DEBUTANTE WINNER JUST LOUISE FINE AFTER VICTORY – Eldon Farm Equine’s Just Louise was reported to be doing well Sunday morning, the day after her neck victory over Tristanme in the Debutante Stakes (GII)."She is doing good,” said Baldemar Bahena, assistant to trainer Dale Romans.
Romans indicated after the race that Just Louise would be pointed toward stakes action at Saratoga. The first 2-year-old filly stake at Saratoga is the Schuylerville (GIII) on July 23.
Bahena said the Romans horses heading to Saratoga would be leaving Churchill Downs beginning July 15.
Debutante favorite Salty Strike, who was caught in the last jump for second by Tristanme, was also doing well Sunday according to Philip Bauer, assistant to trainer Ken McPeek.
“She’s good this morning and she is tired,” Bauer said. “She ran hard, and to re-break again like she did at the quarter pole, that was pretty good.”
Bauer said the first two trucks shipping McPeek horses to Saratoga would be leave on Thursday with the possibility of Salty Strike being on board one of those trucks.
RACHEL ALEXANDRA, MINE THAT BIRD SET FOR MONDAY WORKS – There will be no racing at Churchill Downs on Monday, but there will still plenty of attention focused on the one-mile main track as 2009 Horse of the Year and Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird, winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) are scheduled to work.
Rachel Alexandra, a dominant 10 ½-length winner last out in the $200,000 Fleur de Lis (GII), is scheduled for her final work over her home track before the 4-year-old champion heads to Saratoga on Wednesday. The Steve Asmussen trainee regularly works in trainer Steve Asmussen’s second set around 6:15-6:30 a.m. (all times EDT).
Mine That Bird continues to prep for his first race since ninth-place finish behind unbeaten Zenyatta in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Oak Tree at Santa Anita, is scheduled to breeze just after the maintenance break at approximately 8:30 a.m. for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Jockey Calvin Borel will be in the saddle for Mine That Bird’s move.
Mine That Bird could make his return to competition during the closing weekend of Churchill Downs Spring Meet. There are two possible races for Mine That Bird: an allowance race 1 1/16-miles on the main track on Saturday, July 3, and the 4-year-old gelding is also nominated to the $175,000-added Firecracker Handicap (GII) at a mile on turf on Sunday, July 4.
WISE RIVER’S FIRECRACKER REQUEST: NO RAIN, PLEASE – Trainer Clark Hanna has one, simple request for the weather gods with regard to next Sunday’s 20th running of the $175,000-added Firecracker Handicap (GII) at a mile on the Matt Winn Turf Course: Keep it dry!
Hanna trains Wise River, as solid and consistent a turf performer as there is as long as the course is firm.
“He just doesn’t like yielding turf and you have to hope for the best,” said Hanna, who has been training the 7-year-old Wise River since February 2008. “He is the best horse I have had and the most consistent. I’m a little hard-headed and have run him times I probably shouldn’t have because of yielding turf.”
Under Hanna’s care, Wise River has compiled a record of 12-4-3-1 in two-turn races on firm turf. Overall, the record in such races and conditions is 22-6-6-2 with his largest margin of defeat being only seven lengths in the Grade I Kilroe Mile last year at Santa Anita.
“He shows up every time and is usually 1-2-3,” Hanna said. “I even ran him short (5 ½ furlongs) this winter at New Orleans, which he doesn’t like, because he had no other spot to run and he was third.”
Wise River, a son of Belong to Me, broke his maiden at first asking in a one-mile turf test at Ellis Park. Three races later, Wise River opened his 3-year-old campaign by running second to Barbaro in the Tropical Park Derby (GIII).
At Churchill Downs, Wise River has compiled a record of 11-2-3-2 on the Matt Winn Turf Course and owns the course record for 1 1/16 miles (1:39.83 established April 26, 2009). Wise River’s past two turf starts here have come on yielding courses with typical yielding-course results for him: eighth in this spring’s Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) and sixth in last year’s Firecracker.
Owned by Don Benge, Wise River enters the Firecracker off a victory in the Dallas Turf Cup Handicap at Lone Star Park on May 31.
“He came out of the Texas race fine and I like the space between the races,” Hanna said. “I could have run in the prep for the Firecracker (the Opening Verse on June 11), but this gave us an extra week and a half.”
