Trainer Mark Casse’s son and assistant Norman Casse sent out a threesome of workers Friday morning at Churchill Downs in preparation for their starts in Thanksgiving weekend’s stakes races.
Stonestreet Stables’ Valadorna put in her first serious workout since a runner-up effort behind Champagne Room in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 5 and went a half-mile in :47.80 under regular rider Julien Leparoux. While the daughter of Curlin is on the list of probable starters for the $200,000 Golden Rod (Grade II) on Nov. 26, Casse stated that she is not definite to run.
“We’re still not 100 percent on whether or not we would run her back,” Casse said. “Julien (Leparoux) was happy with her after the work so we know that she breezed well (Friday) morning and she showed a good energy level, but we’ll just go day by day for now until we decide exactly what we’ll do with her.”
Should Casse opt to bypass the Golden Rod with Valadorna, he would still be represented by John C. Oxley’s Dream Dancing, who breezed a half-mile in :48 Friday and would be making her first start since a fifth-place finish in Keeneland’s Darley Alcibiades (GI) on Oct. 6.
“I just think she’s a talented horse,” Casse said. “When she came in and ran in the Pocahontas I think she really needed the race. It was her first start on the dirt and then she had a bad trip in the Alcibiades and she’s got to train up to this race and she’s worked really well at this race track.”
Casse also sent out Noble Bird, who went a half-mile in :47.80 in preparation for what Casse hopes is the son of Birdstone’s third straight stakes victory in the $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) on Nov. 25. He will enter the Clark off stakes victories in the Lukas Classic on Oct. 1 and the Fayette (GII) at Keeneland on Oct. 29, where he broke the Lexington oval’s track record for 1 1/8 miles and finished the race in 1:47.75.
“It was a typical work for Noble Bird,” Casse said. “I’m really excited about him running. I think that he has a big shot to win the Clark. I’m just really happy with the way he’s coming into the race. He’s obviously won two good races in a row. I’m feeling like between the barn and Julien we’ve figured him out a little bit better and he’s worked really well coming up to this race. We just stay out of his way and we pick spots where there isn’t a whole lot of speed. I think that Julien has been learning about him a little bit more now that he’s been on him a few more times. We know that he loves Churchill, we know that he’s training well, we know that he’s going to get an early lead so I think he’s got a big shot at winning another Grade I.”
Casse is hopeful that his contingent will give him something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend.
“We could be sitting on a pretty big weekend,” Casse said. “Overall I think that the morning went as good as it could have possibly gone.”
STEEPLECHASE TRAINER LOOKS FOR SUCCESS ON FLATS WITH COMPLETE ST. – Mid-Atlantic based trainer Lilith Boucher has found most of her success with steeplechasers, but she’ll go for her first graded stakes win over the flats when she runs Complete St. in Saturday’s $100,000 Cardinal Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Downs, a 1 1/8-mile event for fillies and mares over the Matt Winn Turf Course.
While the daughter of St. Averil appears to be a David among Goliaths in Saturday’s featured event, Boucher is hopeful that she has what it takes to run a big race. Complete St. enters Saturday’s race off of a pair of close seconds in restricted races over the Laurel Park turf course.
“We’re hopeful, but realistic. She could run fifth beaten three lengths and run the best race of her life,” Boucher said. “We’ve tried going long with her early on, but she’s a very intense filly who needs distance. My hope is that she shows a little something and that the owner lets us just keep going with her. I know that she’s 50-1, but we took her to Kentucky Downs in September and she ran a really good fourth. She really likes the distance, she’s really been in good form lately, she’s put up really good number and she’s just a good horse to ship around with.”
Complete St. is not the only horse that Boucher will have at Churchill Downs on Saturday. She also has Jump Ship for Saturday’s seventh race, a 1 3/8-mile turf allowance event.
“I’m kind of surprised that he’s 15-1,” Boucher said “He broke his maiden going 1 3/8 miles and we ran him back 10 days later at the same distance and he finished third to (Whitman’s Poetry) who ended up running third in the Laurel Turf Cup. My (13-year-old) daughter (Mell) actually rides that horse in shows during the winter time so he’s a show horse as well. When you see him in the paddock on a race day, you’d probably think ‘Wow I can’t believe some kid rides that horse.’”
While Boucher runs her two horses at Churchill on Saturday, she will not be in attendance. Instead, she will be at Camden in South Carolina where she has four horses running over the hurdles, two of which will be ridden by her husband Richard. Trainer Liam Benson will saddle both of Boucher’s runners.
