Circle E Racing’s Mr Sidney pulled away from Inca King in the final sixteenth of a mile to win the 19th running of the $167,700 Firecracker Handicap (Grade II) by 1 ½ lengths on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Mr. Sidney covered the mile on a Matt Winn Turf Course rated as “yielding” in 1:37.28 in defeating six rivals. The victory was worth $101,896 and increased Mr. Sidney’s earnings to $407,275 with five wins in 10 starts.
Thorn Song, seeking to become the first repeat Firecracker winner, quickly assumed command out of the gate and led the field through fractions of :23.79 and :47.28. On the far turn, Thorn Song was joined at the front by Inca King, who slipped through along the hedge, Wise River and Tizdejavu with Desormeaux beginning to move from sixth on Mr. Sidney.
As the field straightened for home, Inca King took over, but was joined by Mr. Sidney just past the eighth pole. Desormeaux, winning the Firecracker for the second year in a row, steadily drew clear to give Mr. Sidney his second graded stakes win to go with a Grade I score in the Maker’s Mark Mile this spring at Keeneland, also over yielding turf.
Mr. Sidney carried the second high weight of 120 pounds, three fewer than Thorn Song. It was the second Firecracker victory for Mott, who also won the race in 1993 with Cleone. Mott now has a record 75 career stakes wins at Churchill Downs.
A 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Storm Cat, Mr. Sidney returned $6.40, $4 and $2.80. Inca King paid $7.80 and $4.20 with Seaspeak finishing another 3 ¾ lengths back in third under Robby Albarado and paying $3 to show. Completing the field in order were Thorn Song, Tizdejavu, Wise River and Passager.
The 2009 Spring Meet concludes Sunday with an 11-race program that begins at 12:45 p.m. (all times EDT). The closing-day feature is the 28th running of the $100,000-added Locust Grove Handicap (Grade III) for older fillies and mares going a mile on the Matt Winn Turf Course. The Locust Grove goes as Race 10 with a 5:29 p.m. post time.
POST-RACE QUOTES – THE FIRECRACKER HANDICAP
KENNY McCARTHY, assistant trainer of MR. SIDNEY (winner)
“Obviously he proved at Keeneland that he likes this kind of course with a little give in the ground. The weather didn’t bother us in the least. It set up good with the speed in there. I thought actually they’d go even a little quicker that what they did, but you know it set up nicely for us to come. He was right on today.”
KENT DESORMEAUX, jockey of MR. SIDNEY (winner)
“Today we were hoping for Mother Nature to play our card and it really did. He is a playful horse but today he was totally professional. He really gave me a lovely ride. He was always in hand and attentive to my needs. He really gave me a great ride.”
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, jockey on INCA KING (runner-up)
“He handled everything good. The horse likes this turf course. I thought he ran very hard.
“He tried for me the whole time. He’s got an affinity for this turf course and he did run his race. He didn’t give up – he kept trying the whole way.”
ROBBY ALBARADO, jockey on SEASPEAK (third)
“I think he would have appreciated it if it was a little firmer. Having said that, I can’t take anything away from the top two – they ran great. He was steady. He didn’t diminish or anything, and he didn’t accelerate with them. He was steady the whole way.”
Q: Did you think at any point you had a chance to win it?
“Up the backside he was fine, but when the running started he just started showing some signs that he wasn’t getting hold of it as well as you’d hope he would.”
DALE ROMANS, trainer of defending winner THORN SONG (fourth)
“I don’t know why he’s changed. He hasn’t run good on soft turf this year. Last year he won a couple of races on it, but this year he hasn’t like it at all. Mike (Smith) was just trying to find a spot (on the course) that he would like. But it looked like he came back good and we live to fight another day.”
MIKE SMITH, jockey on THORN SONG (fourth)
“He really struggled. You could probably physically see it with him. I was telling Dale (Romans) he just got his head so high up and he just didn’t get hold of nothing. I was searching for some ground (that he’d like) and I just never hit anything. I was happy at least with the way he fought back for fourth and that he didn’t just completely give up, as bad as he was handling it.”