Trainer Helen Pitts was already looking to have an explosive Fourth of July holiday weekend with her stable star Einstein headed for Friday’s Firecracker Handicap (GII). An added bonus could come in Sunday’s one-mile Locust Grove Handicap (GIII) with Meribel.
Owned by Catesby Clay’s Runnymede Farm, Meribel came to the Pitts barn about six weeks ago. Her two races this year include a close third-place finish to Dreaming of Anna in Endeavor (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs and a fourth in Keeneland’s Doubledogdare (GIII).
“They tried to breed her,” Pitts said of Meribel, who last ran in the April 18 Doubledogdare (GIII) at Keeneland. “She is a lovely filly and great to be around.”
Pitts described the acclimation process for a new arrival in her barn.
“I like to give them a couple of weeks to adapt to their new surroundings,” Pitts said. “Then when you work them, you get an idea of what you have.”
Meribel had her first work for Pitts on June 22, an easy half-mile on the dirt in :51. On Tuesday, Meribel worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 on the turf that had Pitts thinking about the Locust Grove.
“Her last work was great,” Pitts said Thursday morning. “Right now, I am planning on running. It is a just a mile off a layoff and after that, we’ll see.”
Previously trained by Christophe Clement, Meribel has compiled a career record of 6-2-7 in 22 races for earnings of $462,398. She won the 2006 Valley View (GIII) over Polytrack at Keeneland – beating future Grade I winner Precious Kitten – and has placed in four other graded stakes. Her lone Grade I try resulted in a fourth place finish in last year’s Diana at Saratoga in which she was beaten less than two lengths by My Typhoon.
The $150,000-added Locust Grove would be the second start for Meribel over the Matt Winn Turf Course. She finished sixth, beaten two lengths by Precious Kitten, in the 2006 Mrs. Revere (GII). That race was at 1 1/16 miles, a distance at which she has done most of her racing.
Sunday’s running of the Locust Grove will be the first at the mile distance since it was moved to the turf course in 1987. It had been run at 1 1/8 miles since 1990.
DESORMEAUX RETURNS ON FRIDAY, NEARING 5,000-WIN MARK – Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning rider Kent Desormeaux will be back at Churchill Downs on Friday to ride Zayat Stables’ Thorn Song in the Firecracker Handicap (GII) in addition to four other mounts.
Desormeaux entered the Thursday card at Belmont Park with 4,994 wins, six shy of becoming the 23rd rider in North American to reach the 5,000-win plateau. He was scheduled to ride two horses on Thursday.
In addition to winning this year’s Kentucky Derby aboard Big Brown, Desormeaux also scored wins in the Run for the Roses in 1998 with Real Quiet and 2000 with Fusaichi Pegasus.
A few other milestones are within reach on Thursday’s card at Churchill Downs.
Trainer David Vance will send out Doubleband in the second race. With a victory, Vance would become the 22nd North American trainer to achieve 3,000 victories.
Jockey Calvin Borel, who rode one winner on Wednesday, is seven victories away from becoming the 34th rider in North America to reach 4,500 wins. Borel’s victory on Wednesday came aboard Ol Memorial Stable and C.E. Glasscock’s Coach Ryan in the eighth race. Borel has six mounts Thursday.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas will saddle four horses Thursday in his quest to become the sixth trainer in North American to reach 4,500 victories. Lukas currently stands at 4,496.
RAMSEYS CLINCH RECORD 13TH ‘LEADING OWNER’ TITLE – With the regard to the chase for the leading owner of the 52-day Churchill Downs Spring Meet, just say that the fat lady is in full-throated song.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who had combined to win a record 12 owners titles at Churchill Downs, extended that mark to 13 with a pair of victories on Wednesday’s racing program.
Those victories opened a seven-win lead (19-12) over Maggi Moss, who was the leading owner of the 2007 Spring Meet and has only five horses entered races over the current meet’s final four days. The Ramseys’ title-clinching victories on Wednesday were supplied by Duty Roster in sixth race and Self Made Man, who added win No. 19 in the seventh race.
The wins by the Ramsey runners were part of a big day for trainer Mike Maker. He also saddled Rollin Fishback and Charles Logsdon’s Kippersol to victory in the third race to become the third trainer of the meet to enjoy a three-win day. Others who accomplished the triple were Ken McPeek on May 24 and Steve Asmussen on June 19.
The Ramseys won nine consecutive meet titles (Spring 2000-04, Fall 2000-03) en route to their record overall haul of 13.
BARN TALK – Miguel Mena apparently will not let Robby Albarado coast to his first riding title at Churchill Downs. Mena rode four winners Wednesday to slice Albarado’s lead in race for leading jockey to 66-61 with four days left in the 52-day meet. Mena has nine mounts on Thursday’s card and Albarado has seven. … Tom Amoss extended his lead in the race for leading trainer to 31-29 over Steve Asmussen thanks to the victory by Coach Ryan in Wednesday’s eighth race. Amoss has one horse entered Thursday; Asmussen two. Ken McPeek, who is third with 26 winners, was scheduled to saddle four runners on Thursday.
WORK TAB (Turf: FIRM) – Craig Bernick’s You Go West Girl, prepping for Sunday’s Locust Grove Handicap (GIII), breezed three furlongs around the dogs on “firm” turf Thursday morning in :37.60. … Ballymore Lady, runner-up in the Early Times Mint Julep (GIII) for trainer Eddie Kenneally, breezed five furlongs in 1:02.20.
2008 SPRING MEET LEADERS
Through Wednesday, July 2
Jockeys (Starts 1-2-3)
1. Robby Albarado (255 66-39-32)
2. Miguel Mena (328 61-47-45)
3. Julien Leparoux (289 52-54-49)
4. Jamie Theriot (260 47-35-34)
5. Calvin Borel (271 44-40-38)
6. Shaun Bridgmohan (204 41-38-26)
7. Jesus Castanon (243 26-25-29)
8. Corey Lanerie (209 18-27-27)
9. Brian Hernandez Jr. (186 15-29-20)
10. John McKee (143 12-21-20)
1. Tom Amoss (77 31-14-12)
2. Steve Asmussen (131 29-23-19)
3. Ken McPeek (73 26-13-7)
4. Mike Maker (65 20-13-9)
5. Dale Romans (134 15-27-23)
6. Ian Wilkes (49 14-12-7)
7. Eddie Kenneally (61 12-10-10)
8. Cody Autrey (56 10-9-11)
9. Greg Foley (61 9-9-8)
-. Todd Pletcher (47 9-5-7)
-. Bret Calhoun 24 9-2-4
Six (6) trainers tied at eight (8) wins
1. Ken and Sarah Ramsey (64 19-10-13)
2. Maggi Moss (29 12-7-4)
3. Zayat Stables, LLC (51 8-12-11)
4. Richard, Elaine & Bert Klein (36 7-7-7)
5. Heflin & Driver Racing (29 5-5-6)
-. Heiligbrodt Racing Stable (17 5-1-0)
Seven (7) owners tied at four (4) wins