Carl Pollard's homebred Kiss Moon (7) rallied to nip I'm Already Sexy (3) in the 2015 Old Forester Mint Julep (GIII). The 5-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon will bid for a repeat victory over the Churchill Downs turf course on Saturday. (Churchill Downs)
Jockey Jesus Castanon will ride Kiss Moon in Saturday's Old Forester Mint Julep (GIII) (Churchill Downs)
Last Saturday, Alsvid scored a victory in the Aristides (Grade III) for the second consecutive year. This Saturday, Carl Pollard’s Kiss Moon will be looking to do the same when she attempts to defend her title against nine other fillies and mares in the 40th running of the $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap (GIII), a 1 1/16-mile event on the Matt Winn Turf Course. Should she be successful in doing so, she would join 2001-02 Mint Julep victor Megan’s Bluff as the only other filly with dual victories in the race.
The 5-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon’s lone start this year was a well-beaten sixth in an allowance race at Oaklawn Park on April 7, a race that trainer Dave Vance called a “throw away.”
“The race at Oaklawn you can just toss out,” said Vance, who also won the Mint Julep with Kiss Moon’s dam, Kiss the Devil in 2003. “We ran there just to try to get a race in her and she didn’t really run well enough to help herself.”
Despite her disappointing recent effort, Vance is confident that Kiss Moon will be able to put in a solid effort, much like she did in last year’s race.
“She’s a bigger and stronger horse than she was last year and she got all the work she needed to have,” Vance said. “She’s a funny horse. You can see on paper that she fires and then she doesn’t run really well and then she fires again so I can’t really say what makes her tick one way or the other. She’s a nice stakes quality horse but the rest of them have to win, too. One horse can’t do it all.”
Kiss Moon has put on some of her best graded stakes performances over the Matt Winn Turf Course. Aside from a victory in last year’s Mint Julep, she punched in two third-place efforts as a 3-year-old in the Regret (GIII) and Mrs. Revere (GII). In her final start last year, however, she was a well-beaten 11th in the Cardinal Handicap (GIII).
“She didn’t care for the off turf that day,” Vance said. “She’s not really good on any soft turf, but she does like the turf here for the most part.”
Jockey Jesus Castanon has the mount aboard Kiss Moon.
The Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap field from the rail out (with jockeys, assigned weight and morning line odds): Kiss Moon (Jesus Castanon, 115 pounds, 8-1); Flying Tipat (Brian Hernandez Jr., 115, 12-1); Sistas Stroll (Joe Rocco Jr., 114, 12-1); Cash Control (Shaun Bridgmohan, 118, 9-5); Mizz Money (Marlon St. Julien, 121, 3-1); Zipessa (Mitchell Murrill, 115, 6-1); Sweet Acclaim (IRE) (Robby Albarado, 115, 12-1); Josdesanimaux (Gary Stevens, 115, 8-1); Southern Gem (Channing Hill, 114, 15-1); and Personal Diary (Chris Landeros, 118, 15-1).
CHURCHILL HORSEMEN GIVE THEIR BELMONT STAKES PICKS – Some of Churchill Downs’ top horseman offered their expert opinion on Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (Grade I) at Belmont Park. Here’s what they had to say:
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens: “I think Exaggerator will win it. I think he’s a special kind of horse and (trainer) Keith (Desormeaux), it looks like to me, has designs on getting through all three legs of the Triple Crown and not just the Derby and Preakness. So I think he’s coming in with a fairly fresh horse from what I can see. It takes speed and stamina to win it. Speed is always dangerous in any race but you got to have stamina and you’ve got to have a patient ride.”
Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg: “I haven’t gotten to look at the race much, but I think that Desormeaux’s horse (Exaggerator) is going to be real tough to beat.”
Trainer Tom Amoss: “I’m going to sneak outside of the box and go with Lani. I think that Lani is a horse that despite his antics, has shown that he has a great deal of stamina and I think that the distance is really going to suit him. On top of that he has run a couple of races that are really the best of the 3-year-olds. He’s not one of these guys coming in trying to upset the apple cart; he’s run in all of these races so I think that he’s in the top tier. I like him going a mile-and-a-half.”
Trainer Jimmy Baker: “I got to go with Exaggerator because he’s the most experienced horse going into the race. There are some young and fresh horses, but they don’t quite have the experience that he has. To that far, too you have to be fit.”
Trainer Keith Bourgeois: “I like Exaggerator because I’m good friends with Keith (Desormeaux), he’s a homeboy and he’s a good trainer.”
Trainer Brad Cox: “I like (Christophe) Clement’s horse (Governor Malibu) a little bit, I like Dallas Stewart’s (Seeking the Soul and Forever d’Oro). I like Clement because he’s got a good race over the Belmont track and I think that he can go the distance. I like Dallas because he’s Dallas and I would like to see Exaggerator win because of (part owner) Sol Kumin.”
Trainer William “Jinks” Fires: “I’ll tell you who I’m rooting for is Donnie Von Hemel’s horse (Suddenbreakingnews). He’s run at Oaklawn and takes pretty much every step. Dale Romans (trainer of Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine) will be tough to beat, too. Hopefully one of our guys win it.”
