Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimney Farm’s Gun Runner has spent his 3-year-old campaign competing against the heavy hitters of that division, but on Friday he’ll pursue his first victory against elders in the 142nd running of the $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I) at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen, the son of Candy Ride (ARG) has put together a solid 3-year-old campaign which began with two Fair Grounds triumphs in the Risen Star (GII) and Louisiana Derby (GII) before finishing third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) behind Nyquist. While he has proven to be highly-competitive against fellow 3-year-olds, he will take a stab at his first Grade I win in the Clark Handicap.
"A Grade I win is about all that’s missing off of his résumé,” Winchell’s racing manager David Fiske said. “Obviously it would enhance his value as a stallion prospect and I know that the folks over at Three Chimneys would like that. It’s kind of big deal for them.”
Gun Runner faced older horses for the first time in his last start where he was second behind Tamarkuz in the Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 4. Since then, the Clark Handicap was always under consideration.
“That was always a proposition,” Fiske said. “It was kind of 50-50 whether to put him away for the year and rest him up for his 4-year-old campaign or make a run at the Clark. If he had been based somewhere else we wouldn’t have considered it but since Churchill is home for him, it would be pretty easy to monitor how he was training. Steve says he’s been acting normal, has lots of energy and he’s pretty aggressive. There’s really no reason not to run him. He’s a sound horse and been given account all year long.”
Gun Runner faces some of the best older horses in the country including the past two winners of the Clark Handicap, Hoppertunity and Effinex, as well as Noble Bird who won last year’s Stephen Foster (GI) over the Churchill Downs main track.
“Hoppertunity is a hard-knocker,” Fiske said. “We’ve run against him before with other horses throughout his career so we know what the horse is like and Noble Bird is proven over the Churchill track. There are definitely some tough ones in there.”
Fiske noted that there is a “possibility” of Gun Runner’s 4-year-old campaign including a start in Gulfstream Park’s inaugural running of the $12 million Pegasus World Cup (GI)
“We’d probably approach the Pegasus the same way we have the Clark,” Fiske said. “That would definitely be something we would keep in the back of our mind and in the corner of our eyes. It’s not definite but we won’t rule it out and it just depends on how he’s doing at the time and how he runs on Friday.”
Jockey Florent Geroux, who has guided Gun Runner in all eight of his starts this year, will be aboard for the Clark Handicap.
SATURDAY COULD EXCITING FOR CHURCHILL DOWNS RACING CLUB MEMBERS – Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” program could be an exciting one for the several hundred members of the Churchill Downs Racing Club as both of the Racing Club’s 2-year-olds, Warrior’s Club and Dial Me, are slated to race that afternoon.'\
On Opening Day’s “Stars of Tomorrow I” Program, Warrior’s Club took the Racing Club members on a ride of a lifetime when he won the $300,000 Spendthrift Stallion Stakes as a maiden. He looks to take them on an even bigger ride at the graded stakes level in Saturday’s $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII).
“It would be truly fantastic,” Churchill Downs Racing Club manager Gary Palmisano said. “I think that the horse improved with blinkers last time and he’s improving every day and it was well worth giving him an opportunity to test some of the heavy hitters at his home track. There was pandemonium for winning the Spendthrift Stakes. Should he win on Saturday I can only imagine that it would be amplified that much more because of the history and tradition that surrounds the Kentucky Jockey Club. The fact that it’s a Road to the Derby points race and all of those factors would make it a huge accomplishment for this club.”
The concept of the Racing Club was designed by Churchill Downs earlier this year to give racing fans a low-cost and low-risk look into Thoroughbred ownership and has proved itself to be prosperous. In fact, a second Racing Club was formed due to such popular demand.
“We started out with a group of 200 that all put up $500 and ended up having two groups fill up,” Palmisano said. “It started out as a group of people that were just solely looking for an entrance into the sport and have always either wanted to own horses or own horses at a lower level. This really gave them an opportunity to jump into the game and be part of a racing club that gives them more experience in Thoroughbred ownership.”
Both Racing Club horses are trained by Hall of Fame conditioner D. Wayne Lukas, who expressed delightment in helping give the Racing Club members such a thrill at a higher level. Palmisano echoed these sentiments.
“It was really special for me,” Palmisano said. “Obviously this has been a good journey over the past six or seven months, and it has been very rewarding for both me and Wayne and to see so many people that excited and so genuinely happy is great. Wayne has obviously won a magnitude of races throughout his career and I’ve been fortunate to be around winners in other horses and in winner’s circle photos in my life but it was that much more exciting to see how exciting all of the people in the group were and really how much it meant to them.”