"I really wish that I could be in two places at once,” Boucher said. “It would be really exciting for a small operation like ours. The mare is a homebred for (breeder Mignon Smith) who we’ve done business with for 25 years and to come to Churchill with a horse like this would be a huge privilege. She deserves a shot to try it out so it would be tremendously exciting.”
Jockey Joe Rocco, Jr. is named the rider on both Boucher-trained horses.
GEROUX GETS CHANCE TO SHINE IN HONG KONG’S INTERNATIONAL JOCKEY’S CHAMPIONSHIP – An opportunity to compete in the Longines International Jockey’s Championship at Hong Kong’s Happy Valley on Dec. 7 could be the icing on the cake for what has been jockey Florent Geroux’s most successful year to date.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity,” Geroux said. “I’m very thankful to be a part of the world’s best jockeys that will be competing in Hong Kong next month. To be named alongside them is a tremendous honor.”
Geroux, 30, has enjoyed a highly prosperous season with 29 graded stakes victories, nine of which are Grade Is. He has also accumulated over $16 million in earnings and currently is the fifth leading jockey in North American earnings this year.
“It’s an awesome thing to have been doing so well and have been so lucky this year,” Geroux said. “I’ve got some great opportunities of winning some of the bigger ones and a lot of Grade Is and so many trainers and owners who support us and have stuck by us all year. We try not to disappoint them when they give us a chance.”
Some of the other world-class riders that Geroux will be competing against include Great Britain’s champion jockey Ryan Moore, nine-time champion Irish rider Pat Smullen, and Japan’s Keita Tosaki who is looking at his third consecutive riding title in his home country. Geroux gave credit to his agent, Doug Bredar for helping contribute to his success.
“Since he took my book he’s really helped me do well these past few years,” Geroux said. “I’ve improved myself and he’s improved himself as well so it’s a great team effort. It’s not just about me or him, we’re working together and it’s worked out well.”
Bredar spoke volumes of how far Geroux has come.
“He’s come a long, long way since we’ve worked together; we’re going on about seven years now,” Bredar said. “I’ve seen an incredible development in his abilities and all of his style and everything. So it’s awesome. It’s very exciting to be a part of this.”
THANKSGIVING WEEKEND STAKES RACES BEGINGING TO TAKE SHAPE – The fields for Churchill Downs stakes races on Thanksgiving weekend are beginning to take shape. The following are possible starters according to Churchill Downs stakes coordinator Dan Bork:
- $200,000 Falls City Handicap (GII), a 1 1/8-mile event for fillies and mares on Thursday, Nov. 24: Alotta Skirt, Birdatthewire, Crooked Stick, Include Betty, No Fault Of Mine, Romantic Vision, Streamline, Sweetgrass, and Walkabout.
- $100,000 River City Handicap (GIII), a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up on Thursday, Nov. 24: Allied Air Raid, Are You Kidding Me, Behesht (FR), Bullards Alley, Coco Mon, Dac, Dubai Sky, Dujac, Granny’s Kitten, One Go All Go, Pleuven (FR), Taghleeb, Thatcher Street and The Pizza Man.
- $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), 1 1/8-mile event for 3-year-olds and up on Friday, Nov. 25: Bird Song, Breaking Lucky, Gun Runner, Hawaakom, Hoppertunity, Noble Bird, Prayer For Relief, Scuba and Shaman Ghost.
- $200,000 Mrs. Revere (GII), a 1 1/16-mile turf event for 3-year-old fillies on Friday, Nov. 25: Caren, Celestial Knight, Crooked Stick, Fitpitcher, Hawksmoor (IRE), Linda, Mo Knows, Mom’s On Strike, Nobody’s Fault, Quidura (GB), Strive and Sweet Tapper.
- $80,000-added Dream Supreme Overnight Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares on Friday, Nov. 25: Athena, Finley’sluckycharm, I’m a Looker, Moiety and Super Saks.
- $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), a 1 1/16-mile event for 2-year-olds on Saturday, Nov. 26: Han Sense, Just Move On, McCraken, Romeo O Romeo, Silent Decree, Warrior’s Club and Wild Shot.
- $200,000 Golden Rod (GII), a 1 1/16-mile event for 2-year-old fillies on Saturday, Nov. 26: Dream Dancing, Farrell, Fun, Funny Holiday, Lovely Bernadette, My Sweet Stella and Valadorna.