Archive for June, 2012

Smith still taking his shots at Kentucky Derby

When Kentucky Speedway hosted its inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race last year, Bruton Smith – the wonderfully loquacious and off-the-wall track owner – rankled more than a few fans of real horsepower when he took digs at Churchill Downs and Thoroughbred racing’s signature event, the Kentucky Derby.

One day before last year’s logistical nightmare in Sparta  set in, Smith boldly (and some would say foolishly) sat in the Speedway’s media center and declared “We will outdraw this horsey race you talk about. This event will be larger than anything (the Kentucky Derby) has ever had.”

Of course, those who sat in/witnessed the debacle know last year’s Cup event was remembered for the epic traffic snarl that saw thousands of fans stranded  for  hours trying to get into track and some even turned away due to lack of parking. Even if all of the 107,000-plus who had purchased seats made it into the Speedway, its numbers still didn’t come close to the record 165,307 that turned out for the 138th running of this year’s Kentucky Derby – never mind the 112,552 that showed up for the Oaks.

Even though tonight’s Cup event is unlikely to be a sellout, the ever-bold Smith still didn’t back down from his original stance even when the cold hard numbers were pointed out to him during a Saturday afternoon press conference.

“What I’d like for them (Churchill Downs) to do is come forth and swear,  give us a sworn statement that they had that many people,” Smith said when asked if he wanted to amend his previous statement. “If they do that, then we’ll continue the argument.”

Those who cover NASCAR on a regular basis know that Smith doesn’t back down from much of anything – which is part of the reason he was able to make a Cup date materialize in Kentucky to begin with – so his answer to the above query was expected. But whether Smith wants to accept it or not,  it is the opinion of this humble turf writer that he and his track have more than a long way to go if they are ever going to approach the Kentucky Derby in terms of both relevance and popularity within the Bluegrass.

Put aside the fact the Derby has a 137-year head start on Kentucky’s Cup race. And let’s not even get into the fact that for all of Churchill’s issues – and that list is long – it knows how to get 160,000-plus people in and out of its facility without backing up an interstate to the point where it become national news.

The Thoroughbred race horse is what Kentucky is known for. It is still the signature industry of this state and chances are, no matter where in the world a race horse may be running, there are likely people on every corner of the Bluegrass who have a vested interest. Maybe it’s because the sire stands at their farm. Or the grandsire. Or they once took care of the broodmare. The point is, there are countless people in Kentucky who make their living and are deeply connected to what transpires in races across the country.

And for a sport that is supposedly on its last legs, it continues to produce athletes that inspire a level of passion that would rival any other fan base. Junior Nation is one of the most powerful forces in the game, no doubt. But put them in a steelcage match with the masses who cheered on Black Caviar at Royal Ascot and I’m not so sure who I’d put my money on.

For the record, this is not a bash on NASCAR. I personally grew up as a fan of the sport and still consider myself a patron – even though I have to put my fangirl roots aside for the evening to actually cover tonight’s 400-mile test. What this is a knock on is people with little working knowledge of horse racing who seem to want to try and kick it in the teeth for the sake of building their own product up.

Admittedly, Thoroughbred racing has made itself an easy target with its inability to gets itself together on several major issues and the fact it keeps shooting itself in the foot from a PR standpoint (I’m looking at you, New York State Racing and Wagering Board). But as much as anything right now, the racing community needs to stand up for itself and own what it does best and what it has gotten right.

Both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes drew record crowds this year. And even though I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown hopes ended with a premature retirement, this year’s Belmont Stakes still had more than 85,000 in attendance as well as its third largest on-track handle ever at the track. When the rubber hits the road and racing puts its best face forward, it can put up numbers even the sporting world’s Big Four would be envious of.

When Churchill Downs announced it was now going to base entries in the Kentucky Derby field on points rankings rather than graded stakes earnings, some officials favorably referred to it as a “NASCAR-like system”.

But as Bruton Smith unwittingly emulated again today, even mainstream sports have their struggles. And in this case, Thoroughbred racing should be celebrate the fact that in this particular intrastate match up, they have a open length lead that isn’t likely to fade in the stretch.

