close out 2009. The Cardinal is one of four graded stakes Acoma has won at Churchill Downs.

            Carroll said Acoma could come back in four weeks in the Locust Grove.

            "I would prefer not to ship, but if it comes up soft for the Locust Grove, I could wait for the Modesty," said Carroll, whose main summer goal for Acoma is the Beverly D. (GI) on Aug. 21 at Arlington Park.

            Keertana, never worse than third in six starts over the Matt Winn Turf Course, "just got outrun yesterday," trainer Tom Proctor said. "She's fine this morning and she might go to the Modesty next."

 

BELMONT WINNER DROSSELMEYER UNVEILED DIRT PROWESS HERE LAST FALL - Belmont Stakes (GI) winner Drosselmeyer got his first taste of racing on dirt by accident last fall at Churchill Downs.

            "He came over here from Keeneland and we were pointing him for a grass race," said Kenny McCarthy, assistant to trainer Bill Mott. "He had been training great. Bill was traveling and I could not get in touch with him, so I called Elliott (Walden, vice president and racing manager for WinStar Farm) asked if we could enter Drosselmeyer as a main track only horse."

            The Nov. 18 race did come off the turf and Drosselmeyer cruised to a six-length victory in the one-mile maiden race over a track labeled as "good."

            Drosselmeyer has raced exclusively on dirt this year although he did train over the synthetic Polytrack course at Keeneland before shipping to Belmont Park in early May to join the main Mott string.

 

BARN TALK - Jockey Francisco Torres was going to try to ride Sunday's card after taking off his mounts Saturday because of a pulled groin according to his agent Terry Miller. "He hurt it Friday in the first race when the horse (Couric) broke through the gate and then flipped him out the back of the gate," Miller said. "He rode the rest of the day but Saturday morning he could not walk." ...

Brian Beach, agent for jockey Alex Solis, said Solis was scheduled to ride Sunday at Monmouth Park after being briefly hospitalized for high blood pressure Saturday at Belmont Park where Solis was to ride Tanda in the Acorn Stakes (GI). "He went to the hospital and got a clean bill of health," Beach said. "He was OK when he got there, but right before the race after he had been on an Equicizer for a half-hour another doctor came in and Alex's blood pressure was up."

Trainer Dale Romans, with 499 career victories at Churchill Downs, has one horse entered on Sunday's card: Zapparition in the third race. ...

Although there will be no live racing until Thursday, Churchill Downs will be open Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. for simulcast wagering. Patrons will be admitted free of charge and a Pick 6 carryover of $930,495 at Belmont Park highlights the action.

 

WORK TAB - Several horses worked Sunday morning in preparation for possible starts on Saturday's Kentucky Derby Alumni Day card that features five stakes. Northern Dancer probable Colizeo worked five furlongs in 1:02.60 and race possible Prince Will I Am worked a half-mile in :50. Caminadora, targeted for the Regret, worked a half-mile in :50.40 and Queen of the Creek worked five furlongs in 1:04.80. Also on the work tab was last year's Bashford Manor (GIII) winner Backtalk, who worked a half-mile in :51.60. Working at the Trackside Training Center were Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Furthest Land and stablemate and Lane's End (GII) winner Dean's Kitten, who shared the bullet for five furlongs in 1:00.60.      

 

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