SANTIVA WORKS, BOUND FOR BELMONT STAKES ON TUESDAY – Tom Walters’ Santiva, sixth to Team Valor International’s Animal Kingdom in the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), tuned up for a run in next week’s $1 million Belmont Stakes (GI) with a strong five-furlong work on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
The Eddie Kenneally-trained son of Giant’s Causeway worked five furlongs over a fast track in 1:01 with assistant trainer Brendan Walsh in the saddle. Santiva worked in company with stablemate Manx Miss and the duo finished with identical clockings for five furlongs, a time that tied for sixth fastest of 27 works at the distance.
Santiva breezed in fractional times of :13, :25.20 and :36.80 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.40. His gallop out time was faster than either of the day’s two six-furlong works.
“I’m very happy with him,” Kenneally said. “He hasn’t missed a beat since the Derby. He’s been on schedule and has had a good four weeks, and hopefully he’ll have another good week until we get to the Belmont.”
The winner of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) is scheduled to ship on Tuesday to Belmont Park, where both Animal Kingdom and Preakness winner Shackleford will be awaiting in the 1 1/2 mile race that New Yorkers have dubbed the “Test of the Champion” through the years.
The Belmont Stakes will be the fourth start of the year for Santiva, who opened the season with a promising runner-up finish to likely Belmont rival Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star (GII) at Fair Grounds. But Kenneally’s colt then encountered major traffic woes in his final Kentucky Derby prep – a ninth-place finish behind Brilliant Speed in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) over Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack course.
“He didn’t get everything out of the Blue Grass that we had wanted,” Kenneally said. “He got a little bit tired, perhaps, in the Derby. He’s a horse that’s done well since then and we’re happy enough with the way he ran on Derby Day.”
Kenneally believes Santiva is ready for the challenge of the mile and a half in the Belmont Stakes, which will be uncharted territory the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners and every other 3-year-old in the race.
“The thing about it is you don’t know who is going to really be a mile-and-a-half horse until you try, so you don’t know about those horses either,” Kenneally said. “Our horse is a horse that likes to run, he doesn’t quit and he keeps grinding it out. He’s a tough little horse and he keeps fighting. He’s tactical and he doesn’t have to be coming from way back.
“He likes to run in the middle of the pack, relatively close to the leader in the first tier of runners, so I think his running style would be effective in a race like the Belmont. I don’t think the Belmont favors closers. The Belmont traditionally, for the most part, favors horses that like to lay up close to the pace – not on the lead, necessarily, but close to the pace.”
Santiva’s victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club in November remains his only triumph in his career record that stands at 1-3-1 in seven races. His earnings total is $257,597.
Shaun Bridgmohan, who was aboard Santiva in both the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Jockey Club, is scheduled to ride the colt in the Belmont.
CLARK WINNER, STEPHEN FOSTER HOPE GIANT OAK WORKS SIZZLING FIVE FURLONGS – The Virginia H. Tarra Trust’s Giant Oak, winner of Churchill Downs’ $500,000 Clark Handicap (GI) and the $500,000 Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park, worked a sparkling five furlongs at Churchill Downs on Saturday in preparation the 30th running of the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on June 18.
The homebred 5-year-old son of Giants Causeway zipped over a fast track for trainer Chris Block to complete the five-furlong move in :59.60. The work under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan was the “bullet” of 27 works at the distance and a full second faster than the morning’s second-best move.
“He had a really good breeze this morning,” Block said. “He’s on-target for the Stephen Foster.”
Giant Oak will attempt to snap a two-race losing streak in the Foster after he started the year as a rising star in a division of American older horses thinned by the retirements of marquee stars that included Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Blame, multiple Grade I winner Quality Road, 3-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky and, more recently, the versatile Grade I winner Paddy O’Prado.
His emphatic two-length win over Grade I winner Morning Line in the Donn underscored Giant Oak’s potential to be one of the names at the top of the division. But that victory was followed by a setback in the New Orleans Handicap (GII), where he finished third to Mission Impazible and Apart, and a fifth-place run behind First Dude in the Alysheba at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day. Giant Oak rallied from far back in the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba and was beaten by less than a length.
Block, a three-time stakes winner during the 2010 Fall Meet, is looking forward to the Stephen Foster and sees the race as an opportunity to reclaim Giant’s Oaks early-season moment. He believes Giant Oak had excuses in each of those defeats.
“I haven’t lost any confidence in him at all,” Block said. “I thought he had a real strong excuse in New Orleans. He’s not real fond of that course. As a 3-year-old I saw that, but I thought he was a little different horse now, so I thought we’d take another chance and another shot at it. But he clearly does not like that track, so I’m kind of throwing that one out. He had a legitimate excuse there.
