The Grade III Kentucky Stakes for two-year-olds has been the exclusive property of trainer Steve Asmussen for the past five years.
On Thursday, Heiligbrodt Racing Stable’s Merkel will attempt to run the string to six when he faces seven foes in the $150,000, five-furlong race. A son of Forest Wildcat, Merkel will break from the rail under Shaun Bridgmohan.
Asmussen scored in this race with Posse (2002), Cuvee (2003), Lunarpal (2004), Datrick (2006) and Rated Fiesty (2007) with all but Cuvee being owned by Heiligbrodt.
Merkel scored on opening day at Keeneland at 4 ½ furlongs and is one of five undefeated runners in the Kentucky. Included in the field are two fillies, Twin Creeks Racing Stable’s Garden District, trained by Todd Pletcher, and Mike Schmeling, Riley McDonald, Mike Bradley and Wesley Ward’s Mine All Mine, who ran 1-3, respectively in their debuts April 10 at Keeneland.
Another intriguing entrant is Frank Henson’s Essenceofthemoon, a stablemate of Kentucky Oaks hopeful Bsharpsonata. Trained by Tim Salzman, Essenceofthemoon won his debut by 8 ¼ lengths as the 2-5 favorite on April 12 at Laurel under Eric Camacho, who will ride Thursday.
The field for the Kentucky, from the rail out is as follows: Merkel (Shaun Bridgmohan, 120 pounds); Mine All Mine (Jesus Castanon, 115), Garden District (John Velazquez, 117), Schroeder Farm’s Dream of Kaylee (Kent Desormeaux, 118), Ronald Kirk, John Bates and Michael Riordan’s Run Away and Hide (Robby Albarado, 120), Wesley Ward’s Dicey Riley (Garrett Gomez, 120) and Jeff and Shawn Staddard’s Final Judgement (Inosencio Diego, 118).
Also on Thursday, Roger Smith’s Smitty’s Sunshine returns to defend her title in the $100,000 Mamzelle, a five-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares three-years-old and up.
Trained by Morris Nicks, Smitty’s Sunshine won the 2007 Mamzelle by 2 ¼ lengths as the 4-5 favorite. The five-year-old mare has compiled a career record of 17-9-1-3 with earnings of $500,865 and has won two of three starts over the Churchill Downs turf.
Robby Albarado, who rode Smitty’s Sunshine to the 2007 Mamzelle win, will ride Thursday.
The field for the Mamzelle, from the hedge out, is as follows: Robert Dewitt’s Taletobetold (Julien Leparoux, 118 pounds), Daniel Lynch and Merrill Scherer’s Kindling (Edgar Prado, 118), Rick Leesley’s Miss Greenley (Corey Lanerie, 118), Bill Hayes’ Trisha’s Silver (Calvin Borel, 118), Smitty’s Sunshine (Robby Albarado, 118), Richland Hills’ Cat On a Cloud (Kent Desormeaux, 118), Talley Racing’s Initforthekandy (Shaun Bridgmohan, 118) and Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Just for Keeps (Garrett Gomez, 118).