STEWART: MACHO AGAIN “READY TO ROLL” FOR CLARK – The heavy lifting is all done and according to trainer Dallas Stewart, Macho Again is “ready to roll” for Friday’s 135th running of the $400,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade II) at Churchill Downs.
“I feel good about our chances,” Stewart said of Macho Again, who is owned by West Point Thoroughbreds. “I like where we are, he loves this track and he worked great yesterday (five furlongs in 1:01.20).”
Macho Again has compiled a record of 5-3-1-0 at Churchill Downs with his biggest victory coming in June’s Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) in which he defeated likely Clark rivals Einstein (Brz) and Bullsbay.
The Clark will be Macho Again’s first start since finishing fourth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) on Oct. 3.
“There was no pace in that race and things just didn’t pan out that day,” Stewart said.
Macho Again came down with a cough after the Jockey Club that forced Stewart to cancel a trip to Santa Anita for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). Since recovering from the brief setback Macho Again has had three five-furlong works.
The 4-year-old colt’s top effort of 2009 in which he also won the New Orleans Handicap (GII) was a runner-up effort to Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner and top Horse of the Year contender Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward (GI) at the Clark Handicap distance of 1 1/8 miles.
“That was a great race,” Stewart said of the Saratoga race in which Macho Again came the closest of any horse this year to Rachel Alexandra in falling a head short. “One more jump … that would have made my year.”
Stewart said that Macho Again would ship with his barn to the Fair Grounds at the end of the meet with the initial plans for 2010 being the Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita on Jan. 30 or the Donn Handicap (GI) on Feb. 6 at Gulfstream Park.
GIANT OAK MAKES BELATED RETURN TO CHURCHILL DOWNS – After running second in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) here Giant Oak appeared on many watch lists as a contender for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
However, instead of running here on the first Saturday in May, Giant Oak will make a belated encore appearance beneath the Twin Spires on the last Friday in November in the Clark Handicap.
“We had bad luck with him in New Orleans,” said Drew Coontz, assistant to trainer Chris Block. “In the Risen Star (GIII), that was a train wreck. A narrow track with 13 head and no pace. Then two hours before the Louisiana Derby (GII) there was a major downpour.”
Giant Oak went on to run second in the Illinois Derby (GII) under Shaun Bridgmohan, but Block pulled the colt from Kentucky Derby consideration because he did not feel he was seasoned enough for the Run for the Roses.
Owned by the Virginia Tarra Trust, Giant Oak spent the summer running on the grass at Arlington Park where he had made a spectacular debut as a 2-year-old. Giant Oak returned to the dirt in the Indiana Derby (GII) on Oct. 3 in which he ran second.
“Chris had wanted to try him back on the dirt,” Coontz said. “He ran very well in the Indiana Derby and we were very pleased.”
However, after the Indiana Derby, bumps in the road continued to emerge for Giant Oak.
“Five days after the Indiana Derby, he stepped on an Allen’s wrench with his right front,” Coontz said. “We shipped him to Keeneland a week before the Fayette (on Oct. 31). I flew in Thursday night and the next morning we were going to train and he was off in the left front and we had to scratch him.”
Giant Oak shipped directly to Churchill Downs instead of returning to his home base in Chicago and had three works, the most recent being Saturday morning, a bullet five furlongs in :59.80 with Bridgmohan up.
“He’s been doing great since he got here,” Coontz said. “He has worked well and this morning I got him in a minute.”
ONE CAROLINE SIDELINED; DERBY WEEK RETURN EYED – One Caroline, the talented 4-year-old daughter of Unbridled’s Song who won her first five career starts, has been sidelined by an injury that occurred during a third-place finish to Malibu Prayer in the Nov. 7 running of the Chilukki (GII).
“When she wasn’t nominated to the Falls City (Handicap), I figured somebody would be calling,” trainer Rusty Arnold said. “She got hurt in the Chilukki, has had surgery and is now on the farm.”
Owned by G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and the Louise Ireland Humphrey Revocable Trust-2008, One Caroline suffered her first career loss in the Louisville Distaff (GII) here on May 1. Shortly after that, she suffered an injury that sidelined her until the Chilukki.
“It is not the same injury and she has not been retired,” Arnold said of One Caroline, who ran third in the Chilukki. “The plan is to have her join the barn in Florida in February and try to run her (at Churchill Downs) Derby Week.
“The goal is to run in the Louisville Distaff, the same race she ran in this year.”
One Caroline suffered her first career defeat in that Kentucky Oaks Day race when she ran second to Miss Isella.
BARN TALK – For the followers of leading riders Calvin Borel and Julien Leparoux, mutual clerks were printing money on Friday at Churchill Downs. Borel and Leparoux, who have opened considerable daylight in the race for leading rider, combined to sweep the early Pick 4 resulting in payoffs that boggled the mind. Leparoux won the opener on Next May ($18.40), Borel won the second on Unreachable Star ($23) and third on Misleader ($10.60) and Leparoux took the fourth on Turfiste ($10.20). The rolling doubles came back $225.20, $199.80 and $72.20; the rolling Pick 3s returned $1,619.20 and $1,024; and, the Pick 4 returned $5,825.20 for a $2 bet. Borel added two more victories on the Friday card – Cielo Classic ($12.60) in the eighth and Haven’s Honey ($15) in the ninth for a $71.20 double – to open an 18-16 lead on Leparoux. Shane Bridgmohan is third with 12 victories.
WORK TAB – Dubious Miss was on the track a little after 6 a.m. Saturday with jockey Calvin Borel up to work five furlongs in 1:01 over a fast track in preparation for Friday’s Clark Handicap. “I got him in :26 the first part and :35 the last three-eighths,” trainer Paul McGee said. “Perfect.” McGee also worked Demarcation a half-mile in :50.80 for a probable start in Friday’s River City Handicap (GIII). Also working toward the River City was Pleasant Strike, who covered a half-mile in :48.60 for trainer Todd Pletcher. … Pocahontas (GIII) winner Sassy Image worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 for trainer Dale Romans in readying for next Saturday’s Golden Rod (GII). Other juveniles working five furlongs toward a likely closing-day stakes engagement on the “Stars of Tomorrow II” card were Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) nominees Callide Valley (1:00.60) for trainer Eddie Kenneally and Mr. Saturdaynight (1:01.80) for Romans. … Working at the Trackside Training Center for trainer Mike Maker were Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) winner Furthest Land (half-mile in :50.40) and Kentucky Jockey Club probable William’s Kitten, the eighth-place finisher in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), who worked a bullet five-eighths in 1:00.