While Warrior’s Club has been getting more buzz between the Racing Club’s two juveniles, the filly Dial Me will race in Saturday’s eighth race, a first-level allowance at one mile on the main track.
“She’s always shown a lot of ability,” Palmisano said. “She’s been a little unlucky in the sense that we tried to get her in a two-turn race and it didn’t fill. She’s running against some stiff competition in what appears to be a pretty competitive race. It’s really funny because she was the first winner of the Racing Club horses and the Warrior’s Club people were down in the dumps for a little bit while the Dial Me people got to experience the thrill of victory and now the tables have turned. We would expect both horses to give a big effort on Saturday.”
Overall, Palmisano has confidence that both horses can add to the excitement surrounding the Racing Club.
“Both seem to be doing fine,” Palmisano said “(D. Wayne Lukas) is adding blinkers to Dial Me just to keep her a little more aggressive and in the race early since it’s a one-turn mile race, but it seems like it’s all systems go with both of them.”
Jockey Robby Albarado, who won the Kentucky Jockey Club in 1999 aboard Captain Steve, will ride Warrior’s Club while Ty Kennedy will be aboard Dial Me.
I’M A LOOKER GOES FOR ANOTHER CHURCHILL DOWNS STAKES WIN IN DREAM SUPREME – This past May, Glenmare Farm LLC’s I’m a Looker won the Winning Colors (GIII) in dead-heat fashion with Diva Express and will pursue another Churchill Downs stakes win in Friday’s $80,000-added Dream Supreme Overnight Stakes at six furlongs.
The homebred daughter of Henny Hughes seeks her first win since a 3 ¾-length victory in the West Virginia Secretary of State Stakes at Mountaineer Park on Aug. 6. She has been fourth in her past two starts, which came in the Open Mind Stakes during Churchill’s September Meet, a race won by fellow Dream Supreme entrant Fioretti, and the Thoroughbred Club of America (GII) at Keeneland, where she was beaten 2 ¾ lengths behind Irish Jasper.
Trainer Pat Dupuy says the field assembled for Friday’s event is a bit stiffer than the one she was up against in the spring.
“It’s a different group of horses this time,” Dupuy said. “We got some 3-year-olds in there than can really run but she shows up. Looking at the line they got that filly of (trainer) Bret Calhoun’s (Finley’sluckycharm) at even money so they must think that she’s a world beater. We’ll find out (Friday). She beat Dallas Stewart’s filly (Pleasant Tales) that time, the same filly that I beat over at Mountaineer (on Aug. 6), but there’s a ton of speed in there so she’ll show up and she’ll close. I’m just hoping for a fast racetrack.
Robby Albarado, who has been aboard I’m a Looker’s past eight starts, returns to the saddle.
DOUBLE DEAD-HEAT ON WEDNESDAY – A rare occurrence took place Wednesday at Churchill Downs with not one, but two dead heats in Churchill’s second and 10th races.
In the second race, Express Yourself ($4.40) and Lady Oak (IRE) ($3.40) hit the wire together. Jockeys Jesus Castanon and Didiel Osorio were both involved in the dead heat.
“It was hard to tell for one second after I passed the finish line,” said Castanon, who was aboard Express Yourself. “I thought I might have barely got it but after taking so long for the official I was happy for the dead heat.”
Osorio, the rider of Lady Oak, believed he was the winner when both horses crossed the finish line.
"I was pretty sure that I was the winner,” Osorio said. “My horse had crossed the wire in front, but the other horse was very close to the finish line as well. It was a very close race.”
Later in the finale, Crown Royal Queen ($3) and Cheatin Heart ($12.20) put their noses on the line in unison.
“I didn’t initially think that I won,” said Jack Gilligan, who was aboard Cheatin Heart. “Galloping back there the big screen showed my horse so I thought that I had it but that’s the way it goes. It’s amazing that that happened, two dead heats in one day at Churchill. Has that ever happened before?”
Corey Lanerie, who entered Thursday with 23 wins at the Fall Meet to leads all riders, was aboard Crown Royal Queen believed he was going to be the clear winner as they approached the wire.
“I thought that I was going to run right on by him,” Lanerie said “I thought I had it easy. But then I got to his head and he kind of hung with me so I thought that maybe I got him but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t have a clue, but when I came back I saw the camera on the horse so I thought that I got beat. Glad I didn’t though. (Jockeys) Julien (Leparoux) and Brian (Hernandez Jr.) are catching up to me.”
Hernandez began Thursday with 19 wins, and Leparoux had 16.
