The eight horses entered in Saturday’s 28th running of the Iroquois (Grade III) for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs is a bit unusual in that none of the eight young starters in the one-mile race has won a stakes race.
One horse that came close to that goal in his most recent start – and hopes for a breakthrough win over his home track on Saturday is Joseph Rauch and David Bell’s Capt. Candyman Can. The gelded son of Candy Ride finished sixth, but was beaten only two-lengths, as the favorite in the one-mile Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII) over the synthetic Polytrack course at Arlington Park on Sept. 13.
Capt. Candyman Can, whose name was inspired by the lyrics of Sammy Davis Jr.’s 1970’s hit song “The Candy Man,” was favored in the Arlington race on the stretch of a dazzling debut at Saratoga. Wilkes’ gelding overcame traffic woes to win a 5 1/2-furlong maiden even by 7 ¼ lengths at odds of 18-1 on Aug. 13. He encountered traffic problems in deep stretch in the Futurity, but Wilkes cannot pinpoint a specific reason for that setback.
“I think it was a combination of a lot of things,” he said. “Whenever you get back, it’s easy to blame the track. I was coming off a maiden win at Saratoga, and he won impressively and I went straight to a stake – and it was a very competitive stake. And maybe I just didn’t come into the race right.”
But the Arlington-Washington Futurity gave Wilkes’ horse some valuable experience, and it should benefit the colt in his return in the Iroquois.
“It was a great experience and he only got beat a couple of lengths,” said Wilkes. “I think he got a lot out of it. This horse is a better horse now than he was going into that race. He’s a different horse – he’s put on a little weight. Physically and mentally he’s a lot better.”
Everything has gone smoothly for Capt. Candyman Can since that loss and Wilkes likes the timing between the Arlington race and Saturday’s contest. And, of course, he returns to a natural dirt surface.
“I’m glad to get back on the dirt with him,” said Wilkes. “With the way he ran on the dirt at Saratoga, I think it might suit him a little better. But I don’t want to make excuses and take anything away from the horses that beat us last time.”
Julien Leparoux had been aboard Capt. Candyman Can and gets the call in the Iroquois. The race is the co-feature on the first of two “Stars of Tomorrow” cards devoted to 2-year-olds. Leparoux swept last year’s stakes races when he won the Pocahontas (GIII) with Pure Clan and the Iroquois aboard Court Vision.
SIZZLING MAKER WINS THREE MORE, LEADS TRAINERS’ RACE – A huge year for trainer Mike Maker continues to improve as the mornings turn cool and the leaves turn.
Maker won three races on Thursday’s Churchill Downs’ racing program – his second “hat trick” in the first three days of racing in the 26-day Fall Meet. He leads Ken McPeek, who won four races on the meet’s opening day, by a margin of 7-5 in the very early stages of what is shaping up as a tough battle for “leading trainer” honors.
Early indications point to a repeat of the fall meet at Keeneland, which saw Maker edge McPeek by a single victory for his first training title at the Lexington track. He notched 21 wins in the Spring Meet at Churchill Downs to rank fourth behind leading trainer Tom Amoss.
With the prospect of good things still to come in the final two months of the year, it is clear that 2008 is already a breakthrough year for the 39-year-old son of Midwest training veteran George Maker and former assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
“Obviously it’s great and we’re thankful for it,” Maker said. “It was great to win the title at Keeneland. It meant a lot to me and the staff, and we obviously love to win in our hometown (at Churchill Downs), too. The condition book has fit us well and we’ve had the luck of the draw in not getting excluded from some of the races we’ve won, so things have fallen into place.”
Maker now has 85 horses in his care, with Ken and Sarah Ramsey providing most of those. He estimated that the Ramseys, who are back in their familiar spot as leading owners of the Fall Meet, own about 60 of those runners.
His hot start at Churchill Downs has vaulted Maker past the 100 mark in total victories on the year. Heading into Friday’s races, Maker had 103 wins from 364 starts with total earnings of $2,473,568. He has won with 29 percent of his starters and those horses have finished in the top three spots in 59 percent of their races.
The sizzling start on the meet has not been a surprise to Maker. He expected a big day on Sunday, when he won three races on the opening day card. But McPeek grabbed the spotlight on the day with four wins.
“Opening Day I thought I had a good chance to win four,” he said. “I really didn’t pay any attention to Kenny doing it. But it was funny that he won four and we won three.”
After the Churchill Downs meet concludes on Nov. 29, Maker plans to split his growing stable between Florida and Kentucky for the winter. He’ll return completely to Kentucky in the spring for the Keeneland and Churchill Downs meets, and try to build on his breakthrough success in the Bluegrass State in 2008.
LEPAROUX TAKES FOUR, MOVES TO TOP OF JOCKEY STANDINGS – Defending Fall Meet riding leader Julien Leparoux is off to a sizzling start in his defense of that title.
The 26-year-old Frenchman notched four wins on Thursday – three of them for leading trainer Mike Maker – to grab the top spot in the battle for “leading rider” of the 26-day Fall Meet. Leparoux doubled his victory total to eight.
Along with last fall’s riding title, Leparoux earned Spring Meet riding crowns at Churchill Downs in 2006 and 2007.
Jamie Theriot and Robby Albarado, the leading jockey of the 2008 Spring Meet, are tied for second with five victories. Miguel Mena is fourth with three wins.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey are off to a roaring start in their search for their seventh Fall Meet “leading owner” title. The Ramseys have a total of 12 leading owner titles since their first in the spring of 2000.
ALBARADO, WIGGINS, NEUMAN FEATURED AS “IN SEASON” RETURNS SATURDAY ON WAVE-3 – “In Season,” Churchill Downs’ weekly magazine-style television program hosted by John Asher, returns to the Louisville airwaves on NBC affiliate WAVE-3 this Saturday, Nov. 1. The half-program will air from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. every Saturday during the Fall Meet through Nov. 22.
Guests scheduled to appear on the first “In Season” show of the Fall Meet include jockey Robby Albarado, regular rider on “Horse of the Year” Curlin; trainer Hal Wiggins, who saddles two contenders in Saturday’s Pocahontas Stakes on “Stars of Tomorrow” Day at Churchill Downs; and Bobby Neuman, the Calder Race Course announcer who has served as guest announcer during the opening week of the meet.
NOMINATIONS DUE FOR CARDINAL ‘CAP – Nominations close on Saturday, Nov. 1 for the $100,000-added Cardinal Handicap (GIII) for fillies & mares ages 3 & up at 1 1/8 miles on turf. The Cardinal will be run on Saturday, Nov. 15. Information is available by calling Churchill Downs Racing at (502) 636-4470 or on the Web at www.churchilldowns.com.