Live Oak Plantation’s veteran Awesome Slew, a graded stakes winner who has faced some the top middle-distance runners in American racing during his 2017 season, will take on several promising newcomers in a group of eight rivals set to compete in Saturday’s 25th running of the $100,000 Ack Ack (Grade III) at Churchill Downs.
The race for 3-year-olds and up over the track’s one-turn mile distance is one of three stakes events scheduled on the penultimate racing program of the track’s 11-day September Meet. Also on the Saturday schedule are the fifth running of the $200,000 Lukas Classic (GIII), a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up, and the $100,000 Jefferson Cup (Listed), a 1 1/8 mile event for 3-year-olds on the Matt Winn Turf Course. The Ack Ack is scheduled as the 10th of 11 races on the program that begins at 12:45 p.m. (all times Eastern). Post time for the Ack Ack is scheduled for 5:20 p.m.
The 4-year-old Awesome Slew has collected a single win from seven starts on the year, but has run well against a stellar roster of rivals throughout the year since the colt was focused on one-turn distances.
Awesome Slew moved to the stable of trainer Make Casse early in the year and collected his only victory of the season in a win over multiple Grade I winner A.P. Indian in the seven-furlong Commonwealth (GIII) at Keeneland. Other strong efforts during the season include runner-up finishes to Limousine Liberal in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs (GII) on Kentucky Derby Day, Sharp Azteca in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII), Drefong in Saratoga’s seven-furlong Forego (GI) and Mind Your Biscuits in the Belmont Sprint Championship (GII) over seven-furlongs at Belmont Park. Awesome Slew also finished fourth behind Mor Spirit and Sharp Azteca in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap (GI) at Belmont Park.
The son of Awesome Again, who won the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs, drew post four in the Ack Ack and will be ridden by Corey Lanerie, the September Meet’s leading jockey.
A pair of rising stars – William “Buff” Bradley and Carl Hurst’s The Player and Churchill Downs Racing Club’s Warrior’s Club – seek their first graded stakes success in the Ack Ack.
The Player, a 4-year-old homebred son of Street Hero trained by co-owner Bradley, enters the race off an easy one-mile allowance victory at Ellis Park. His best career effort was a runner-up finish to Cupid in the 2016 Indiana Derby (GII) and two of his three career victories came at Churchill Downs, including back-to-back wins during his 3-year-old season. Bradley’s colt has a career record of 3-2-1 in eight races with earnings of $265,885. The Player will be ridden from post seven by Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel, who has a record four career victories in the Ack Ack.
Warrior’s Club enters the Ack Ack of a pair of strong Saratoga outings that included a three-length allowance win at 6 ½ furlongs and a close runner-up finish at seven furlongs to Neolithic, who finished third in his next outing in the Grade I Woodward to Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) contender Gun Runner. Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the 3-year-old son of Warrior’s Reward won last fall’s $200,000 Spendthrift Stallion Stakes, a race restricted to the offspring of stallions standing at Spendthrift Farm, and won a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn Park earlier in the year. Warrior’s Reward has a career slate of 3-3-3 in 16 races and will be ridden from post five by Jon Court.
Another compelling contender in the Ack Ack is Susan Moulton’s Zulu, who makes his first start for trainer Wayne Catalano. The son of Bernardini, who was a $900,000 yearling purchase by Stonestreet Farm LLC and Susan Magnier, reeled off back-to-back victories for former trainer Todd Pletcher in his first two starts in early 2016 before a runner-up finish behind Mohaymen in Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth (GII). He won last December’s seven-furlong $60,000 Tamarac Stakes at Gulfstream Park, but went to the sidelines after three subsequent losses capped by a last-place finish in a field of five in Gulfstream’s $75,000 Jeblar on April 30. Channing Hill will ride from Zulu from post eight.
The race is named in honor of Cain Hoy Stable’s 1971 Horse of the Year Ack Ack, who is enshrined in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. In his only Churchill Downs appearance, Ack Ack won the 1969 Derby Trial, a race now known as the Pat Day Mile (GIII).
The field for the Ack Ack from the rail out (with jockey, assigned weight): Harmac (James Graham, 118), Conquest Big E. (Florent Geroux, 121), Etruscan (Jesus Castanon, 121), Awesome Slew (Lanerie, 121), Warrior’s Club (Court, 121), Pinson (C.J. McMahon, 121), The Player (Borel, 121), Zulu (Hill, 121) and Gray Sky (Chris Landeros, 121).