DELAY OF GAME – Jockeys Florent Geroux and Joe Rocco Jr. were off a majority of their mounts Thursday because they were delayed at Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport. Geroux rode Family Tree to an easy 8 ½-length victory in Wednesday’s $300,000 Zia Park Oaks for owners Gary and Mary West and trainer Wayne Catalano while Rocco was third aboard the Donnie Von Hemel-trained Ready to Confess. Both riders were hopeful to return by Race 9 (3:24 p.m.).
THANKSGIVING WEEKEND STAKES – The fields for Churchill Downs stakes races on Thanksgiving weekend have been drawn. Below are the fields:
Friday, Nov. 25 (Black Friday)
- $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles (with jockeys, assigned weight and morning line odds): Gun Runner (Florent Geroux, 118, 4-1), Effinex (Junior Alvarado, 123, 4-1), Are You Kidding Me (Alan Garcia, 119, 15-1), Shaman Ghost (Javier Castellano, 122, 8-1), Hawaakom (Miguel Mena, 116, 20-1), Noble Bird (Julien Leparoux, 121, 7-2), Breaking Lucky (Luis Contreras, 118, 8-1), Mr. Z (Ricardo Santana Jr., 114, 30-1), Hoppertunity (John Velazquez, 124, 3-1) and Prayer for Relief (Robby Albarado, 115, 30-1). The Clark Handicap goes as Race 11 of 12 at 5:56 p.m.
- $200,000 Mrs. Revere (GII) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on turf (with jockey and morning line odds): Dear Elaine (Julien Leparoux, 15-1), Noble Beauty (Robby Albarado, 12-1), Caren (Jesse Campbell, 10-1), Celestial Insight (Ricardo Santana Jr., 30-1), Mo Knows (John Velazquez, 15-1), Linda (Brian Hernandez Jr., 12-1), Sweet Tapper (Chris Landerosm 20-1), Harmonize (Junior Alvarado, 2-1), Cross Country (Ty Kennedy, 30-1), Ready for Chianti (Joe Rocco Jr., 20-1), Hawksmoor (IRE) (Florent Geroux, 5-2), Strive (Luis Quinonez, 30-1), Shelbysmile (Javier Castellano, 10-1) and Fitpitcher (Calvin Borel, 50-1). Also Eligible: Nobody’s Fault (Florent Geroux, 30-1). Harmonize and Hawksmoor (IRE) will carry 123 and 120 pounds, respectively, while all others will tote 118 pounds. The Mrs. Revere goes as Race 10 of 12 at 5:27 p.m.
- $80,000-added Dream Supreme Overnight Stakes for fillies and mares at six furlongs (with jockeys and morning line odds): Covey Trace (Joe Rocco Jr., 12-1), I’m a Looker (Robby Albarado, 5-1), Fioretti (Sophie Doyle, 8-1), Grace’s Treasure (Jesus Castanon, 8-1), Moiety (Javier Castellano, 5-1), Finley’sluckycharm (Brian Hernandez Jr., 1-1), Unbridledexplosion (Chris Landeros, 12-1) and Athena (Ricardo Santana Jr., 12-1). The Dream Supreme goes as Race 8 of 12 at 4:27 p.m.
- $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles (with jockeys): Han Sense (Julien Leparoux), Total Tap (Ricardo Santana Jr.), Wild Shot (Corey Lanerie), Romeo O Romeo (Chris Landeros), Silent Decree (Florent Geroux), Just Move On (Declan Cannon), Shareholder Value (Shaun Bridgmohan), Jocker Justice (Hector Rosario Jr.), Warrior’s Club (Robby Albarado), Perro Rojo (Jon Court), McCraken (Brian Hernandez Jr.) and Uncontested (Channing Hill). The Kentucky Jockey Club is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby and awards the following points to the Top 4 finishers: 10-4-2-1. The Kentucky Jockey Club goes as Race 11 of 12 at 5:56 p.m.
- $200,000 Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles (with jockeys): Gris Gris (Miguel Mena), Ever So Clever (Ricardo Santana Jr.), Dance Proposal (Joe Rocco Jr.), My Sweet Stella (Florent Geroux), Someday Soon (Declan Cannon), China Grove (Shaun Bridgmohan), Funny Holiday (Chris Landeros), Fun (Brian Hernandez Jr.), Daddys Lil Darling (Corey Lanerie), Dream Dancing (Julien Leparoux), Farrell (Channing Hill) and Lovely Bernadette (Robby Albarado). Dream Dancing will race with blinkers on. The Golden Rod is part of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks and awards the following points to the Top 4 finishers: 10-4-2-1. The Golden Rod goes as Race 9 of 12 at 4:57 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 26 (Stars of Tomorrow II)
SINGLE 6 JACKPOT – There’s a 17-day carryover of $147,507 in the 20-cent minimum Single 6 Jackpot for Thursday, and the sequence covers Races 7-12 starting at 2:24 p.m. EST. The Single 6 Jackpot, which features a low 15-percent takeout, will be paid out only if there is a single winning wager with six winners placed at the required minimum bet value. If there are multiple winning wagers with six winners in the six-race sequence, 90 percent of the net money wagering into the pool will be paid out, and the remaining 10 percent will carry to the Single 6 Jackpot. If there are no tickets will all six winners, 100 percent of the pool will carry to the Single 6 Jackpot. There will be a mandatory payout on closing day.
