Effinex (6) and jockey Mike Smith pulled away from defending winner Hopperturnity in the final yards to win the 2015 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI). Trainer Jimmy Jerkens star is the even-money favorite for Saturday's Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs. (Churchill Downs)
Jockey Gary Stevens will head west after Sunday's racing program at Churchill Downs to ride at Southern California's Del Mar meet this summer. (Adam Coglianese, NYRA)
Trainer Doug O'Neill will be at Churchill Downs during Saturday's "Downs After Dark" celebration to accept the engraved trophy that goes to the Kentucky Derby winner. He will also formally accept the trophies for owners Paul Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez. (Coady Photography | Churchill Downs)
Morton Fink's Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan will be at Churchill Downs for the $200,000 Wise Dan (GIII), the former Firecracker Handicap (GII) that has been renamed in his honor. The retired champion will be in the Churchill Downs paddock during the running of the Wise Dan, which is scheduled as the 7th race with a post time of 9:05 p.m. (EDT) on the "Downs After Dark" program. (Churchill Downs)
On Saturday night, Effinex will continue the ride of a lifetime for breeder and veterinarian Dr. Russell Cohen when the 5-year-old competes in the 35th running of the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I) as the odds-on morning line favorite.
“I still can’t put my arm around the entire thing and how cool it is,” Cohen said. “At the end of the day after every race, I always run down to make sure that he’s fine because he’s irreplaceable to me. There was a point in my life which was pretty difficult and it remains such, and he represents a big part of my life so it’s very cool to see him competing and running in these monster races and winning some of them.
“He’s special for a multitude of reasons. First of all, I’m a student of the game and I am very passionate about the sport. I love these animals, I protect them and I try my best. We all do. The other part of it is what it means to the family and the essential part to where my family gets involved.”
Cohen, 56, bred Effinex for Tri-Bone Stables, which is owned by his mother Bernice Cohen. The horse’s fourth dam is Best In Show, who was voted 1982 Broodmare of the Year and produced 1982 Kentucky Oaks winner Blush With Pride. Cohen purchased Perfect Pair a granddaughter of Best In Show, who he bred to E Dubai to produce multiple stakes winner What A Pear, the dam of Effinex.
“In my humble opinion (Best In Show) is the best broodmare that ever graced the earth,” Cohen said. “Every time I breed a horse, any mare that I have has a ton of pedigree. They’re all direct descendants from a famous matriarch. When you have the female family and you have the basic DNA, it’s just a puzzle. Many times, they isn’t a monster, but you take a shot. If you understand that, you move the odds in your favor dramatically. It’s pretty close between that family and La Troienne and I actually prefer this one. It’s extremely active as long as you play those games and get the family’s puzzle figured out. I have high hopes from a pedigree perspective.
“In the La Troienne family, there are a ton of sires that come out of it but in my humble opinion there are some better fillies that have come out of that. This family is a progenitor of sires. The first three, four dams there are 40-plus sires out of this family so in that regard I always try to get a good colt and truth be told until now I haven’t got a colt that could get out of his own way. I’ve had the fillies that really could run, but I’ve never had a colt that could run. With every horse that I breed, the hope is that they become a monster.”
Effinex has certainly proven himself to be a monster. Last year, the New York-bred son of Mineshaft won three graded stakes: the Excelsior (GIII) at Aqueduct, the Suburban (GII) at Belmont Park and he capped his 4-year-old campaign at Churchill Downs in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI). Perhaps Effinex’s biggest highlight last year occurred when he finished second behind Triple Crown winner and 2015 Horse of the Year American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Keeneland.
But it was a March 23, 2014 race at Aqueduct against winners that convinced Cohen that Effinex was special.
“At that point, I knew that he could run. He made fun of the other horses so it was pretty clear,” Cohen said. “Any maiden win does not tell you anything, it’s the first time that they run against winners and the first time he ran against winners he beat them off by about six or seven lengths. I pushed him early on and early in his career. He had shin issues. I could have changed the way I had dealt with him with procedures and medication but I don’t do that. I just gave him the time and I pushed him for the Wood Memorial. Mineshaft babies are not going to run as 2-year-olds or early 3-year-olds. You’d be lucky if they started coming around at the end of their 3-year-old year and they get good at 4. We follow his pedigree and have been patient.”
