KUNTZWEILER COMEBACK GAINS MOMENTUM WITH FLURRY OF CHURCHILL DOWNS WINS – When jockey Greta Kuntzweiler anticipated a return to riding after a lengthy stay on the sidelines because of a substance abuse issues, she was worried about the reception she would receive from horsemen and fans on the Kentucky racing circuit.
Since the 34-year-old Kuntzweiler had enjoyed good success at Churchill Downs and other Kentucky tracks, legal problems stemming from her issues had resulted in considerable media coverage. So her struggle with the substance abuse issues was very public, and her concerns were clearly legitimate. But the Kuntzweiler comeback that started at Churchill Downs in early July is now in its fifth month, and this week at Churchill Downs has produced some of its brightest moments.
First came a victory on Wednesday, Nov. 17 aboard Robert Mondun’s homebred Wealth To Me in the featured ninth race. The win aboard the Bill Ford-trained 3-year-old Tapit gelding was the first beneath Churchill Downs’ venerable Twin Spires for Kuntzweiler since April 28, 2004.
That milestone was followed quickly by two more wins during the “Downs After Dark” night racing card on Friday, Nov. 19. Kuntzweiler guided Columbine Stable’s Philogyny ($11) to a victory in the fourth race and owner-trainer Judith Parke’s Charma Posse ($29.20) to win the eighth.
But that first victory aboard Wealth To Me on Wednesday provided a special thrill for Kuntzweiler, as the end of the long victory drought at the home of the Kentucky Derby provided a sense of relief as her return to riding continues.
"It was awesome,” said Kuntzweiler. “I was so happy to do it for Bill because they’ve been so good to me. You know I rode his (Wealth To Me) mother, Wealthy Belongings, so it was a lot of fun.”
Kuntzweiler had come incredibly close to getting her first Churchill Downs victory during the very first week of her Kentucky comeback on a pair of mounts for trainer Tom Proctor. The first came on June 24, the first day of her return, when she lost an allowance race by a head aboard Proctor’s Broken Dreams. Even more tantalizing was her photo-finish loss aboard the Proctor-trained Happiness Is on July 3 in the one-mile Locust Grove Handicap (GIII) on the Matt Winn Turf Course. Dismissed by fans at odds of 48-1, Happiness Is led from the start, but had to settle for runner-up honors when she was nailed in the final jump of a blanket finish by the victorious Danzon.
That narrow loss was a disappointment, but the result offered proof that Kuntzweiler still possessed the talent to succeed on a big stage, and it provided momentum for her return to riding.
“I remember the two horses I rode for Tom, and he said ‘It just goes to show you there’s no Hollywood endings in racing’,” recalled Kuntzweiler. “But I had a really good summer. Things are a little slower than I kind of wish they would be, but that’s just how it goes. You’ve got to figure out how to maintain a positive attitude and try to get through the slower parts.”
Her good summer was highlighted by a memorable September Saturday at Ellis Park on which Kuntzweiler won five races that included a victory aboard Turallure in the Cliff Guilliams Handicap. Her return has been a series of steps, and this week’s success has been a very positive one.
“I was really worried that I was going to struggle,” Kuntzweiler said of her return. “I was nervous about how people would accept me. I think I was embarrassed, more than anything. But it’s been more than I could have hoped for – it really has.”
She also knows that every media reference to the progress of her comeback and most conversations about her career will include references to her public battle with substance abuse. But Kuntzweiler said she does not see that as a negative thing.
“That’s part of me now,” she said. ‘Hopefully, someone that’s had a problem might see that and see that you can turn it around. I’m OK with it being tied to my name as long as people know that I’m doing good and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Kuntzweiler’s winter plans are uncertain. She plans to ride the Holiday Meet at Turfway Park after the Churchill Downs Fall Meet concludes on Sunday, Nov. 28. She has applied for a license to ride at Oaklawn Park when that meet opens in late January, but said she is “leaning toward” staying in Kentucky to ride the Winter-Spring session at Turfway.
While she hopes her business will be brisk wherever she rides over the winter, Kuntzweiler seems content to take it as comes and keep working to sustain the trust of those who have supported her in her comeback and regain the confidence of others.
At this point, it’s a case of so far, so good.
“People are still nice to me and supportive,” she said. “Everyone seems to be following how I’m doing, and when I do well they seem really happy for me.”
While she fell just short of a storybook return to riding back in July, Greta Kuntzweiler seems to know it’s not too late to continue the chase of that elusive “Hollywood ending.”
TWO-YEAR-OLDS SHADOW WARRIOR AND CASPER’S TOUCH LIGHT UP FRIDAY NIGHT – A crowd of 15,583 was on hand for Friday night’s “Downs After Dark” program at Churchill Downs and a couple of 2-year-old maiden breakers offered glimpses of being possible stars of the future.
G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s Shadow Warrior won the fifth race by three lengths, covering the one-turn mile in 1:37.56. Two races later, Magdalena Racing’s Casper’s Touch scored by 2 ¼ lengths in 1:37.36.
“He (Shadow Warrior) ran green the first time he ran and this time, he put himself in the race,” said Jack Bohannan, assistant to trainer Rusty Arnold. “Last night was the first time he had been on dirt to train or run and that was a concern.”
