Tom Keithley’s Gunpowder Farm LLC doesn’t often have three runners on the same day, but Saturday will be an exception as a trio of horses – Nawlins Kitty in a first-level allowance race, Barahona in the $100,000 Jefferson Cup and Breaking Lucky in the $175,000 Lukas Classic – are set for action at Churchill Downs in the white and maroon Gunpowder silks.
“It just kind of worked out that we have three horses that could run at Churchill on Saturday,” said Gunpowder Farm’s racing manager Josh Stevens. “It’s cool to have two or three running on the same day but they’re usually pretty spread out. We’ll sometimes have one in Kentucky and one in Ontario or New York, but we don’t usually have three in the same spot like we will on Saturday. It would be just a notch under our cap. It’s great to have some of your best horses all running at the same place on the same day.”
Trained by Reade Baker, Breaking Lucky looks to add a third stakes victory to his résumé, which already includes wins in his native Canada in last year’s Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie and Woodbine’s Seagram Cup (Grade III) on Aug. 1. His most recent effort was a fourth-place finish in the Sept. 3 Woodward (GI) at Saratoga where he was beaten only a neck behind eventual winner Shaman Ghost at odds of 48-1.
“We thought that he would run huge that day but to say that he would run fourth beaten only a neck would have been a bit much,” Stevens said. “We’ve known all along that he’s talented. It’s just taken a bit to figure out what to do with him. We made the rider change to a more aggressive jockey (Luis Contreras) and tweaked his training a bit. So we went ahead and made those changes and now we have ourselves a serious dirt horse. Breaking Lucky ran real well for us in the Woodward so we figured that the Lukas Classic would be a good opportunity for us showcase his talent at Churchill. This is our chance to replicate (the Woodward) and see what we really have and if he does well we’ll look at possibly targeting the (Grade I $500,000) Clark Handicap (Presented by Norton Healthcare on Nov. 25) in the fall.”
Coming fresh out of an eye-opening maiden victory over the Churchill grass on Sept. 16, Barahona will be stepping up in class in the Jefferson Cup for trainer William “Buff” Bradley when he takes on winners for the first time.
“‘Hona has a great pedigree, he’s out of an undefeated A.P. Indy mare (Vaulcluse),” Stevens said. “We sent him to New York where he broke his maiden up there but got disqualified. He ran against some horses that did big things; one horse (Life Imitates Art) was in there that ended up winning a Grade III. We tried him once on dirt and he ended up coming out of it with an injury so we gave him some time off. It takes a little bit of training to get him race ready. He’s a talented colt, but it’s just a matter of getting him ready and ‘Buff’ does a good job at that.”
Stevens is not concerned with spinning him back in two weeks for his stakes debut.
“I think we’ll be good,” Stevens said “We got him nice and fit and he’s a pretty heavy-bodied horse. (Jockey) Shaun (Bridgmohan) did a good job of gearing him down.”
Gunpowder Farms also owns Divisidero, the winner of this year’s Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) who also is trained by Bradley and found success at Churchill Downs as a 3-year-old winning the American Turf (GII).
“They’re pretty different horses,” Stevens said. “Divisidero is all business. When he gets on the track in the morning he’s a no nonsense kind of guy. He was elite from Day One. ‘Hona is a bit of a prankster. He plays around a lot and he’ll buck at you. From Day One we knew Divisidero would be a race horse. ‘Hona is special and he knows it. He’s just got that cocky nature.”
Earlier on the Saturday program, Nawlins Kitty will return to Churchill Downs for the first time since breaking her maiden in her June 11 debut, and will be looking for her first victory since that race. Her last effort was a well-beaten 10th in a Sept. 3 allowance race at Kentucky Downs.
“Nawlins Kitty came out of her race at Kentucky Downs well,” Stevens said. “We’re hoping for a big race out of her on Saturday since she obviously likes the surface. If all goes well we’d like to run her back in the (Grade III, $150,000) Valley View (on Oct. 21) at Keeneland.”
Gunpowder Farms is currently in a four-way tie for leading owner at Churchill Downs for the September Meet with Ken and Sarah Ramsey, West Point Thoroughbreds and Clifford J. Grum, all of which have two wins apiece.