The word “Effinex” is a German word that means “integrity and efficiency”, but could also be a reference to a certain person in his life.
“The name signifies everyone’s experience if you’ve ever had a boyfriend or a girlfriend, a husband or a wife,” Cohen said. “Find me someone who doesn’t have an Effinex, and that’s how some people interpret it. To me it’s the German word meaning ‘integrity and efficiency.’ Other people have looked at it in other regards, but I find it humorous.
“I’m a huge fan of the game, especially when you get a talented horse that can win some big races. I’ve had them with fillies who have won some big races, but at this point in the game the horses that have won some of these monstrous races, I’m pretty taken back by. I’m pretty humbled by the entire experience.
“There are people that have emailed me and texted me and told me that they have an Effinex – men and women both. I hear some of the stories and they are comical. I think if anything else I bring some humor into the game and that’s a bonus and his name has made some people laugh, probably upset a couple, but it’s a name of a horse, get over it it’s funny. This is a very typical business and I try to find humor in everything and in every part of this game. The moment he was born from now, it has been good fun.”
Effinex is trained by Jimmy Jerkens, who Cohen referred to as both “a great horseman and conditioner.”
“Jimmy has the infrastructure to send a horse to the moon and that’s what occurred here,” Cohen said. “I’ve been a veterinarian at the tracks now for many years and have worked for the majority of guys that I know can train or can’t train, who’s real or who’s not real. I worked for (Jimmy’s late father and Hall of Fame trainer) Allen (Jerkens) for many years and then I worked for Jimmy and the athletes I saw him training with early on, he outgrew everybody. As far as I’m concerned he’s the constant horseman and conditioner, veterinarians are tertiary at best unlike any other situations where they’re almost always required. My philosophy is that no veterinarian can get in the way of a good horse and I don’t have that issue with Jimmy. I don’t have any medication issues and the horse is just at that point in his career where he’s maturing now.”
Effinex has been out of his normal element in his two career starts this year. He kicked off his 5-year-old campaign in the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) on March 12 finishing third beaten 4 ¾ lengths behind Melatonin before turning the tables on that rival by a length in the April 16 Oaklawn Handicap (GII).
“He could run on broken glass,” Cohen said. “He could get on planes, trains, buses – it makes no difference to him being able to ship in his last couple of races.”
Cohen is not opposed to racing Effinex next year for a 6-year-old campaign should he stay healthy.
“At the end of this year that will be discussed a little further,” Cohen said. “Right now we go race-by-race and hope for the best. Whatever is in the horses best interest will be done, he comes first and everything else is miles secondary. My fortune in this business has come from some of the smart people that I have surrounded myself with and from a pedigree side and I have been range around me of very smart people. They’ve won every single one of these races; they’ve owned some of these races. Some friends of mine own farms and I have a great group around me.”
The Stephen Foster Handicap field from the rail out (with jockeys, assigned weights and morning line odds): International Star (Florent Geroux, 116 pounds, 6-1), Bradester (Joe Bravo, 116, 5-1); Effinex (Gary Stevens, 122, 1-1); Majestic Harbor (Corey Lanerie, 118, 5-1); El Kabeir (Ricardo Santana Jr., 115, 12-1); Are You Kidding Me (Julien Leparoux, 118, 10-1); and Eagle (Brian Hernandez Jr., 117, 6-1).
AUNTIE JOY STRECHES OUT IN SATURDAY’S REGRET – Sanford Robertson’s Auntie Joy, a close second to Catch a Glimpse in the Edgewood (GIII) on the May 6 Kentucky Oaks undercard, is looking for redemption when she stretches out in Saturday’s $100,000 Regret (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on Matt Winn Turf Course.
Trainer Brendan Walsh believes that the daughter of Uncle Mo will improve off of her last effort.
“She’s doing great, we couldn’t be any happier,” Walsh said. “We had a really good prep with her and if she runs the race she did in the Edgewood, I think we could be the one to beat. We’ll be up against a tough group of fillies and these types of races aren’t easy to win but if she can reproduce that effort on Oaks day, we’ll be tough to beat.”
When running second in the Edgewood, Auntie Joy did so at odds of 31-1.
