Reigning Champion Male Sprinter Runhappy breezed six furlongs from the starting gate in 1:14.40 under jockey Edgar Prado on Thursday morning at Churchill Downs in preparation for his much-anticipated 4-year-old debut in the $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap (Grade III) on Oct. 1.
Owned by James McIngvale, the homebred son of Super Saver broke from the starting gate at the quarter pole and finished at the half-mile pole on the backstretch. Churchill Downs clockers caught Runhappy in fractions of :26, :37.80, :48.40 and 1:01.80.
“I was happy with him,” said trainer Laura Wohlers. “He broke fairly well but then he ducked in. (The gate) was in kind of a weird place and I think that may have cost him a couple of seconds but I think that he was just nice and relaxed and that was key. I think that he galloped out really well and looked strong around the turn.”
“He went well,” Prado said. “There was a big gap between the gate and the rail. The main thing was to get him to finish strong. He’s going a mile for the first time and we know that he’s fast and we want to use what’s there. We were trying to get him to relax and slowly pick them up. Today the gallop out was real good.”
Wohlers said Runhappy could work once more at Keeneland before the Ack Ack, which is being used as a springboard to the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 4.
“I’ll take a look at what we got on the work, probably Keeneland,” Wohlers said. “The turns are so tight at the (Thoroughbred) Training Center. We’re so close to Keeneland and they let us go over there whenever we want so we’ll take a look at the gallop out today once we get the numbers off our heart rate pad.”
Runhappy (8-7-0-0—$1,481,300) put together an eye-opening campaign as a 3-year-old winning seven of eight starts, which included victories in Saratoga’s King’s Bishop (GI), Keeneland’s Phoenix (GIII), the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) at Keeneland and Santa Anita’s Malibu (GI).
Following his Eclipse Award-winning campaign, Runhappy received rest and relaxation at a farm near Austin, Texas with eyes set on a 2016 debut in May’s Metropolitan Handicap (GI) at Belmont Park. Those plans were scrapped when he developed a bone bruise on his front right cannon bone which forced him on the shelf for 60 days.
“When we went to Austin, the surface there was a little harder there than a normal racetrack,” Wohlers said. “I think that surface was so much harder than what he was used to that he ended up getting bruised cannon bones. He had a bruised foot so we kind of thought that was it. But he didn’t go real good once it healed so we decided to give him a bone scan. Bone bruising is normal in racehorses in general so we have to give him time and we don’t do drugs or inject joints so we got to give him plenty of time. I think he enjoyed his time off. We let him grow up a little bit, and he’s bigger and stronger this year.”
BLING ON THE MUSIC LOOKS TO GIVE CALDWELL MORE GRADED STAKES GLORY – Last Saturday, J.R. Caldwell scored the first graded stakes win of his career when Texas Chrome won the Super Derby (Grade III) at Louisiana Downs. The trainer will get another chance for a top level triumph when he saddles Bling On the Music in Saturday’s $200,000 Pocahontas (GII).
The 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-old fillies serves as the first qualifying race on the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” and is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” challenge race for the $2 million 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 5.
Undefeated in three career starts, the Texas-bred daughter of Too Much Bling won her last start, the $100,000 Gold Rush Futurity at Arapahoe Park, by an eye-popping 13 lengths. Prior to that, she broke her maiden at Lone Star Park before romping home to an 8 ½-legnth victory in the $93,903 Texas Thoroughbred Futurity.
“She does everything with ease,” Caldwell said. “She’s handled everything unbelievably and we’ve got to take that next step up. As a 2-year-old she was a sale topper at the Texas Stallion sale and we thought that she was going to be great from the get go.”
Bling On the Music will be stretching out in distance for the first time. Her last start in the six-furlong Gold Rush Futurity was the longest that she has gone so far.
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Caldwell said. “With her running style she just does everything so easily. When we call on her, she shows up every time. She runs strong and gallops out strong.”
The Pocahontas field from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Bling On the Music (Luis Quinonez, 3-1), Dream Dancing (Florent Geroux, 5-2), I’mluckysgirl (Euclyn Prentice Jr., 15-1), Jet Away Sue (Francisco Torres, 15-1), Jordan’s Henny (Joe Rocco Jr., 30-1), Someday Soon (Luis Saez, 30-1), One Thirty One (David Flores, 30-1), Ever So Clever (Ricardo Santana Jr., 4-1), Daddys Lil Darling (Corey Lanerie, 9-2) and Sully’s Dream (Robby Albarado, 6-1).
SPELLING AGAIN GOES FOR BACK-TO-BACK WINS IN OPEN MIND – Seajay Racing LLC’s Spelling Again will seek back-to-back victories in the $100,000 Open Mind Stakes, the six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares which is the third of four stakes races on Saturday’s 11-race program at Churchill Downs.
The Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Awesome Again is no stranger to success at her Churchill Downs base as she scored one of two graded stakes wins on her résumé over the surface. Last November, Spelling Again triumphed in the Chilukki (GII) by 4 ½ lengths over graded stakes winners Ahh Chocolate and Gold Medal Dancer. Two starts ago on July 2 at Gulfstream Park, she won the Princess Rooney (GII) by a neck over Cali Star.
An attempt at a third graded stakes victory in Monday’s $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters (GII) was possible for Spelling Again, but trainer Brad Cox opted to run her over a surface where she is more familiar.
“We looked at that race but I think we’ll stay home on the surface here,” Cox said. “Obviously she loves this racetrack. She’s only a half-length from being undefeated on it. Her only defeat was in the (May 28) Winning Colors (GIII). I think three-quarters might be a tick short but I think when she gets out of the gate and into the game, she’ll be tough.”
Cox touched on future plans for Spelling Again which could include a start in Keeneland’s $250,000 Thoroughbred Club of America (GII) on Oct. 8 and the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI) on Nov. 5 at Santa Anita. She has already earned a spot in the starting gate for the Breeders’ Cup after she won the Princess Rooney at Gulfstream Park.
“We’ll possibly target those spots,” Cox said “She’s already won the ‘Win and You’re In’ at Gulfstream so she’s got a free spot in the Breeders’ Cup if we decide to run her. We talked to the owners and decided that we’ll let her tell us and depending on what her form looks like we might try the race at Keeneland. If she runs well we may put her on the plane and go out there (to Santa Anita) and if not, we always have the (Grade II, $200,000) Chilluki (on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs) as a backup.”
The Open Mind field from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Spelling Again (Luis Saez, 2-1), Mayla (Miguel Mena, 6-1), Athena (Brian Hernandez Jr., 8-1), Kathballu (Corey Lanerie, 5-1), Unbridledexplosion (Florent Geroux, 10-1), Ramona’s Wildcat (Ricardo Santana Jr., 10-1), Puntsville (Victor Santiago, 12-1), Fioretti (Sophie Doyle, 8-1) and I’m a Looker (Robby Albarado, 5-1).
INNOVATIVE IDEA SKIPS BREEDING SHED, TRIES LOCUST GROVE FOR THIRD STRAIGHT WIN – Godolphin Racing LLC’s Innovative Idea was originally supposed to retire and head to the breeding shed earlier this year. Those plans were scrapped and the 4-year-old filly is now in pursuit of her third consecutive stakes win when she faces five other fillies and mares in Saturday’s $100,000 Locust Grove (GIII).
“She was doing real well,” said trainer Eoin Harty. “At the time she had recently won at Tampa Bay Downs (on March 30) and she was in the best form of her life. She was extra sound.”
The homebred daughter of Bernardini enters the Locust Grove off a pair of wins in Prairie Meadows’ Iowa Distaff on July 1 and Ellis Park’s Groupie Doll (GIII) on Aug. 6 where she finished ahead of Emmajestic and Ahh Chocolate.
"I was hoping for a big race out of her,” Harty said. “She ran great up at Iowa, wasn’t missing a step and seemed to be training and eating well so when she won at Ellis I wasn’t surprised at all. I think that back-to-back graded stakes wins would just enhance the value of her as a broodmare and her offspring. It would also be very rewarding for me as a trainer.”
Corey Lanerie, who won the Locust Grove aboard Flashy American in 2013, has the mount.
The Locust Grove field from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Ahh Chocolate (Brian Hernandez Jr., 8-5), Romantic Vision (Channing Hill, 15-1), Miss Pink Diva (Shaun Bridgmohan, 15-1), Sweetgrass (Chris Landeros, 5-2), Engaginglee (Luis Saez, 4-1) and Innovative Idea (Corey Lanerie, 5-2).
FULL SISTER TO OAKS WINNER UNTAPABLE MAKES CAREER DEBUT ON FRIDAY – Winchell Thoroughbreds’ 2014 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Untapable was retired earlier this summer, but her full sister Untapped will make her career debut in Friday’s fifth race at Churchill Downs for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who acknowledges that she has some tough shoes to fill.
“She’s a nice filly and we’ve got some nice expectations for her,” Asmussen said. “But I think we’d be dreaming that she’d be quite as good as Untapable. There are quite a few dreamers in this game though.”
Untapable showed great improvement from age two to three and Asmussen believes that Untapped could develop in a similar manner.
“I’m anxious for her first start and I know that Untapable definitely got better with time and was significantly a better horse at three than she was at two so we expect this filly to show something but we are definitely counting on her to get better. There are different circumstances for every horse so you just have to concentrate on the things that you can control and not the things you can’t, like who they’re in with and how they will run.”
Jockey Florent Geroux has the mount Friday.