MEET LEADERS – Heading into the final four days of the Fall Meet, Corey Lanerie had a four-win lead over Brian Hernandez Jr. in the Churchill Downs jockeys standings, 23-19. Julien Leparoux was third with 16 wins. … Mike Maker had a 12-7 leader over Rusty Arnold, Brad Cox and Eddie Kenneally in the trainer standings. … Ken and Sarah Ramsey had a 4-3 lead in the owner’s standings over Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm, Joey Keith Davis, Michael Hui, Steve Landers Racing, Maggi Moss and Millard R. Seldin Revocable Trust.
MILESTONE WATCH – According to Equibase, jockey Jon Court entered Thursday’s action two wins shy of 4,000 career wins. … Trainer Paul McGee needs four victories to reach 1,000 career wins. … Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is three wins away from becoming the first trainer to saddle 700 career wins at Churchill Downs. Dale Romans is approaching Mott’s all-time local win record. Mott has a 697-682 lead over Romans.
KENTUCKY DERBY FUTURE WAGERS RETURN THURSDAY-SUNDAY – The first pools of the 2017 Kentucky Derby Future Wager will be offered Thursday at noon (all times Eastern) through Sunday at 6 p.m.
The traditional pool with 23 individual wagering interests and an “all others” option will return, and so will the Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager, which debuted last year and requires bettors to wager on the winning sire for next year’s Kentucky Derby winner.
The field for Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (with morning line odds): Beach Bum (#1, 15-1), Classic Empire (#2, 8-1), Fact Finding (#3, 20-1), Gormley (#4, 20-1), Gunnevera (#5, 15-1), Hemsworth (#6, 30-1), Hookup (#7, 50-1), #8 Irish War Cry (#8, 50-1), Just Move On (#9, 20-1), Klimt (#10, 15-1), Lookin At Lee (#11, 30-1), Mastery (#12, 12-1), McCraken (#13, 15-1), Mo Town (#14, 30-1), No Dozing (#15, 50-1), Not This Time (#16, SCRATCHED), Practical Joke (#17, 15-1), Running Mate (#18, 50-1), Saint’s Fan (#19, 50-1), Syndergaard (#20, 15-1), Takaful (#21, 30-1), Uncontested (#22, 30-1), Wild Shot (#23, 50-1) and “All Others” (#24, 5-2).
The field for the Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager (with betting number and morning line odds): Bernardini (#1, 15-1), Bodemeister (#2, 20-1), Candy Ride (ARG) (#3, 15-1), Curlin (#4, 15-1), Distorted Humor (#5, 20-1), Flatter (#6, 30-1), Gemologist (#7, 20-1), Ghostzapper (#8, 15-1), Giant’s Causeway (#9, 12-1), Harlan’s Holiday (#10, 20-1), Into Mischief (#11, 20-1), Kitten’s Joy (#12, 20-1), Malibu Moon (#13, 20-1), Medaglia d’Oro (#14, 15-1), Pioneerof the Nile (#15, 12-1), Scat Daddy (#16, 20-1), Speightstown (#17, 20-1), Tapit (#18, 10-1), Tiznow (#19, 30-1), Unbridled’s Song (#20, 30-1), Uncle Mo (#21, 15-1), Union Rags (#22, 15-1), War Front (#23, 15-1) and “All Other Sires” (#24, 8-1).
The complete schedule for Future Wager dates: Pool 1 and Sire Future Wager, Nov. 24-27; Pool 2, Jan. 27-29; Pool 3 and Oaks Future Wager, Feb. 24-26; and Pool 4, March 31-April 2.
50/50 CHARITABLE GAMING RAFFLE SET FOR CLARK HANDICAP DAY – Churchill Downs will host a 50/50 Charitable Gaming Raffle on “Black Friday,” Nov. 25 with half of the raffle proceeds to benefit the Churchill Downs Incorporated Foundation’s charitable initiatives.
DOLLAR BEER FROM 3-6 P.M. ON CLOSING DAY – As a special thank you to on-track guests throughout the year, Churchill Downs will conclude the 21-day Fall Meet with $1 draft beer from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27.