“We weren’t surprised at all,” Walsh said “She had some trouble in her race at Keeneland. She was running on real hard at the end and the draw got us. She had a good enough trip at Churchill even though (jockey) Brian (Hernandez Jr.) had to wait with her longer than he had liked. She was up against one of the best 3-year-old fillies in the country (Catch a Glimpse).”
Walsh believes that Auntie Joy will only improve as she matures and continues stretching out in distance.
“As time goes on she’ll get better, I don’t think that we’ve reached the bottom of her yet,” Walsh said.
The $100,000 Regret (GIII) field from the rail out: Gone Away (Florent Geroux, 6-1); Quiet Business (Joe Rocco Jr., 30-1); Crooked Stick (James Graham, 30-1); Family Meeting (Robby Albarado, 6-1); Noble Beauty (Julien Leparoux, 7-2); Try Your Luck (Gary Stevens, 7-2); La Piba (Fernando De La Cruz, 20-1); Dothraki Queen (Corey Lanerie, 10-1); Fuhriously Kissed (Joe Johnson, 50-1); Wessex (Shaun Bridgmohan, 6-1); and Auntie Joy (Brian Hernandez Jr., 3-1).
STEVENS TO RETURN TO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AFTER SUNDAY – Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who has ridden at Churchill Downs throughout the Spring Meet, will be return to Southern California on Monday to begin preparation for the Del Mar meeting.
“This will be my last weekend here,” Stevens said. “Kobe’s Back is running in the ($300,000) Triple Bend (GI at Santa Anita) a week from Saturday and Del Mar starts up soon so it didn’t make any sense for me to head home this week, head back closing week here and then turn around and go back again. That would be too much travel.
“My (7-year-old) daughter (Maddie) got out of school Wednesday so I want to spend a little quality time with my family since I’ve been away from home since Derby time.”
Stevens entered Friday with a Spring Meet record of 59-7-8-8—$375,187 record and has ridden for a variety of trainers including Mark Casse, Charlie LoPresti, D. Wayne Lukas, Mike Maker, Kenny McPeek and Dale Romans.
“It’s been a good stay this summer,” Stevens said. “I’ve enjoyed it. Riding here at Churchill full time for a long time, it’s been enjoyable.”
He rides Effinex, the odds-on favorite for Saturday’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI).
“We’ll get through the weekend,” Stevens said. “Hopefully (Effinex) and everybody else performs well this weekend including myself and we’ll end on a good note.”
OTHER FIELDS FOR SATURDAY’S STAKES RACES – The $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (Grade II) field from the rail out (with jockeys, assigned weights and morning line odds): Untapable (Florent Geroux, 120 pounds, 7-5); Engaginglee (Robby Albarado, 116, 6-1); Paid Up Subscriber (Ricardo Santana Jr., 114, 8-1); Ahh Chocolate (Brian Hernandez Jr., 118, 2-1); Big Book (Corey Lanerie, 115, 8-1); and Brooklynsway (Julien Leparoux, 117, 5-1). … The $200,000 Wise Dan (GII) field from the rail out (with jockeys and morning line odds): Thatcher Street (Brian Hernandez Jr., 8-1); The Pizza Man (Florent Geroux, 6-5); Granny’s Kitten (Gary Stevens, 12-1); Flatlined (Miguel Mena, 15-1); Conquest Typhoon (Joe Bravo, 6-1); Potomac River (Juan Vargas, 15-1); R. Great Adventure (Joe Rocco Jr., 15-1); Pleuven (FR) (Channing Hill, 8-1); Za Approval (Julien Leparoux, 12-1); Kasaqui (Arg) (Fernando De La Cruz, 12-1); and Behesht (FR) (Corey Lanerie, 20-1). … The $100,000 Matt Winn (GIII) field from the rail out: Yo Carm (Robby Albarado, 20-1); Gun Runner (Florent Geroux, 3-5); Virtual Machine (Brian Hernandez Jr., 15-1); Cutacorner (Gary Stevens, 12-1); Gray Sky (James Graham, 15-1); Texas Chrome (Ricardo Santana Jr., 5-1); and Unbridled Outlaw (Corey Lanerie, 3-1).