Sellers to have MRI after Churchill spill; O’Prado Again back on worktab

Agent Fred Aime said jockey Shane Sellers, who was involved in a spill in Friday night’s ninth race at Churchill Downs, told the Churchill Downs publicity staff the rider was doing relatively well Saturday morning, but was still complaining of pain in his right shoulder. Sellers, the eighth all-time leading rider at Churchill Downs, will get an MRI on his shoulder Saturday afternoon. He will take off all mounts on Saturday and Sunday, but the extent of his injury and the length of his recovery period have not been determined.
Sellers’ mount in the ninth race was Voodoo Daddy, who unseated Sellers after running into the temporary rail on the Matt Winn Turf Course.  Voodoo Daddy suffered cuts in the incident and was taken to Rood & Riddle equine hospital in Lexington. He was reported to be in stable condition Saturday morning and his vets are optimistic he will recover.
Speaking of recoveries,  Donegal Racing’s O’Prado Again, winner of last fall’s Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, returned to the worktab on Saturday for the first time since being injured during a work at Gulfstream Park in January. A 3-year-old son of El Prado, O’Prado Again breezed four furlongs on the fast main track at Churchill Downs in :49.80 for trainer Dale Romans.
“He worked very well and finished strong,” Romans said. “He had a condylar fracture and had surgery. He’s recovered really well and he seems to be coming back at the same level of talent he had before.”
Romans said there are no plans for O’Prado Again’s next start.

Lanerie clinches first Churchill riding crown

From today’s Churchill Downs notes:
After having to settle for second in the jockey standings in three of the last four racing meets at Churchill Downs, veteran Corey Lanerie has clinched his first local riding title to cap off a phenomenal Spring Meet beneath the Twin Spires.
“It feels great to have had such a good meet,” Lanerie said. “To win all the races I’ve won…It’s a dream come true.”
With two cards left at the 2012 Spring Meet, Lanerie has 67 wins from 261 starts (26% win clip) and earnings of $1,951,795. He has 24 more wins than Shaun Bridgmohan, who battled for leading rider earlier in the meet but will finish second in the standings. Lanerie’s wins-per-day rate of 1.86 is the highest for a Spring Meet since Steve Brooks had an average of 2.42 wins per day in 1948.
“It’s been one of the best meets of my career,” Lanerie said. “The money has been great and it’s more noticeable at Churchill Downs. This meet is on the top of my list.”
Lanerie, who eclipsed the 3,000-win plateau early last year, has won riding titles in Texas at Lone Star Park, Sam Houston, Retama Park and Kentucky’s Ellis Park, but he said the Churchill Downs riding title is the most prestigious and it provides the opportunity to take his career to another level.
 “I’ve had some people ask me to ride in stakes races that probably wouldn’t have before (this meet),” Lanerie said. “Maybe they didn’t notice me. I think I’m finally going to be considered a good jock.”
Lanerie, who with 386 local victories is the 19th all-time leading rider at Churchill Downs, said now that he has won a title at the historic Louisville track, the goal now is to get more.
 “My goal was to get on top and now my goal will be to stay on top,” Lanerie said. “I hope I can keep it rolling.”
 Lanerie has 20 mounts over the final two days at Churchill Downs and then will ride at Ellis Park, which opens July 4.

Indomitable Simms sets sights on Bashford Manor

From today’s Churchill Downs notes:
Veteran trainer Garry Simms, in the midst of one of the greatest racing meets of his career with six wins from nine Spring Meet starters, will try to continue he refers to as a “miraculous” meet with Circle Unbroken in Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000-added Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs.
Simms, who has battled multiple myeloma for more than two years, saddled Blueeyesintherein to win last Saturday’s Grade III Debutante for 2-year-old fillies and a win by Circle Unbroken would make him just the fifth trainer to sweep the Spring Meet’s graded stakes races for juveniles.
“Making history like that would be more important for my kids,” Simms said. “Down the road they can look back and talk about it. That would mean the most to me. It’s about my family and my owners now. It’s not about me anymore.”
Circle Unbroken is coming off an impressive 1 ¼-length maiden victory on June 17 at Churchill Downs in his career debut. Simms is confident in the dark bay son of Broken Vow, but realizes Saturday night’s Bashford Manor will be a much tougher race than the colt’s first outing.
 “It’s a pretty open race,” Simms said. “(Trainer Steve) Asmussen’s (Special Jo) will be tough and (trainer) Pat Byrne has a nice colt (Positively) in there. But I feel good about my horse. We’re going over there sound and we’re ready. Our karma is good right now. Things run in cycles in horse racing and we’re on a little bit of a roll, so hopefully we can keep the train rolling.
“I think this is a tougher race than the Debutante,” Simms continued. “I was very confident going into that race. I feel confident now, but I think I have more competition to beat in the Bashford Manor. The horse is doing well, though, and we’ve done all we can do. It’s up to him now.”
Purchased at last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale for $92,000, Circle Unbroken was a relatively expensive purchase for Simms, who is known to look for bargains at the sales.
“It’s the second most I’ve ever paid for a horse,” Simms said. “I just loved the horse. I usually look for bargains, but there was just something about this horse. He’s almost a perfect specimen, as far as conformation goes. He has a few little flaws, but not many. He had the perfect eye, attitude, walk…he had everything I like in a horse. I was going to get him and I probably would have paid more than I did.”
 Simms added the most he ever paid for a horse was $105,000 for a filly named Twelve Steps, who was injured and never raced. Twelve Steps is still owned by Simms in partnership with a few others and he currently has a 2-year-old out of the mare in training at Churchill Downs.
Circle Unbroken was ridden by Leandro Goncalves in his career debut, but veteran Jon Court will have the mount Saturday because Goncalves is out of town. Court was able to get acquainted with Circle Unbroken and worked the horse Wednesday morning in :49 on the fast main track.
“The horse is doing really well, but if we lose I won’t be disappointed,” Simms said. “I know I have a nice horse and it’s just one race. There are plenty more to come. The main thing is that he comes back sound and we’re ready to fight another day. I know I’ve got a good horse. He proved it the day he broke his maiden.”

