STEPHEN FOSTER CONTENDERS BLAME, MACHO AGAIN WORK - Preparation time for the 29th running of Churchill Downs' $600,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I) is dwindling and two of the major players in the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up tuned up for the June 12 test with Saturday works.
Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm's homebred Blame, winner of the Clark Handicap (GII) last fall at Churchill Downs, breezed four furlongs over the synthetic Polytrack course at Keeneland in :49.40. Blame worked in company with stablemate Apart, who was clocked in an identical time. Their worked times tied as the 14th fastest of 24 at the distance over the all-weather track.
Meanwhile, West Point Thoroughbreds' defending Foster winner Macho Again breezed four furlongs in :50.40 over a muddy track at Churchill Downs. The work by trainer Dallas Stewart's 5-year-old son of Macho Uno ranked 32nd of 46 at the distance. Macho Again finished seventh in the Alysheba (GIII) on Kentucky Oaks Day in his only start of 2010.
The Keeneland move by Blame was the first for trainer Al Stall Jr.'s 4-year-old son of Arch since his victory under jockey Garrett Gomez in his 2010 debut in the William Donald Schaefer (GIII) at Pimlico on the May 15 Preakness (GI) undercard.
"Everything's good," said Stall. "He was nice and aggressive and everything's fine. We'll do the same thing next weekend and then run the following weekend in the Foster."
Stall's original plan for Blame was to begin the 2010 campaign in the Alysheba, but he got a later start on serious training than he'd hoped over the winter at Stall's home track at New Orleans' Fair Grounds and that prompted the trainer to call an audible. He now thinks things probably worked out for the best for Blame, who will carry a streak of three stakes wins, launched by a victory in Keeneland's Fayette (GII), into the Foster.
"Actually, I couldn't be happier," he said. "Pimlico's a deep racetrack and I think he really got a lot out of the race - more than he would have if he went over kind of a tight Derby Week track at Churchill Downs. Garrett said he had to use him for about an eighth of a mile to get the hole and that was just what he needed. He got a little heavy that last 40 yards, so I think everything's been really good - knock on wood."
Gomez will be aboard Blame in the Foster, which along with Macho Again, is expected to attract Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) winner General Quarters and Alysheba winner Arson Squad.
Stall has long held high hopes for Blame, who has compiled an impressive career record of 6-1-2 in nine races with earnings of $676,747. He's pleased with what the lightly raced colt has accomplished so far, but is anxious to see how Blame continues to develop. At this point, Stall is not sure just how good Blame could turn out to be.
"It's hard to say," he said. "At this point he's done everything like a top horse. He sure looks it and he's a great pedigree - his mother's a half-sister to Nureyev and Arch's pedigree is not getting in his way. We just think he's the whole package. We're definitely shooting for the moon, so hopefully he can take us there."
A big run by Blame in the Stephen Foster will continue an enjoyable stretch for Stall, who recently reached a milestone when he notched his 1,000th career victory with Claiborne Farm and Dilschneider's Toll in a May 23 maiden race at Arlington Park. Stall had no idea that he was even close to that four-digit win total.
"I had no earthly idea," said Stall. "[Jockey agent] Lenny Pike said something to me Tuesday morning, and I said ‘What?' I didn't know anything about it."
Stall, who launched his training career in 1991, is enjoying a spectacular Spring Meet. He has a 5-2-3 record with 11 starters for an in-the-money rate of 91 percent. Of those 1,000 career victories, Stall has notched 132 at Churchill Downs. The most prominent of those were his 1998 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) with B. Wayne Hughes' Joyeux Danseur and last fall's Clark score by Blame.
HALL OF FAMER ROMERO REMEMBERS BANNER DAYS AT CHURCHILL DOWNS - Randy Romero, whose enshrinement in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame was announced on Friday, never won the Kentucky Derby in nine tries.
But the 52-year-old Romero has an equalizer for never winning the roses at Churchill Downs: Personal Ensign.
"That was the tops," Romero said of Personal Ensign's last-gasp, nose victory over Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff (GI) at Churchill Downs. "She makes up for not winning the Derby. If I died tomorrow, I accomplished everything I wanted and I rode an undefeated horse."
Personal Ensign concluded a 13-for-13 career that afternoon and gave Romero his second of three Breeders' Cup victories. Romero's selection Friday enables him to join Personal Ensign and the filly's trainer, Shug McGaughey, in the Hall of Fame.
A native of Erath, La., Romero first rode at Churchill Downs in the 1980 Spring Meet when he was 22.