A week out, everything is looking good for Hanna and Wise River, whose career bankroll is $494,567 with a record of 36-7-10-5.
“The long-term forecast looks decent,” Hanna said. “He likes this track a lot and I’d rather run him here. If he doesn’t run here, I might go to the West Coast for the race the end of next month at Del Mar (the Grade I Eddie Read at 1 1/8 miles on July 24). It stays dry out there.”
ACOMA EXPECTED STARTING HIGH WEIGHT FOR LOCUST GROVE – Helen Alexander and Helen Groves’ Acoma has been assigned 121 pounds by Churchill Downs Racing Secretary Ben Huffman for Saturday’s 29th running of the Locust Grove Handicap (GIII) at a mile over the Matt Winn Turf Course.
Acoma is expected to be the starting high weight in the race as Hot Cha Cha, assigned 122 pounds, is expected to bypass the Locust Grove for Modesty Handicap (GIII) at Arlington Park on July 17. Hot Cha Cha defeated Acoma by three-quarters of a length in the Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (GIII) here on June 5 while carrying 120 pounds to 122 for Acoma.
Barbara Hunter’s Keertana, who finished a head in back of Acoma in the Mint Julep while carrying 120 pounds, was assigned 120 for the Locust Grove.
Other probable Locust Grove starters and their weight assignments are Alfred Nuckols Jr.’s Danzon (116), Vegso Racing Stables’ Happiness Is (114) and Magdalena Racing’s My Baby Baby (114).
Considered possible for the race is Hidden Brook’s Quiet Meadow (115).
Entries for the Locust Grove will be taken Wednesday.
BARN TALK – Trainer Bret Calhoun was all smiles Sunday morning after the 4 ½-length victory by Chamberlain Bridge in Saturday’s Arlington Sprint Handicap at 5 ½ furlongs. The race was a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GII) to be held here Nov. 6. “That’s the long-term goal. Now we figure out the best way to get here,” Calhoun said. “There is a race the end of July at Penn National (the $200,000 Pennsylvania Governors Cup Handicap at five furlongs) and then the Turf Monster ($250,000 on Sept. 6 at five furlongs) that he won last year at Philadelphia Park.” Options in October include the Woodford at Keeneland, a race Chamberlain Bridge won in 2008. …
Another happy trainer Sunday was Dallas Stewart after his Seeking the Title won the Iowa Oaks (GIII) on Saturday night at Prairie Meadows by a half-length. Seeking the Title had been excluded from the Kentucky Oaks (GI) because of insufficient graded stakes earnings and then lost rider Kent Desormeaux in the Black-Eyed Susan (GII) at Pimlico when she tried to avoid a fallen horse. “We finally got a race without somebody falling down,” Stewart said with a chuckle of Seeking the Title, who had run sixth in the Acorn (GI) in her previous start. “She will go to Saratoga and may run in the Coaching Club of American Oaks (GI) on July 24 if it is not too quick. That’s a mile and an eighth and the further the better for her. She needs more ground and almost didn’t have enough last night.” Stewart also said multiple stakes winner Macho Again was on track to return to Saratoga with the Aug. 7 Whitney Handicap (GI) as his objective. …
Trainer Tom Proctor said that debut maiden winner Well Connected will be heading to Saratoga after his 1 ¾-length victory on Saturday after breaking from post position 12 in the five-furlong sprint. “I think I will look for an allowance race for him around seven furlongs because I don’t want to run him short again at this time,” Proctor said. “The mare (Indy Groove) was precocious and she won from five-eighths to a mile and an eighth.” Well Connected is the first starter for Indy Groove, who ran sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) here for Proctor in 2004.
WORK TAB – Northern Dancer (GIII) winner Colizeo worked a half-mile over a fast track in :48.40. … Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) winner General Quarters worked a half-mile in :49. … Dogwood (GIII) runner-up Tap Tap Tapping worked a half-mile in :50.20 and Jefferson Cup (GIII) winner Gleam of Hope worked a half-mile in :52. Eighth-place Kentucky Derby (GI) finisher Stately Victor work five furlongs at the Trackside Training Center in 1:00 over a fast track.