 

Jockey Club president makes case for reformed medication rules

Below is a letter/position paper issued by Jockey Club president James Gagliano on Friday reemphasizing the push for reformed medication rules in Thoroughbred racing:

 

 

By James L. Gagliano

 

“There’s no legitimate use for dermorphin in racing. This drug in horses is an abuse of the horse. This puts the horse’s life in danger. It puts the jockey’s life in danger. This is an attempt to cheat. This is bad stuff. This is doping.’’

 

That is how Charles Gardiner, the executive director of the Louisiana State Racing Commission, reacted in the New Orleans Times-Picayunewhen news broke recently that 10 horses that had raced at Louisiana tracks has tested positive for the powerful, pain-killing drug dermorphin.

 

Only a few trainers in Louisiana have been named at this time, but we understand that there are dozens of dermorphin positives from multiple states on the horizon. The trainers in Louisiana whose horses have tested positive for dermorphin were issued six-month suspensions.

 

Three months ago, The Jockey Club published an updated version of its Reformed Racing Medication Rules. Those new rules feature a cumulative penalty system featuring stronger penalties for repeat violations. Fines, disqualifications and even lifetime suspensions would be possible for those persistently operating outside regulatory limits.

 

(They are available at: jockeyclub.com/pdfs/reformed_rules.pdf.)

 

If those rules were in effect in Louisiana, or any of the other states in which the same drug has been found recently, any trainer found to have treated a horse with dermorphin would have received, at a minimum, 150 points on his record, a 10-year suspension and a $37,000 fine.

 

It is abundantly clear that the current enforcement system is not working properly. The regulatory penalty structure has failed.

 

We see evidence of this with these blatant attempts by a few unscrupulous parties to beat our drug-testing system. We see more evidence of this in the high proportion of drug violations that only result in fines — fines that are trivial in amount when compared to the purses at stake.

 

Penalties for repeat offenders have been particularly and excruciatingly deficient.

 

In fact, there is no better example of the failure of our penalty system than dermorphin. According to published reports, one of the recent “positives” for dermorphin in Louisiana is associated with a horse whose trainer is alleged to have two prior Class 1 violations on his record.Drugs in this class, according to Racing Commissioners International guidelines, have no generally accepted medical use in the racing horse and their pharmacologic potential for altering the performance of a racing horse is very high.

 

Sadly, inconsequential penalties have become just another cost of doing business. Fines for medication violations are often no more than a small percentage of monthly drug and veterinary expenses in a stable.

 

The harm these incidents do to our sport is immeasurable and irreparable. The dermorphin (“frog juice”) stories ended up on the front page ofThe New York Times and on the TIME magazine website, among many other mainstream outlets.

 

We are not the only sport that plays constant catch-up on new performance-enhancing drugs. Look no further than the use of anabolic steroids in baseball or EPO in cycling.

 

But the general public does not, and should not be expected to, differentiate between therapeutic and performance-enhancing drugs in racing. That is why all race-day medications should be prohibited.

 

The Jockey Club has committed substantial resources to reinvigorate the sport of Thoroughbred racing with a host of fan and owner development initiatives, ranging from television programming and social games and to the creation and launch of a new brand (America’s Best Racing).