"All jockeys in the sport dream of riding in the Kentucky Derby and at Churchill Downs," Romero said. "I had a lot of great moments there. I won six there one day (on May 8, 1985 on eight mounts) and I won the Derby Trial (in 1985) on Crème Fraiche and he went on to win the Belmont."
Romero had 175 victories beneath the Twin Spires, including 12 stakes. His first stakes victory was aboard El Baba in the 1981 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and his last one came aboard Homing Pigeon in the 1995 River City Handicap (GIII). Romero last rode here during the 1999 Spring Meet.
Romero was one of four Hall of Fame selections Friday for the Class of 2010. The other three also had Churchill Downs connections: Best Pal (second in the 1991 Kentucky Derby), Point Given (fifth in the 2001 Kentucky Derby) and 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri (second in the 2004 Humana Distaff).
"What a great honor," Romero said. "It proves dreams do come true."
EQUINE SPA NOT JUST FOR HORSES - Business continues to be brisk at the equine coldwater hydrotherapy spa behind Barn 45 on the Churchill Downs backstretch. And it is not just the horses lining up.
On Saturday morning, as part of her rehab from a horrific spill last October at Keeneland, jockey Julia Brimo emerged from a 12-minute session.
"It is not your regular spa," Brimo said with a laugh. "I have been doing this twice a week. I'll try everything."
Brimo's recovery, that required a plate and four screws to fuse the fourth and fifth vertebrae, has been nothing short of phenomenal.
"This has a lot of the same benefits for humans as well as horses," said John Christensen of Honor Roll Racing, which operates the spa. "One of the main things is it takes the swelling out of the legs."
The spa uses a combination of circulated ice water, dissolved salts, massage and oxygen with treatments running from 10-16 minutes.
"We are averaging 12-20 horses a day and last summer here by the end of the meet we were at 20 a day," Christensen said. "In November, when it got colder, we averaged 10 a day."
Honor Roll Racing has two spas. The one in use at Churchill Downs was used at Fair Grounds over the winter. The other spa is at Arlington Park via Turf Paradise.
"I have had the one at Arlington for only 10 days," Christensen said. "I haven't had a chance to hit the barns there, but we are averaging 12-14 horses a day mainly from people that are nearby and can see the spa."
Christensen said interest in the spa is spreading beyond the racetrack.
"There is a research group in Iowa that has expressed interest in it and three or four farms have inquired about one on their farm," Christensen said.
Average cost per week for spa usage is $25-$50. Horsemen interested in using the spa can call 502-682-7536 for appointments or call Christensen at 502-640-3872.
BARN TALK - Trainer Dale Romans picked up his 497th and 498th victories at Churchill Downs on Friday when Just Louise ($8) won the third race and Lubango ($11.60) took the 11th. Romans has two runners entered here Saturday: Dream Only of Me in the second and Lifelong in the seventh. ...
Calvin Borel, seeking to become the second rider to reach 1,000 victories at Churchill Downs, is named on nine mounts Saturday. Borel has 995 Churchill Downs victories, second only to Hall of Famer Pat Day (2,482). ...
Owner-trainer Tom McCarthy said he plans to work Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) winner General Quarters on Wednesday in preparation for the June 12 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI).
WORK TAB - Dogwood Stable's Lou Brissie, winner of the Kentucky Juvenile (GIII), worked a half-mile before the break in "sloppy" conditions in :48.40. Winmore LLC and Robert and Lawana Low's Cool Bullet, runner-up in the Matt Winn, worked a half-mile in "muddy" conditions in :47.80.
CULVER TAKES WEEK 2 OF WHO'S THE CHAMP - Travis Culver of Louisville took the second week of the popular handicapping contest "Who's the Champ" last Sunday. Culver earned a spot in the 2011 Horseplayer World Series in Las Vegas and $1,500. "Who's the Champ" returns Sunday. Handicappers can sign up starting at 11:30 a.m. in the Champions Club Lounge until 1:30 p.m. Contestants will start the tournament with a $24 imaginary bankroll and can only wager exactly $2 to win and $2 to place on six specific races from Churchill Downs. Entry into the "Who's the Champ" is $30 ($25 for Twin Spires Club Members) and is limited to 400 entries with a limit of three entries per person.
JUNIOR JOCKEY CLUB IN FULL SWING DURING SPRING MEET - Junior Jockey Club is back during the Spring Meet most Saturdays and Sundays. Children age 3-10 can look forward to a fun-filled schedule that includes crafts, art projects, games, tours and special guests. Churchill Charlie will also visit to take pictures and hang out with the kids. This weekend kids will be able to make their own horse fan and on Memorial Day kids will get the chance to create a horse sculpture. Parents must accompany their children in the "Kids Zone" located near the guest services booth inside admission Gate 10.