DOWNS AFTER DARK ENTERTAINMENT – The theme for Saturday night’s “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and El Jimador” is the sixth annual “White Party” in which guests are encouraged to wear their best summer whites. …Musical entertainment on the Plaza Stage on Saturday night will be provided by The Bishops (www.thebishopslive.com). … The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (“KMAC”) and Churchill Downs have partnered to bring the only public showing of the 2016 KMAC Couture Collection on Saturday night. KMAC Couture Fashion Shows will be held between races in the Aristides Garden and Plaza Stage to showcase the wearable runway art that features and supports emerging and established regional artists, costumers, designers and milliners. … Bet or No Bet Presented by Thorntons returns Saturday night for Races 6-9. The promotion will give four lucky fans the chance to wager $1,000 to win on the horse of their choice in their respective race or walk away with a $100 Thorntons gift card. … Saturday night’s specialty cocktail served at select locations around the facility is the Blanco Margarita. … General admission to Churchill Downs is $10 on Saturday night. Box seats are $25 and reserved dining packages are $70. They can be purchased online at www.ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets.
O’NEILL ON HAND TO ACCEPT ENGRAVED KENTUCKY DERBY TROPHIES – Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill will be on hand Saturday night to accept the engraved Kentucky Derby 142 trophies for Team Nyquist, which includes owners Paul and Zillah Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez. The Reddams and Gutierrez are unable to attend because of a stakes engagement at Santa Anita on Saturday. The ceremony in the G.H. MUMM Winner’s Circle, which includes the unveiling of official event logos for the 2017 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks, will follow Race 5 at approximately 8:04 p.m.
GET YOUR PHOTO WITH NYQUIST’S KENTUCKY DERBY TROPHIES – Fans in attendance at Churchill Downs on Saturday will be able to take pictures with Nyquist’s engraved Kentucky Derby 142 trophies. The trophies will be on display on the north side of the paddock in the Plaza area from 5-7 p.m. for guests to take their own pictures.
TWO-TIME HORSE OF THE YEAR WISE DAN RETURNS FOR SATURDAY APPEARANCE – Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who compiled a remarkable lifetime record of 31-23-2-0—$7,7552,920 from 2010-14, will return to Churchill Downs on Saturday night for the stakes race named in his honor. The former Firecracker was renamed the Wise Dan this year to honor Mort Fink’s seven-time Churchill Downs winner that won the Firecracker in 2011 and ’13 for trainer Charlie LoPresti. Wise Dan will parade to the paddock with horses for the race, which goes as Race 7 at 9:05 p.m., and remain there while the race is being run.
DOWN THE STRETCH – Churchill Downs also will pay homage to its longtime morning line odds maker and former track announcer and television analyst Mike Battaglia on Saturday night. Battaglia, who is in the midst of his 42nd year as Churchill Downs odds maker, stepped down as Turfway Park’s track announcer in March to assume the role as the track’s associate vice president. The longtime northern Kentucky resident called races at Turfway from 1973-2016. Battaglia also described the racing action at Churchill Downs from 1977-97 and served as the simulcast host from 1997-2007. … Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will air live coverage of the Churchill Downs stakes action Saturday night from 8-10 p.m. ET. Mike Penna, Jude Feld, Ellis Star and Jennie Rees will anchor the broadcast that will air on Sirius 93, online at www.horseracingradio.net
and 93.9 The Ville in Louisville. … “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 Stephen Foster Handicap night program and guests include Belmont Stakes-winning trainer Steve Asmussen, Effinex’s owner/breeder Dr. Russell Cohen and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. … Saturday night’s special post times: Race 1 (6 p.m.), Race 2 (6:28 p.m.), Race 3 (6:56 p.m.), Race 4 (7:26 p.m.), Race 5 (7:57 p.m.), Race 6 (8:30 p.m.), Race 7 (9:05 p.m.), Race 8 (9:39 p.m.), Race 9 (10:11 p.m.), Race 10 (10:42 p.m.) and Race 11 (11:10 p.m.). … Churchill Downs is offering a special $15 Father’s Day Combo for Sunday, which includes a reserved box seat, official program and a voucher for a domestic draft beer or souvenir soda and a hot dog. They can be purchased online at www.ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets
or by calling (502) 636-4450. … Sunday is the final “Who’s the Champ? Handicapping Contest” of the Spring Meet. 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.