 

But we cannot address sustainability issues for our sport until image, integrity, and animal welfare issues, triggered most of all by lax and inconsistent drug policies, are managed and contained.

 

Otherwise, we will suffer death by a thousand cuts.

 

Our hats go off to Petra Hartmann of Industrial Laboratories Co. Inc. in the Denver area for conducting research that led to the development of a post-race test that found and identified dermorphin.

 

Clearly, we need to improve the standards of all of our drug-testing labs, accredit them and then ensure that they share their common procedures and findings in a unified effort to improve the integrity of the sport.

 

Back in January, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) board of directors voted to shift the group’s main research focus from therapeutic medications to drugs that pose an immediate threat to the integrity of racing.

That was a good decision.

Regulators know we have to reform our rules, and so do most horsemen.

“Problems like we’re having now with dermorphin, quite simply, can be traced to three issues,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board. “Our laboratories are underfunded, our research is underfunded, and our penalties are inadequate.”

A longtime owner, breeder and trainer named Christine Janks recently took our industry to task for its lackadaisical approach to drugs and penalties in a commentary that appeared in the Paulick Report.

 

She said, “I wonder about all the people defrauded out of winnings while this has been going on, and I wonder if racing will ever get serious about getting rid of the criminals…. Maybe we ought to try a novel approach: Give the honest guy a chance.”

 

If someone within our industry feels that way, we can only imagine how fans or prospective fans feel as they digest reports about frog juice and other illegal elements.

 

It was heartening to see the Thoroughbred Racing Associations board of directors call for the implementation of uniform regulations regarding more restrictive use of a limited number of therapeutic drugs, a strong penalty structure for violators, and the elimination of treatment practices that could imperil the welfare of the horse when racing.

 

It is encouraging to see industry organizations such as Breeders’ Cup Limited and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association taking steps to reform drug policies, and it is comforting to see racing commissions moving in the same direction.

 

The decision by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on June 13 to begin a phase out of furosemide in graded or listed stakes races was one example.

 

New rules in New Mexico take effect July 31 and include lowering the legal level of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that horses can receive before racing, which was recommended by the RMTC and The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee.

 

Charles Gardiner is exactly right when he talks about dermorphin.

 

This is bad stuff. This is doping.

 

We need to make reforms and we need to do so now. The racing commissions of this country should redesign their rules. And the adoption of Reformed Racing Medication Rules is a good place to start.

 

James L. Gagliano is the president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club.

 

Calhoun, fellow horsemen ready for record temps

From today’s Churchill Downs notes:
Trainer Bret Calhoun has recorded more than 2,000 victories in a career that began in 1994 and many of those wins came at racetracks in his home state of Texas, where temperatures in the summer will regularly hit triple digits. The 48-year-old conditioner has a lot of experience preparing horses to race in high temperatures and he said his horses will be ready for this weekend’s racing at Churchill Downs.
        With near-record heat looming in the forecast, Churchill Downs officials adjusted post times for Friday, Saturday and Sunday and the first race on each of those days will come at 6:30 p.m. Thursday’s nine-race program was cancelled earlier in the week because National Weather Service forecasters were calling for a high of 103 with a southwest win of 5-15 mph and gusts up to 26 mph.
        “You have to concentrate on keeping them hydrated,” Calhoun said. “We give our horses electrolytes when the temperature increases. The way you do it now most times is to feed them the electrolytes a few days before the race.”
        Calhoun, who has five horses entered at Churchill Downs over the weekend, said post-race care is also a key factor for keeping the horses safe.
        “You need to get some cool water on them as quick as you can,” Calhoun said. “You can get them cooled down pretty well, but they need attention as soon as they pull up.”
        Calhoun, who won two Breeders’ Cup Championships races at Churchill Downs in 2010 with Dubai Majesty (Filly and Mare Sprint) and Chamberlain Bridge (Turf Sprint), does not expect there to be any horse-related issues during this weekend’s racing.
        “The horses handle the heat pretty well,” Calhoun said. “The times when they don’t handle it well is when there are extreme temperature changes. But we’ve had so many nice days leading up to this that I think all the horses will be well acclimated and well hydrated and I don’t expect there to be any problems.”

