Honorable Duty, the New Orleans Handicap (Grade II) winner who was runner-up to current early Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) favorite Gun Runner in June’s Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), will return to action Saturday at Churchill Downs as the horse to beat against six rivals in the fifth running of the $200,000 Lukas Classic (GIII).
The 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic for 3-year-olds and up honors the iconic 82-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks and conditioner of 26 Eclipse Award-winning champions has been based at Churchill Downs’ Barn 44 since 1989.
The Lukas Classic, which earned Grade III status for the first time and received a $25,000 purse increase to $200,000, is the centerpiece of a Churchill Downs stakes tripleheader that shares the spotlight with top milers in the $100,000 Ack Ack (GIII) and 3-year-olds in the $100,000 Jefferson Cup (Listed) at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course – the only stakes race on grass during the September Meet.
Churchill Downs admission gates open Saturday at 11:30 a.m. (all times Eastern) and the first of 11 races is 12:45 p.m. The Lukas Classic will go as Race 9 at approximately 4:49 p.m.
Honorable Duty, owned by David A. Ross’ DAARS Inc. and trained by Brendan Walsh, has amassed $674,276 from six wins, four seconds and a third in 14 career starts. The 5-year-old Distorted Humor gelding swept Fair Grounds’ winter dirt series for older horses – the $75,000 Tenacious, $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap (GIII) and $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (GII) – before finishing second in Churchill Downs’ two prominent races for older horses, the $400,000 Alysheba Presented by Big Fish Casino (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day and the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by GE Appliances (GI) on June 17.
Honorable Duty is well-rested since finishing second, seven lengths back of comfortable winner Gun Runner, in the 1 1/8-mile Foster 15 weeks ago.
“He’s been training really great since the Stephen Foster,” Walsh said. “We kept him at home this summer and he put his first published breeze since the race in early August. He worked six furlongs (in 1:12.60) the other morning [Sept. 23] with Corey (Lanerie) aboard and he just did it so effortlessly. He loves this surface and I think he’ll fit this race well coming back off the layoff.”
Honorable Duty landed the outside post No. 7 for the Lukas Classic and will be ridden for the first time by Lanerie, who began the week with a 12-7 lead over Florent Geroux and Brian Hernandez Jr. in the Churchill Downs’ jockey standings as he attempts to collect his 14th riding title in the last 16 meets beneath the Twin Spires.
Chief among Honorable Duty’s rivals in the contentious Lukas Classic cast are stakes winners Fear the Cowboy and Eagle.
Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centofanti’s Fear the Cowboy (24-8-7-1—$490,319) was a two-length winner of the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes in his last start at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort on Aug. 5. Trained by Efren Loza Jr., the 5-year-old son of Cowboy Cal also won the $100,000 Skip Away (GIII) at Gulfstream Park earlier in the year.
William S. Farish’s multiple stakes-winner Eagle (22-7-7-2—$740,806) defeated Fear the Cowboy by a head two starts ago in the $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Grand on July 15. In his most recent start on Aug. 26 for trainer Neil Howard, the 5-year-old son of Candy Ride (ARG) was second to Just Call Kenny in the $100,000 Philip H. Iselin (GIII) at Monmouth Park.
The complete Lukas Classic field from the rail out (with jockeys and assigned weights): Seeking the Soul (Geroux, 121 pounds); Albano (Channing Hill, 121); Fear the Cowboy (Jesus Rios, 123); Flashy Jewel (Chris Landeros, 121); Money Flows (Miguel Mena, 121); Eagle (Hernandez Jr., 121); and Honorable Duty (Lanerie, 123).
Flashy Jewel, an $80,000 claim by owner Michael Hui and trainer Mike Maker, and Albano, a three-time stakes winner now under the care of trainer William Don Bennett, figure to help determine the pace.
General admission to Churchill Downs on Saturday is $3 and reserved seat packages start at $10, which are available for purchase online at www.ChurchillDowns.com.
In addition to the live action, there are a dozen 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) and $300,000 Pilgrim (GIII) from Belmont Park; 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; and the Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup (GII), Commonwealth Derby (GIII) and Commonwealth Oaks (GIII) from Laurel.
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’s National Weather Service forecast for Louisville calls for sunny skies with a high near 72.
Saturday is the penultimate day of Churchill Downs’ 11-date September Meet. Closing day is Sunday.