OPENING DAY IS FRIDAY – Racing on the Kentucky circuit shifts to Churchill Downs on Friday with a 10-race program at 12:45 p.m. (all times Eastern) as the famed Louisville racetrack opens its fourth September Meet for an action-packed 11-date run through Sunday, Oct. 2.Inaugurated in 2013 by request from Kentucky horsemen, the three-week September Meet provides area horse owners, trainers and jockeys a viable racing option to compete for ample prize money mainly on dirt during an important time on the racing calendar in advance of the popular Keeneland and Churchill Downs fall meets.
A total of 105 horses and 14 also-eligible entries were drawn Tuesday for Friday’s opener, which is an 11.7% increase from the 94 entries on opening day a year ago and up 36.4% compared to the 77 entered in 2014.
Friday’s featured eighth race at 4:18 p.m. is a $47,000 allowance/optional claiming event ($62,500 claiming tag) over 1 1/16 miles that attracted an ultra-competitive field of 10 older horses that includes that includes $536,601-earner Abraham, the 6-year-old who is owned by Maggi Moss and trained by Chris Richard, who has saddled 11 winners in 30 starts (36.7%) in his career at the September Meet.
The 10-race kickoff card also includes another allowance, a $45,000 second-level seven-furlong race for fillies and mares, and two maiden special weights. A one-mile maiden race for 2-year-old fillies (Race 6 at 3:16 p.m.) lured 13 entries, including Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s homebred Untapped, an unraced full-sister to 2014 Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Untapable and a half-sister to Grade I-winner and 2010 Kentucky Derby third Paddy O’Prado.
Meanwhile, three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel, who unexpectedly announced his retirement in late March only to return to the saddle five months later on Aug. 27, will make his first appearance of the year at Churchill Downs. Borel will have two chances to collect his first comeback win in Races 5 (Flying Frank) and 9 (Makin’ Sense).
Horsemen can compete for $4.125 million in prize money offered in Director of Racing Ben Huffman’s 109-race September Meet condition book, which averages to $375,000 per day. Last year, $3,605,992 was paid to horsemen over 11 dates and 109 races for a daily average of $327,817.
The September Meet’s nine-race stakes schedule cumulatively worth $1,125,000 kicks off Saturday with a stakes quartet, including two important 1 1/16-mile fixtures for juveniles that could produce starters in next spring’s $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI). The $150,000 Iroquois Presented by TwinSpires.com (GIII) kicks off the 35-race “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1), while the $200,000 Pocahontas Presented by TwinSpires.com (GII) starts the 30-race “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” (Top 4 Points: 10-4-2-1). Also, both races are Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge events, which means the winners will receive automatic berths in the starting gate for their respective Breeders’ Cup races on Nov. 5 at Santa Anita.
Saturday’s stakes foursome is completed by a pair of stakes for fillies and mares, the $100,000 Locust Grove Presented by TwinSpires.com (GIII) over 1 1/16 miles and $100,000 Open Mind at six furlongs.
SATURDAY’S FIRST RACE MOVED TO 2:30 P.M.; LOUISVILLE/FLORIDA STATE ATTENDEES TO RECEIVE FREE ADMISSION – With a nationally-televised ACC showdown between the 10th-ranked University of Louisville football team and second-ranked Florida State at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Saturday at noon, Central Avenue is certain to be bustling with activity this weekend.
Friday’s 12:45 p.m. September Meet opener at Churchill Downs could draw plenty of out-of-town visitors, and track officials proactively moved back Saturday’s post time from 12:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. so fans could enjoy the best of both worlds and to help ease area traffic.
Those who attend the big game are invited to visit Churchill Downs afterward free of charge on Saturday simply by showing their ticket stub. Eleven races, including four stakes events, are scheduled Saturday and the last race is scheduled for 7:29 p.m.
ESPN’s College GameDay will visit Louisville for the first time for Saturday’s game, and there will be some elements from Churchill Downs fused into the broadcast.
SEPTEMBER MEET AT A GLANCE – Churchill Downs Racetrack opens the 2016 September Meet on Friday, Sept. 16 with a 10-race program that begins at 12:45 p.m. ET. This will mark the fourth consecutive year that the home of the Kentucky Derby has hosted a race meet in the month September. The boutique 11-day meet will be staged over three weekends through Sunday, Oct. 2 with racing on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Travis Stone will describe the racing action with Joe Kristufek serving as a paddock analysis. General admission is $3 ($1 for seniors age 60 and up) and $10 for Downs After Dark on Saturday, Sept. 24. Reserved box seats are $10 ($25 for Downs After Dark) and indoor dining options are $38 ($70 for Downs After Dark). Children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult (Downs After Dark policy: no one under the age of 18 will be admitted to the track unless they are accompanied by a parent or responsible adult). Free seating is available over a first-come, first-serve basis in Sections 115-117. Parking is free in the Longfield Avenue lot (Gates 10 & 12). Valet parking is $10.
DOWN THE STRETCH – Warrior’s Club, owned by the Churchill Downs Racing Club and trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, landed post 3 in a full field of 2-year-olds set for a six-furlong maiden special weight on Sunday. It goes as Race 8 at 4:18 p.m.