Grade I winner Bodemeister to stand at WinStar upon retirement

 Bodemeister, winner of this year’s Grade I  Arkansas Derby and runner up in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, will enter stud at WinStar Farm upon his retirement, his connections announced on Thursday.
A partnership was formed between WinStar and the colt’s owners, Ahmed Zayat and Mike and Tiffany Moreno, who will continue to race the colt.
“Bodemeister is brilliant by design,” said Elliott Walden, WinStar Farm President, in a statement. “The raw speed he shows, combined with his freakish numbers, makes him the best stallion prospect on the market. I can’t remember the last time a three-year-old colt ran three straight triple-digit Beyers around two turns before the Kentucky Derby like he did. And he’s by leading sire Empire Maker, out of a million-dollar Storm Cat mare. He is truly brilliant by design.
“Bodemeister will be in an advantageous situation when he retires to stud,” added Walden. “Mr. Zayat and Mr. Moreno have built quality broodmare bands and are very active in the marketplace. I think breeders will love the fact they start off with three potential bidders on his babies. We are excited about the possibilities and the relationship.”
Trained by Bob Baffert, Bodemeister jumped onto the Derby trail in February with an eye-catching 9 1/4-length maiden win in California. In just his fourth start, the bay son of Empire  Maker  scored his biggest win to date in the $1 million Arkansas Derby, romping by 9 ½ lengths to cement his status as a Kentucky Derby favorite.
With Mike Smith in the irons, Bodemeister set the pace for the Kentucky Derby – including a :45.39 half mile and a 1:09.80 six furlongs – before being caught in deep stretch by eventual dual classic winner I’ll Have Another. Bodemeister put in another stellar run in the Preakness Stakes two weeks later only to suffer a case of instant replay when I’ll Have Another ran him down again in the final strides.
Having sat out the Belmont Stakes, Bodemeister recorded his first breeze since the Preakness at Santa Anita last Sunday as he prepares for an expected start in the $1 million Haskell Invitational with a year-end goal of running in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. An earner of $1,304,800 to date, Bodemeister is out of the graded stakes-winning Storm Cat mare Untouched Talent.
“I love Empire Maker, who was an awesome racehorse and has proven to be a great sire,” said Ahmed Zayat, owner of Zayat Stables. “I’ve been lucky to own three Grade I winners by Empire Maker, and Bodemeister is the most special because of the enjoyment he has given to me and my family. We are loving racing him, and I really believe Bodemeister is just getting started.
“I’m excited about our partnership with Kenny Troutt, who is a great sportsman, and I have full confidence in the leadership of Elliott Walden and the WinStar team,” he added. “I look forward to racing little Bodemeisters one day down the road.”

Fair Grounds boosts stakes purses for 2012-13 racing season

Fair Grounds press release:

Fair Grounds Race Course, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., has boosted the purses of eight open-company races on its 2012-2013 stakes schedule released Thursday, marking the third straight year the average stakes purse has increased at the New Orleans racetrack. Last season the track raised purses on 19 stakes events.

The 84-day  Thoroughbred Racing Season – running Nov. 22, 2012 to March 31, 2013 – will feature 56 stakes cumulatively worth $7,435,000, highlighted by the milestone 100th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 30. The average stakes purse at Fair Grounds will be worth $132,768 and half of the stakes, 28 of 56, will carry six-figure amounts.

The majority of the stakes increases went to five of the track’s 10 graded stakes.

The first two legs of Fair Grounds’ three-race graded stakes series for 3-year-olds received significant boosts. The Risen Star Stakes will be worth $400,000 (a $100,000 increase) and the Lecomte Stakes  will be run for $200,000 (a $25,000 bump).

Two important graded events for older horses – the Mineshaft Handicap  on the main track and the Fair Grounds Handicap on turf – were raised to $150,000 apiece (from $125,000 each last season). The  Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap, which precedes the Fair Grounds Handicap in a three-race graded stakes series for older turf horses, is now worth $125,000 (up from $100,000).

The Thanksgiving Handicap for top sprinters will carry a six-figure purse for the first time. The 87th running of Fair Grounds’ traditional opening day feature will be worth $100,000 (up from $75,000).

Also given $25,000 bumps were the top two main-track events for fillies and mares – the New Orleans Ladies, now at $150,000, and the Tiffany Lass Stakes, now worth $100,000.

“Our emphasis that past three years has been on improving the overall quality of racing at Fair Grounds and these increases are another part of that strategy,” said Fair Grounds president Tim Bryant. “Owners and trainers should know that if they bring their very best horses to New Orleans they will have every chance to be rewarded.”

