Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Departing looks to add another stakes victory to his résumé in Saturday’s third running of the $175,000 Lukas Classic (formerly known as the Homecoming Classic), a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up at Churchill Downs.
The 5-year-old homebred son of War Front is the winner of five stakes races, including four graded stakes events: the Texas Heritage Stakes, Illinois Derby (GIII), West Virginia Derby (GII) and Super Derby (GII) at age 3 and the Firecracker (GII) on turf at Churchill Downs this summer.
Trainer Al Stall Jr. believes that the Lukas Classic is the right spot for Departing to capture yet another stakes race.
“We’re just trying to find a spot for him where he can be the most competitive,” Stall said. “The Firecracker turned out to be not that strong of a race so that’s why we tried the heavy hitters up in New York and then we came back here and ran at Kentucky Downs. It looks like [eventual winner] Tourist looks like a serious Breeders’ Cup Mile contender.”
Following his Firecracker victory, Departing made two starts, both off-the-board efforts in the A.G. Vanderbilt (GI) at Saratoga and the More Than Ready at Kentucky Downs where he finished seventh and fourth, respectively. Stall admits that these may not have been the best races for his horse.
“We’ve been kind of making some of the wrong moves with him this year,” Stall said. “We’ve been zigging and we should be zagging so we just wanted to run here at our home track, and there aren’t any turf races here so this made the most sense. He’s a consistent horse on a daily basis, so we’re fine there. He’s coming into the race just fine.”
Departing was second in last year’s Lukas Classic behind Jake Ballis and Rashard Lewis’s Cigar Street. Brian Hernandez Jr. takes over the riding duties from Robby Albarado, who will pilot Geothermal.
ULANBATOR SEEKS SECOND STRAIGHT STAKES WIN IN LUKAS CLASSIC – Mary Ann Charlston’s Ulanbator, who scored his first stakes victory last time out in the Michael G. Schaefer Mile on July 18 at Indiana Downs, will attempt to land his second straight stakes win in Saturday’s $175,000 Lukas Classic.
A winner in three of seven starts this year, trainer Ian Wilkes believes he has the 4-year-old colt ready for a return to competition after a 70-day break.
“He’s doing real well,” Wilkes said. “We gave him a little break because he had been going all year. I would have run him earlier but there was no good spot for him to run so we’ve kind of had to train him up to this race.”
A start in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Keeneland on Oct 31 would be out of the question, according to Wilkes, even if the horse does win on Saturday.
“At the moment he’s a good Grade III horse,” he said. “He’s a nice honest horse and he’s getting better, but for right now I don’t think he belongs with American Pharoah or Beholder or any of those guys. He isn’t up for that right now.”
Jockey Julien Leparoux, who guided Ulanbator to a victory last time out, has the mount for Saturday’s race.
The Lukas Classic field from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Hesinfront (Corey Lanerie, 15-1), Abraham (Joe Rocco Jr., 12-1), Ulanbator (Julien Leparoux, 7-2), Departing (Brian Hernandez Jr., 7-2), Irish You Well (Channing Hill, 5-1), Mylute (Florent Geroux, 2-1), Smack Smack (Shane Laviolette, 10-1) and Geothermal (Robby Albarado, 8-1).
HIGH NOON RIDER INVADES FROM NEW YORK TO TACKLE JEFFERSON CUP – R.A. Hill Stable’s High Noon Rider is headed to Churchill Downs from New York with hopes of finding his first graded stakes victory in Saturday’s $100,000 Jefferson Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds at one mile on Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course.
Rated a 4-1 co-second choice on odds maker Mike Battaglia’s morning line, the homebred son of Distorted Humor comes into the race off of a wire-to-wire victory in the Better Talk Now at Saratoga for trainer George Weaver, who is looking to keep his horse up against fellow 3-year-olds.
“This was the logical next step for him,” Weaver said. “During this time of the year we have to take advantage of the races restricted for 3-year-olds while we can. We’re getting to the tail end of the year where we’ll have to start trying older horses. This race just fit him the best.”
Weaver also chose the Jefferson Cup because he believes his horse excels at the one-mile distance where he has won two of four starts.
“I think he’s better at a mile than a mile-and-an-eighth,” said Weaver, a native of Louisville. “There was a race for 3-year-olds at Belmont (the Hill Prince) and one at Laurel (the Commonwealth Derby) that we could have gone to but I really want to keep him at the mile distance. The Jefferson Cup was the most logical spot.”