Trainer Tim Glyshaw: “I think Exaggerator wins and I sort of liked (Todd) Pletcher’s horse (Stradivari) in the Preakness a little bit. I think he’ll be better second time against classier competition. Those would be my two selections. I don’t think either of them will have a problem with the distance, and it seems like in the Preakness Exaggerator stayed a lot closer and, contrary to popular belief, the ones that are closer to the pace usually win the Belmont.”
Trainer Gary “Red Dog” Hartlage: “I’d like to see Donnie K. Von Hemel win it, but I don’t know if they’ll beat Exaggerator. In the Belmont it can be pretty hard to come from left field. Exaggerator showed last time that he can go up there. It’ll be interesting.”
Trainer Chris Hartman: “I like Exaggerator and Suddenbreakingnews. Those are both two really good horse that can get the distance and it looks like they have been doing really well.”
Trainer Neil Howard: “I like Exaggerator. I thought that his race in the Kentucky Derby was great and his race in the Preakness was great. I really like him. I think that Keith has done a hell of a job with him and he was a good 2-year-old and a lot of things that go along with him kind of fit the mold of a classic horse. He’s already showed that in the Preakness.”
Trainer Eddie Kenneally: “I like Desormeaux’s horse (Exaggerator). He’s the best horse. He’s better than the rest.”
Trainer Paul McGee: “I like Exaggerator. I hate to go chalk on you, but I like him and I think that he’s the best horse in the race. Simple as that.”
Trainer Ron Moquett: “I like Suddenbreakingnews. He’s got two secret weapons that they just found. Plus he’s from Oaklawn and I want to see a homeboy win it.”
Trainer Randy Morse: “Exaggerator has the best shot I would say if those other two races haven’t taken too much out of him.”
Trainer Danny Peitz: “Suddenbreakingnews. I just like the five weeks, its perfect. It looks like he can get the distance and I just have this gut feeling that Donnie (Von Hemel) is going to win one of these really big races.”
Trainer Chris Richard: “I like Exaggerator. I just think that he’s faster than everyone else. He’s been battle tested and he looks to me that he’s a little bit faster. There are other horses that can run well in there, there’s no doubt about it. It just looks to me that he is the most consistent and the fastest.”
Trainer Mike Tomlinson: “I’m rooting for Suddenbreakingnews and Donnie K. Von Hemel because he and I are homeboys and he’s got some fresh legs. We both go all the way back to 1989 when we were both training at Remington Park.”
BELMONT STAKES FANFARE AT CHURCHILL DOWNS – Saturday’s Belmont Stakes simulcast is part of an 11-race program headlined by the 40th running of the $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap (GIII), a 1 1/16-mile race on the Matt Winn Turf Course for fillies and mares ages 3 and up. Post time for the first of Saturday’s live races is 12:45 p.m. The Belmont Stakes simulcast occurs after Saturday’s final live race and has a scheduled post time of 6:37 p.m.
Fans can celebrate the special day and the conclusion of the 2016 Triple Crown series with the Belmont Jewel, the official drink of the Belmont Stakes. The Belmont Jewel – which includes Woodford Reserve bourbon, lemonade, pomegranate juice and lemon zest – will be available in a commemorative 2016 Belmont Stakes glass at locations throughout the track. Also, Levy Restaurants will serve a special hot pastrami sandwich at the Courtyard Grill, and New York-style pizza and a New York hot dog will be available for purchase in the Food Court on the second floor of the Clubhouse.
General admission on Belmont Stakes Saturday is $5 and box seats start at $10. Reserved seats are available at www.churchilldowns.com/tickets.
FREE ADMISSION SATURDAY AND SUNDAY FOR SUPER REGIONAL ATTENDEES – Fans in Louisville that have tickets to this weekend’s super regionals for the NCAA’s 2016 Divisional I Baseball Championship between the University of Louisville and UC Santa Barbara will receive free general admission to Churchill Downs.
The best of three series between UC Santa Barbara (40-18-1) and No. 2 Louisville (50-12) has games scheduled at neighboring Jim Patterson Stadium on Saturday and Sunday at noon. Visitors – likely after each game’s conclusion – can show their ticket stub to gain admission. The last live race on Saturday is the $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap (Grade III) at 5:51 p.m. and a simulcast of the Belmont Stakes will follow at 6:37 p.m. Sunday’s finale is set for 4:51 p.m.
DOWN THE STRETCH – “Inside Churchill Downs,” co-hosted by Churchill Downs Racetrack’s John Asher and Darren Rogers, airs every Saturday from 10-11 a.m. throughout the Spring Meet on ESPN 680/105.7. This week’s show will preview the Belmont Stakes and Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap. … The “Who’s the Champ? Handicapping Contest” returns Sunday. Interested participants can enter for $35 ($30 for TSC Elite members) for a chance to win the $1,000 cash voucher first prize by placing mythical $2 win and place bets on Races 3-8. Second place receives a $500 voucher and third place is worth a $200 voucher. Registration takes place between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on the Clubhouse second floor at the top of the Gate 17 escalators.