Clearview Stable LLC’s Ever So Clever, who broke her maiden first time out near the conclusion of Churchill’s Spring Meet, has returned to seek an even bigger victory over the Churchill Downs main track in Saturday’s $200,000 Pocahontas (GII).
The 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-old fillies is set for Saturday Sept. 17 at a distance of 1 1/16 miles and serves as the first qualifying race on the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks.” The Pocahontas is also a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In test for the 14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies (GI), which will be run on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Santa Anita.
The homebred daughter of Medaglia d’Oro won her six-furlong maiden special weight contest at Churchill Downs in runaway fashion, finishing 7 ¼ lengths in front of over eight other 2-year-old fillies.
“I think that Ever So Clever is a very top class filly,” said trainer Steve Asmussen, who will be targeting his third Pocahontas victory. “Obviously with us going in the Pocahontas, we have the comfort of knowing that she likes the racetrack. We expect for her to make a good performance on Saturday.”
While she romped in her career debut, the same could not be said regarding her following start where she was a well-beaten fifth in Saratoga’s Adirondack (GII) on Aug. 19 where she finished 11 ¾ lengths behind eventual winner Nonna Mela.
“It didn’t work out,” Asmussen said. “I’ve learned to not overreact to a good or a bad race at Saratoga. We obviously expected better but hopefully we can back on track on Saturday and I think she’s been waiting for the opportunity to run around two turns.”
JUST MOVE ON SWITCHES SURFACES FOR SATURDAY’S IROQUOIS – Trainer Pat Byrne likes the turf-to-dirt angle, which is one reason why he entered recent Arlington turf maiden victor Just Move On in Saturday’s $150,000 Iroquois (GIII), run for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles over the Churchill Downs main track.
The Iroquois is the first of 35 races in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying series for the 2017 “Run for the Roses.” The race is also a Breeders’ Cup Challenge: Win and You’re In test for the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) on Nov. 5 at Santa Anita.
Owned by Chuck and Maribeth Sandford LLC, the homebred son of Street Boss will make his third career start in the Iroquois. Just Move On was a close third in his debut in a 5 ½ furlong maiden special weight on Arlington’s turf course. Three weeks later, he stretched out to a two-turn mile on the grass on won by six lengths.
“The horse has a good mind on him and turf to dirt is huge,” Byrne said. The other part of it is that it wasn’t such a disaster training on the Polytrack at Arlington because I think horses coming off of Poly run good on dirt. I think this will set up really well, he’s a nice horse and I’m excited about him so we’ll see what happens.”
Another reason Byrne entered Just Move On in Saturday’s race was his training at Churchill Downs during the spring.
“He always trained well over here,” Byrne said. “The first time at Arlington he ran five-eighths sprinting and he ran good. He just got into some trouble, we probably should’ve won but we wanted to run him long and the only thing was the grass race at a mile. There was a ton of rain. I was impressed with his last eighth of a mile so this is the next logical step and if I’m wrong and he doesn’t like the dirt then we’ll run him back on the grass. I like the spot for him though, he’s trained great so far.”
Byrne went on to speak highly of another 2-year-old in his barn named Silent Decree. Despite still being a maiden in two starts, Byrne mentioned Churchill Downs’ $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) on Nov. 26 as a long term goal.
“Hopefully he’s my (Kentucky) Jockey Club horse, but he’s done nothing wrong,” Byrne said. “He’s still a maiden but he ran twice and did nothing wrong, got into some trouble ran third and second. The horse that beat me (Romeo O Romeo) is highly regarded and ran second in the (Arlington Washington) Futurity.”
FAMILIAR FOES FACE OFF ONCE MORE IN OPEN MIND - Mary K. Grum’s Athena and Glenmare Farm, LLC’s I’m a Looker have taken turns running one-two in their past two starts and will renew their rivalry in Saturday’s $100,000 Open Mind Stakes, a six-furlong event run on the Churchill Downs main track for fillies and mares 3-year-old and up.
At the end of Churchill’s Spring Meet, Athena came out on top in the June 25 Roxelana, defeating I’m a Looker by 1 ½ lengths. But the tables were turned when they faced off in Mountaineer’s West Virginia Secretary of State Stakes on Aug. 6, when I’m a Looker won by 3 ¾ lengths. Prior to this start, Patrick Dupuy and Helen Pitts-Blasi, the respective trainers of I’m a Looker and Athena, exchanged some playful trash talk.
“I told her (Pitts-Blasi) before we went to Mountaineer that it was a long way to go to run second,” Dupuy said with a laugh. “She said ‘That’s okay if I’m second to you,’. She (I’m A Looker) should have won here in the Roxelana, but that’s racing luck. I wasn’t worried.”
The 4-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes boasts a 7-2-3-0 record over the Churchill Downs main track with the biggest win of her career taking place over the Louisville oval on May 28 when she dead-heated with Diva Express in the Winning Colors (GIII).
“She shows up every time and she’s good right now,” Dupuy said. “She might jump up and beat a good horse one day. When you put up the $100,000 some good horses are going to show up and you’re going to have to run to get it, so all you can do is hope. If she gets a good clean trip I think that she’ll come right back.”
Meanwhile, Pitts-Blasi is happy to race her 4-year-old daughter of Street Sense out of her own stall over which a track she has shown an affinity. Athena has won 4 of her 8 career starts over the Churchill Downs main track.
“She likes it here and prefers it here but that was a nice filly that she was up against,” Pitts-Blasi said. “We did run second, but that’s okay. It’s a tough little spot and anything can happen here, but she’s doing well so we’ll keep duking it out the best we can.”
Pitts-Blasi is confident Athena will run better at home than she did in her run at Mountaineer Park.
“The track wasn’t favorable to her,” Pitts-Blasi said. “I think that she likes Churchill and that she likes the long stretch with the three-quarters giving a little more ground. I thought she put up a decent effort considering the track wasn’t very favorable to her at Mountaineer, but I certainly won’t take anything away from Pat’s filly.”
AHH CHOCOLATE LOOKS TO STEP UP IN LOCUST GROVE – Stoneway Farm’s Ahh Chocolate will bid for her second graded stakes victory of the year in Saturday’s 33rd running of Churchill Downs’ $100,000 Locust Grove (GIII), a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares three years old and up.
The 4-year-old daughter of Candy Ride won Pimlico’s Allaire DuPont Distaff (GIII) for trainer Neil Howard on May 20, but has not found the winner’s circle in two starts since that victory. Those outings include a disappointing fifth in the Fleur de Lis (GII) at Churchill Downs on June 18 and a third-place run in the Groupie Doll (GIII) at Ellis Park on Aug. 6, where she finished behind fellow Locust Grove entrants Innovative Idea and Emmajestic.
“You’re not going to win every time, at least I don’t see that they do,” Howard said. “Nothing is perfect, you never say that. But so far she’s trained very, very well and she does like the track and she’s doing great. I think she’s a very straightforward filly and has held her form, all her races have been good. Basically, she’s a very uncomplicated filly and I feel that she has trained nicely for this race.”
DOWN THE STRETCH – James McIngvale’s Champion Male Sprinter Runhappy is scheduled to log his first breeze over the Churchill Downs main track on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 8:30 a.m. following the regular track renovation break. The winner of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint is preparing for his anticipated 4-year-old debut, which is scheduled to take place in the one-mile, $100,000 Ack Ack (GIII) on Saturday, Oct. 1.