Generally not a front runner, High Noon Rider set the pace last time out winning the Better Talk Now in gate-to-wire fashion. According to the trainer, one can expect him to be up close to the pace in Saturday’s race as well.
“Last time out, we were the longest shot on the board so we figured we had nothing to lose,” Weaver said. “A lot of what we do in here depends on the dynamics of the race but we’ll try to have him in a good and forwardly placed position.”
Weaver will be in town to saddle High Noon Rider in Saturday’s race. Leading rider Corey Lanerie has the mount.
FLASHY CHELSEY SEEKS TO GIVE VETERAN TRAINER O’CONNOR FIRST GRADED STAKES WIN – Bruce McCrea’s Flashy Chelsey will attempt to give long-time Churchill-based trainer Rob O’Connor II his first graded stakes victory when the 3-year-old goes to post in Saturday’s Jefferson Cup.
“This horse has been underrated his whole life,” O’Connor said. “If they put enough speed in there, then he’s a good horse … people just don’t know it yet.”
The homebred son of Flashy Bull has never finished off the board in his last seven starts, all of which have been on the turf.
“What he did at Kentucky Downs coming off the layoff and that race was predominately speed that day,” O’Connor said. “That race was a one-turn sprint mile which is not his forte, and he did what he had to do to win that day because he was the best horse. As mediocre as that race may seem to some, it was impressive because I know my horse.”
McCrea and O’Connor claimed Flashy Chelsey for $30,000 at last year’s September Meet following a victory in a maiden claiming event at Churchill Downsbased off of the horse’s family history. O’Connor trained both the dam What’d I Say and the granddam Musical Miss.
“I know the horse’s family really well and it seems to have worked out well from there,” O’Connor said. “Prior to the time that I had claimed him he looked like a predominately speed horse. But as we gave him the time off and he grew, we figured out that’s not what we wanted to do. So when we started bringing him off the pace and saw his true ability, he was doing things that were impressive to me. When the rider would back off of him and when he would get it together he would start running. I was telling my clients that he was doing things that people aren’t seeing and that he’s a better horse.
“Everybody thinks that he’s just a turf horse and he might be. I’m not changing anything yet because it’s not broke, but when it comes down to it, if there’s mud and the purse is up there, he’s running because I’m not so sure he’s strictly a turf horse. A mile isn’t his ideal distance either; I think he can run at a mile-and-a-half.”
O’Connor’s ultimate goal with Flashy Chelsey would be to run at Gulfstream Park in the Claiming Crown at the end of the year.
Francisco Torres, the pilot in his last four starts, returns to the saddle for the Jefferson Cup. Torres entered Friday’s action needing five victories to reach the 3,000 career-win milestone.
The Jefferson Cup field from rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Nun the Less (Florent Geroux, 7-2), Sylven Park (Sophie Doyle, 12-1), Cat Humor (Brian Hernandez Jr., 10-1), High Noon Rider (Corey Lanerie, 4-1), Watchyourownbobber (Julien Leparoux, 8-1), Wayward Kitten (Rafael Hernandez, 15-1), Syntax-IRE (Shaun Bridgmohan, 4-1), Pride of Stride (Robby Albarado, 12-1), Flashy Chelsey (Francisco Torres, 12-1), Wild and Unbridled (Erin Walker, 15-1) and Saham (Joe Rocco Jr., 8-1).
MIDNIGHT CELLO RETURNS TO DIRT FOR GRADE III ACK ACK – Patricia’s Hope LLC’s Midnight Cello will be returning to the Churchill Downs main track for Saturday’s $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) after making two starts on the synthetic Polytrack surface.
The son of Midnight Lute trained by Mike Tomlinson was last seen finishing second in the Presque Isle Downs Mile earlier this month behind Florida Won. Prior to that, he triumphed in the Hanshin Cup (GIII) at Arlington Park. Those were the 5-year-old’s only starts over synthetic surfaces.
“That was an experiment starting off and it turned out to be a successful one,” Tomlinson said. “He seems to love the synthetic track.
Tomlinson acquired 5-year-old Midnight Cello for Vince Foglia’s Patricia’s Hope LLC through a $100,000 claim at Gulfstream Park last December.
“He wasn’t quite right last year when we claimed him,” Tomlinson said. “He had been running credible races but he’s a much better horse now than he was back then. That was shortly after we had claimed him. He some issues that we worked on when we claimed him. He’s just blossomed and doing really well now. The horse had run some big numbers in Florida and ran some races against good horses. I’m not going to say that we improved him, but I do think we got him to the level he’s going to perform well on whatever surface that we put him on.”