"It would be great to be able to come out of Saturday as the leading owner,” Stevens said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have some good trainers that have been helping us out along the way, pointing us in the right direction and being honest with us in letting us know if we’re being a little too ambitious.”
MR. Z RETURNS AFTER 10-MONTH LAYOFF IN SATURDAY’S ACK ACK – Champion Sprinter Runhappy isn’t the only horse entering the $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap Presented by TwinSpires.com (Grade III) off of a long layoff. Calumet Farm’s Mr. Z comes into the one-mile event with more time off than the Eclipse Award winner having not made a start since last year’s Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) on Nov. 27, where he was a well-beaten eighth behind Effinex.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won the 1994 Ack Ack with Lost Pan, gave the 4-year-old son of Malibu Moon some extended time off after an aggressive 3-year-old campaign, which included three face-offs against Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
"We just gave him the time off and brought him back to the farm,” Lukas said. “We turned him out and wanted him to have a real good 4-year-old campaign. No surgeries or anything like that. He was clean.”
Lukas noted how tough it can be to come back after such a long layoff.
“It probably sets up for the other four because both of us are coming off layoffs,” Lukas said. “A race of that caliber that’s as tough as it is with this much competition is not going to be easy to come from a long layoff but he’s going to have to get it done. This is a good distance for him. I really like the distance.”
TOM’S READY OPTS TO STAY AT CHURCHILL FOR ACK ACK – Trainer Dallas Stewart was either going to ship graded stakes winner Tom’s Ready to Belmont Park for the $350,000 Kelso Handicap (Grade III) on Oct. 8 or run him out of his own stall for Saturday’s $100,000 Ack Ack Presented by TwinSpires.com (GIII). He’s opted for the latter.
“The horse has been working real well here,” Stewart said. “He’s focused up here and he’s ready to go. I know there’s a champion (Runhappy) in there we’ve got to beat, but we’ve got to beat everybody. I’m happy with the way he’s training here and how he’s doing. He’s focused up and ready to go.”
Stewart is not letting the presence of reigning Champion Sprinter Runhappy concern him.
“I’m just worried about my horse, not worried about anything else,” Stewart said. “We just got to be ready and if we outrun him, we outrun him. You can’t handicap everybody, because you’ll just end up handicapping yourself right out of the race.”
Tom’s Ready, who also finished 12th in this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) behind Nyquist, will be going for his second graded stakes victory. Two starts ago he won the Woody Stephens (GII) at Belmont Park on June 11.
The Ack Ack field (with jockey and morning line odds): Iron Fist (Robby Albarado; 4-1), The Truth Or Else (Ricardo Santana, Jr.; 10-1), Tom’s Ready (Brian Hernandez, Jr.; 8-1), Mr. Z (Calvin Borel; 12-1), Runhappy (Edgar Prado; 1-2), Schivarelli (Corey Lanerie; 8-1).
SURGICAL STRIKE RETURNS TO CHURCHILL IN SATURDAY’S JEFFERSON CUP – Beverly S. Anderson and Edward A. Seltz’s Surgical Strike, a close third in the American Turf (GII) behind Camelot Kitten on the Derby Day undercard, returns to Churchill Downs on Saturday to face nine other 3-year-olds in the $100,000 Jefferson Cup (Listed) at a 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
Following his run in the American Turf, the son of Red Giant scored his lone graded stakes victory in the Arlington Classic (GIII) on May 28. Trainer Ben Colebrook could have run the horse once more at Arlington Park in the American Derby (GIII), but instead took the horse to Belmont Park for the July 9 Belmont Derby Invitational (GI) where he was fifth beaten two lengths behind Deauville.
“We had confidence but the biggest thing was it was a Grade I and he was already a graded stakes winner,” Colebrook said by phone from his Keeneland base. “We were trying to get that Grade I placing and didn’t get beat that far for third. We probably could’ve won the American Derby but we wanted that Grade I placing and the opportunities to get that for 3-year-olds on the turf are so few and far between.”
Last time out, Surgical Strike was a troubled second behind Giant Run in the Centaur Stakes at Indiana Grand.