Shadow Warrior had run fourth in his debut at Keeneland on Oct. 21. A son of A.P. Indy, Shadow Warrior likely will head to Florida with Arnold’s main string for the winter.
Arnold trained Shadow Warrior’s dam, Victory Ride, who compiled a career record of 9-5-1-2 that included a victory in the Grade I Test and earnings of $390,391. Shadow Warrior is a half-brother to Victory Ride’s first foal, Magical Ride, a graded-stakes placed filly who also was trained by Arnold.
Casper’s Touch was coming off a five-month layoff to score in his third career start. Casper’s Touch had debuted in April at Keeneland on Polytrack and then ran third at Royal Ascot in June in the Chesham Stakes on turf.
“He had a small chip in an ankle from the race in England,” trainer Ken McPeek said. “It was nothing major, but we got it taken care of. He would have been a Breeders’ Cup horse if not for that.”
Casper’s Touch is a son of Touch Gold out of the Saint Ballado mare Lizzy Cool.
“He’s a nice colt and next for him is the Holy Bull,” McPeek said of the $400,000 Grade III race at a mile at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 30.
McPeek has had four Kentucky Derby starters, and his most recent one, Noble’s Promise, worked five furlongs in 1:04.20 early Saturday morning under Julien Leparoux as a prelude to next Saturday’s $250,000 Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile (GI) at Aqueduct. Fifth in the Kentucky Derby, Noble’s Promise won the Jimmy V. “Don’t Give Up … Don’t Ever Give Up!” overnight stake here on Nov. 5.
STATELY VICTOR WORKS TOWARD LIKELY CLARK HANDICAP START – Tom and Jack Conway’s Stately Victor, one of three 3-year-olds considered as possible starters for Friday’s Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), worked five furlongs at the nearby Trackside Training Center on Saturday morning in 1:01.60.
Trained by Mike Maker, Stately Victor’s time over the fast track was the second fastest of 16 at the distance. In his most recent start, Stately Victor ran third in the Fayette (GII) at Keeneland on Oct. 30.
The Clark would represent Stately Victor’s first start at Churchill Downs since finishing eighth in this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) behind Super Saver. Stately Victor has been assigned 116 pounds for the Clark, for which entries will be taken Tuesday.
Two other Clark probables worked Saturday morning at Keeneland.
Morton Fink’s Successful Dan, the likely starting high weight at 121 pounds, worked five furlongs over the Polytrack in 1:00.40 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.60 for trainer Charles Lopresti. A winner of five of seven career starts, Successful Dan won the Fayette in his most recent start.
Adele Dilschneider’s Apart, winner of the Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) here on Nov. 5 in his most recent start, worked a half-mile in :49.80 for trainer Al Stall Jr. Assigned 118 pounds, Apart is riding a three-race win streak that also includes a victory in the Super Derby (GII).
Also working for Dilschneider and Stall was Golden Rod (GII) hopeful Aide, who worked a half-mile in :49.80 in company with Chef Eric. A winner of two of three starts, Aide won an opening-day allowance test here by 19 ¾ lengths in her most recent start.
A possible Golden Rod rival for Aide, Wind River Stables and Five D Thoroughbreds’ Kathmanblu worked five furlongs over a fast track at Churchill Downs in 1:01.40, third fastest of 44 at the distance. Winner of the Jessamine on grass at Keeneland last month, Kathmanblu finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GII) in her most recent start.
Other works of note at Churchill Downs included Mark Stanley’s Quiet Temper, who covered five furlongs in 1:01.60. Trained by Dale Romans, Quiet Temper is nominated to Thursday’s 95th Falls City Handicap (GII). … Preston Stables’ Central City, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GII) in his most recent start on Nov. 6, breezed three furlongs in :37.80 for trainer Ronny Werner in his first work since the World Championships.
BARN TALK – The 4-year-old Electric Alphabet completed a two-day double for offspring by All Electric by winning Friday night’s ninth race. In Thursday’s 10th race, Touch for a Shock, a 3-year-old, prevailed. Clifford Grum owns both geldings, Cecil Borel trains the half-brothers and Calvin Borel rode both. Touch for a Shock’s sire is Touch Gold and Electric Alphabet is by Alphabet Soup. …
Women trainers accounted for the first four places in Friday night’s eighth race, resulting in a $40,872.60 superfecta for $2. Charma Posse, trained by Judith Parke and ridden by Greta Kuntzweiler, was the 13-1 winner. Running second was the Vicky Oliver-trained Canadian Storm, the 3-1 favorite in the field of 12. Rallying for third was the Sandra Adkins-trained Harmony Heaven (68-1) under Oriana Rossi. Completing the superfecta was 26-1 longshot Point and Click, trained by Kathy Jarvis. The $2 trifecta was worth $4,425 and the $2 exacta returned $137.60. …
Seeking the Title, ninth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI) in her most recent start on Nov. 5 here, is scheduled to ship to New York on Tuesday for the $250,000 Gazelle (GI) for 3-year-old fillies to be run at 1 1/8 miles on Saturday at Aqueduct.