Midnight Cello is cross-entered in the $50,000 Teleprompter at Arlington Park but will scratch from there to compete in the Ack Ack. Florent Geroux, the pilot in his two most recent outings, will be aboard for Saturday’s race.
The Ack Ack field from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Den’s Legacy (Calvin Borel, 10-1), Agent Di Nozzo (Joe Rocco Jr., 5-1), Midnight Cello (Florent Geroux, 3-1), Hat of Jacks (Francisco Torres, 30-1), Tapiture (Ricardo Santana Jr., 7-5), Viva Majorca (Julien Leparoux, 3-1) and Roman Unbridled (Jon Court, 30-1).
TEPIN, THE PIZZA MAN, WORK ALL WEEK PUT IN FINAL BREEZES BEFORE KEENELAND STAKES – Midwest Thoroughbreds’ The Pizza Man and champion sprinter Work All Week put in their final breezes Friday morning in preparation for next weekend’s stakes engagements on opening weekend at Keeneland.
The Pizza Man and Work All Week breezed four furlongs separately in :49.80 and :47.40, respectively. The former will go in the $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile (GI) on Oct. 3, while the latter will run in the $400,000 Phoenix (GIII) on Oct. 2. Regular jockey Florent Geroux was aboard both horses for their breezes.
“They both worked very well so we’re real pleased with it,” Geroux said. “It’s nice to ride better stuff. Good horses make you look that much better.”
Richard Papiese, owner of Midwest Thoroughbreds, was at Churchill Downs on Friday morning to watch both of his horses work and liked what he saw.
“They’re going into their races well – they’re ready,” Papiese said. “There will be some good competition, but they’re definitely ready. Our horses are well taken care of as one can see and they tell us when they’re ready. I hope this continues on. They’ve given no indication as to why it won’t.”
Papiese discussed the success that both horses have achieved and how he had high hopes for both of them from the beginning.
“I thought they would both be high level horses but I didn’t know what their ceiling would be,” Papiese said. “They both answer the call each time. Work All Week got plenty of time off after the Breeders’ Cup and they got a bunch of time last year. The whole idea is to have a good horse this time of the year when it really matters. I know it seems unconventional, but we’re just thinking about the horses. Numbers don’t lie.”
Also on the Churchill Downs work tab Friday was Robert E. Masterson’s Tepin, who breezed a half-mile in :49.40 with Julien Leparoux up. Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark, says the daughter of Bernstein remains on track for the $400,000 First Lady (GI) on Oct. 3 at Keeneland. Should she win said race, Casse would likely start her in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) against males.
“We would seriously consider running in the Breeders’ Cup Mile if she wins,” Casse said. “We don’t think she wants to go that far so the Filly & Mare Turf is out. That is a race that can be won by a filly so it’s not like it’s out of the realm of possibility. That’s kind of the goal. We’ll see how she runs this weekend before we make any big decisions.”
Coming off of two second-place efforts on grass in the 1 1/8-mile Diana (GI) and 1 1/16-mile Ballston Spa (GII) at Saratoga, Casse is looking forward to shortening back up to one mile.
“Speed doesn’t seem to do well [at Saratoga] and then you couple that with the fact that she really is a genuine miler, so we’re running her a mile-and-an-eighth, mile-and-a-sixteenth. It was kind of a perfect storm for her to get beat. It’s great to be going back to what she does best.”
LUKAS ‘DOING BETTER’ ACCORDING TO ASSISTANT TRAINER – Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas continues to show improvement after being hospitalized on Saturday morning due to a low heart rate, according to assistant trainer Sebastian “Bas” Nicholl.
“He’s doing well right now, hopefully they release him soon,” Nicholls said. “I spoke to him a few times this week and he seems to be doing better. He’d like to try and drive back here on Saturday. They’re going to try and leave there on Saturday morning, that’s what he hopes for but that’s not guaranteed.
Nicholl believes that “The Coach” will be “ready for some action” upon returning to Louisville.
“We’ll see how he feels,” Nicholls said. “I’m sure he’s going to want to take it easy for a few days but I can expect he’ll be back soon enough.”
‘INSIDE CHURCHILL DOWNS’ TO AIR SATURDAY AT 11 A.M. ON 93.9 THE VILLE – “Inside Churchill Downs,” the horse racing radio show co-hosted by Churchill Downs Racetrack’s John Asher and Darren Rogers, will air Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon on 93.9 The Ville.