“In the race here (the Alysheba) the last time, he kind of had a rough trip up the backside. He and Demarcation were kind of hooked up together and there was a little bumping going on up the backside. He never got on track where he got into a rhythm until he really got clear of that horse, and then he came with his big run.”
Bridgmohan has ridden Giant Oak in his last four races and will be aboard for the Stephen Foster, a race in which Block’s Illinois-bred star finished fourth last year to Blame, the eventual Eclipse Award winner as America’s top older horse.
Giant Oak’s career record stands at 5-5-4 in 26 races with earnings of $1,307,001.
YOUNG HORSES GIVE VETERAN TRAINER ‘EXTRA SHOT OF LIFE’ – Everyone has a first love, and for trainer Bernie Flint, that first love was training young horses.
“I love training 2-year-olds,” Flint said. “Training young horses was my first love and they’ll always be my favorite horses to train.”
One might think that Flint, a 71-year-old with over 3,000 career victories and numerous training titles would be ready to retire, but he just keeps going and attributes his energy level to the young horses in his barn. “An untried 2-year-old gives you an extra shot of life,” Flint said. “There’s just something about the young horses that keeps me going.”
Flint, who has won at an 18-percent clip in 2-year-old races throughout his career, has won with three of his first 11 2-year-old starters this year and he’s confident more wins are on the way. “The owners - especially Jim Stone, Ed Wright, Miles Childers, and Dr. Naveed Chowhan - really stepped up and we were able to purchase some nice young horses,” Flint said. “I have the best group of 2-year-olds here (at Churchill Downs). Just watch how they run.”
The New Orleans-native, who is known for having a high winning percentage with 2-year-olds, won with 15 of his 71 (21%) two-year-old starters in 2006; however, his winning percentage declined over the next few years and last year he trained just two juvenile winners from 22 starters (9%).
“I got away from focusing on 2-year-olds and started trying to win claiming races with older horses,” Flint said. “This year we’ve gotten back to the 2-year-olds and I won’t be participating in the claiming game very much.”
Flint, who began training full-time in 1976 after retiring from the New Orleans Police Department, still enjoys his job and hopes to be on the backstretch for a few more years.
“I don’t know if I’ll still be around at (trainer D. Wayne) Lukas’ age (75),” Flint said. “But who knows, if a couple of these 2-year-olds develop into stakes winners then I could be around for a little while longer to see how they turn out.”
Flint has 429 wins beneath the Twin Spires, which is fourth all-time behind Bill Mott (641), Dale Romans (525) and Lukas (482). L.T.B., Inc.’s One Sky will be Flint’s lone starter Saturday at Churchill Downs.
BARN TALK – Jockey Julien Leparoux recorded his 466th career Churchill Downs win and passed Patrick A. Johnson for 10th all-time when he rode Legendary Heart to victory in the 11th race Friday for trainer Steve Asmussen. Leparoux, who has 1,407 career victories overall, had his biggest day beneath the Twin Spires on May 2, 2009, when he rode Informed Decision to win the Humana Distaff (GI) and Einstein to win the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on the Kentucky Derby Day undercard.
Afleeting Lady, a 4-year-old half-sister to Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford, will attempt to break her maiden in Saturday’s eighth race at Churchill Downs for owners Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge and trainer Dale Romans. Post time for the eighth race is 4:29 p.m. EST. …
Two apprentice riders – Constantino Roman and Marcelino Pedroza Jr. – are both ranked in the top 10 in wins in the jockey standings at Churchill Downs. Each rider has seven wins, which is good enough to be tied for ninth with Manny Cruz. …
The “Who’s the Champ?” Handicapping Contest returns Sunday. It continues each Sunday through June 12 in the Champions Club Lounge with $4,000 in prize money, including a $1,500 first prize and a coveted VIP trip to compete in the Horseplayer World Series at The Orleans Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The entry fee is $25 (or 25,000 Twin Spires Club points). Also on Sunday, simulcast action is highlighted by Woodbine’s stakes tripleheader, including the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser and the $150,000 Plate Trial. …
WHO’S HOT – The hottest jockeys over the last five racing days (May 27- June 3) are Corey Lanerie (10-for-33) and Shaun Bridgmohan (8-for-32). Steve Asmussen (5-for-12), Bernie Flint (3-for-6) and Brad Cox (3-for-7) are the hottest trainers over the same period. The hottest owners are Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. (3-for-7) Stoneway Farm (2-for-3) and Vinery Stables, LLC (2-for-2).
WEATHER – Saturday: mostly sunny, 93; Sunday: mostly sunny with a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 90; Monday: mostly sunny with a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 92; Tuesday: mostly sunny and hot, 95; Wednesday: mostly sunny and hot, 96; Thursday: mostly sunny and hot with a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 95; Friday: partly sunny with a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 95.