“I think we were a little unlucky,” Colebrook said. “We could’ve had a little cleaner trip. We got bumped by (third-place finisher) Zapperini. (Rider of Giant Run) Joe Bravo kind of came out a little bit turning for home. I think that (rider on Zapperini) Corey (Lanerie) thought the rail would open up but it was just a smart ride by Bravo. He looked like he was going to collar Giant Run and then he got a little clearer. I think it was just a smart for Bravo and unlucky for us. I don’t think it helped Zapperini either.”
The lack of pace in the Jefferson Cup is not much of a concern for Colebrook.
“He’s pretty versatile, he can adjust to the pace,” Colebrook said. “If the pace is slow he can be close like he was at Arlington. If it’s fast he could come from out of it like he did on Derby Day. It looked to be like 1 ¼ miles against Grade I horses things have to work out perfect for him. This distance is within his wheelhouse. I think Churchill suits him well. It’s a long stretch and they have tighter turns in comparison to Belmont or Arlington. The biggest thing is not to get him stopped which is what happened in Indiana. He didn’t get stopped with traffic trouble; he just got a little bumped. If he can stay in the clear that will be the biggest thing.”
James Graham, who rode Surgical Strike last time out, returns to the saddle.
The field for the Jefferson Cup (with jockey and morning line odds): Torrontes (Channing Hill, 10-1), Seeking the Soul (Miguel Mena,12-1), Surgical Strike (James Graham, 3-1), One Mean Man (Robby Albarado, 4-1), Bondurant (Brian Hernandez Jr., 10-1), Barahona (Shaun Bridgmohan, 5-1), Madtap (Ricardo Santana Jr., 8-1), Zapperini (Corey Lanerie,10-1), Conquest Daddyo (Luis Contreras, 6-1) and Keystoneforvictory (Julien Leparoux, 6-1).
SILENT DECREE STRETCHES OUT TO TWO TURNS FOR SATURDAY MAIDEN RACE – Trainer Pat Byrne has high hopes for still-maiden Silent Decree and believes that those hopes can be transformed into reality when he makes his two turn debut in Saturday’s sixth race at Churchill Downs, a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on the main track.
The 2-year-old son of Bodemeister was third last time out on Sept. 17, finishing a length behind Society Beau.
“He should’ve won the last race,” Byrne said. “Not that (jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr.) did anything wrong but he ran a little green which I think surprised the jock so it was unfortunate. But we’re getting him at two turns this time and we’ve been wanting to get him that long and it looks like a good race (Saturday). We’ll be spinning back in two weeks but I don’t think that will be much of an issue for him. He’s been doing well so we’re hoping for a stellar effort from him.”
On the same day Byrne ran 2-year-old Just Move On to a sixth-place finish in the Iroquois.
“His race wasn’t terrible,” Byrne said. “He was too far off of a slow pace. I don’t think he would have beaten (trainer) Dale (Romans’) horse (Not This Time), he lived up to the hype no doubt, but I think he gets beat three lengths for second if you take the winner out. I might try him on the dirt over at Keeneland. I don’t think that he is just a dirt horse but we can always get back on the grass. There’s an allowance later in the meet so that might be the way to go with him.”
Valdivia, who has ridden Silent Decree in all three of his starts, has the mount for Saturday’s race.
DOWN THE STRETCH – Friday’s Single 6 Jackpot carryover is $57,601 for the sequence that covers Races 5-10 starting at 2:45 p.m. … There are 10 major simulcast races from across the country with Breeders’ Cup implications on Saturday: the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (GI), $400,000 Beldame (GI), $350,000 Vosburgh (GI), $300,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap (GII) and $300,000 Pilgrim (GIII) from Belmont Park, and the $300,000 Awesome Again (GI), $300,000 Zenyatta (GI), $300,000 Rodeo Drive (GI), $300,000 FrontRunner (GI) and $300,000 Chandelier (GI) from Santa Anita. … The FrontRunner for 2-year-olds and Chandelier for 2-year-old fillies are Prep Season races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, respectively, which award points (10-4-2-1) to the Top 4 finishers in those races. … Saturday is the penultimate day of Churchill Downs’ 11-date September Meet. Closing day is Sunday. … Post time for Saturday and closing day Sunday is 12:45 p.m. … Saturday’s National Weather Service forecast for Louisville calls for cloudy skies with a high near 69 and a 50-percent chance of showers.