Bryant cited trainer Larry Jones as the prime example of a horseman who reaped the benefits of relocating to Fair Grounds. After several seasons elsewhere, Jones filled 44 stalls in New Orleans last meet and led all trainers with nearly $1.5 million in earnings and six stakes wins (plus two lucrative runner-up finishes in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby).

Two new stakes that have yet to be named were added to bolster options in divisions that have become increasingly competitive in recent seasons. Both are 5 ½-furlong turf sprints for 3-year-olds, to be run in gender-restricted divisions.

Six races from last season’s stakes schedule are not returning – five from Claiming Crown XIII, which was hosted at Fair Grounds for the first time in December, and the Kudzu Juvenile for Alabama-breds, which has been discontinued by the Alabama Thoroughbred Breeders Racing Association.

The Fair Grounds stakes schedule is highlighted by 10 stakes that were graded last season – five Grade II and five Grade III. The Grade II events are the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby for 3-year-olds, the Fair Grounds Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, the New Orleans Handicap for older horses and the Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap for older turf horses.

The Grade III events are the Lecomte Stakes for 3-year-olds, the Rachel Alexandra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, the Mineshaft Handicap for older horses, and both the Fair Grounds Handicap and the Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap for older turf horses.

The North American Graded Stakes committee will meet in December to determine gradings for 2013.

“We are hopeful the esteemed committee will agree that Fair Grounds deserves a Grade I race,” said Eric Halstrom, Vice President and General Manger for Racing. “This year Believe You Can became the fifth Fair Grounds Oaks winner in the race’s last eight runnings to also win the Kentucky Oaks. We’re proud to be the winter home for some of the nation’s finest horses and believe it’s just a matter of time until Fair Grounds is rewarded with a Grade I race.”

Churchill Downs to have 6:30 p.m. post times for closing weekend due to heat wave

Churchill Downs release:
Churchill Downs officials will adjust their post times and race exclusively in the evening for the final three days of its Spring Meet due to looming near-record triple-digit heat in the forecast for Louisville.  The first race on Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be 6:30 p.m. (all times Eastern). On Tuesday evening it was decided that Thursday’s nine-race program would be cancelled because National Weather Service forecasters were calling for a high of 103 with a southwest wind of 5-15 mph and gusts up to 26 mph.
The Grade III Bashford Manor Stakes for 2-year-olds, which was already scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. post time, headlines the Saturday card while the Grade II Firecracker Handicap on the turf is the main event of Sunday’s card. Entries for Sunday will be taken on Thursday.
Revised Closing Week Schedule at Churchill Downs (June 28-July 1)
 
Day First Race Last Race Races
Thursday, June 28 Cancelled (originally 12:45 p.m.) Cancelled (originally 4:54 p.m.) Cancelled (9 races)
Friday, June 29 6:30 p.m. (originally 2:45 p.m.) 11:30 p.m. (originally 7:54 p.m.) 11 races
Saturday, June 30 6:30 p.m. (originally 6 p.m.) 11:40 p.m. (originally 6 p.m.) 11 races
Sunday, July 1 6:30 p.m. (originally 12:45 p.m.) 11:00 p.m. (originally 5:20 p.m.) 10 races
 
        Track officials made the decision to adjust its closing weekend schedule following a meeting with National Weather Service forecasters on Wednesday afternoon.
        “Given the record-setting heat expected throughout the closing weekend of our Spring Meet, we hope the shift of our Friday ‘Twilight Racing’ program and Sunday’s closing day racing program to nighttime programs is a solution that, given the forecast for extreme heat, is one that works for our horsemen and our racing fans,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “The installation of our permanent lights three years ago has allowed the flexibility to adapt to the extreme heat and develop a schedule that eases our most serious concerns about the safety of our equine and human athletes, meets the needs of our horsemen by preserving races scheduled for the meet’s final three days, and provides fans who wish to enjoy Churchill Downs racing – either on-track, online or at satellite wagering centers –the opportunity to do so.
        “We regret that we will not be able to make up the races lost through the cancellation of Thursday’s racing during the final days of the Spring Meet, but our weather scenario deteriorated rapidly early in the week and we had to make a swift decision on the status of Thursday’s racing. Our team had a bit more time to focus on the meet’s final three days and we consulted with the National Weather Service to determine, as closely as possible, the hour-by-hour temperature scenario for the weekend. We will continue to take every possible precaution to guard against heat-related health issues over those three days, but we believe the night racing programs on Friday and Sunday will ease the threat of weather-related issues.”
        The cancellation of races at Churchill Downs is extremely rare. Thursday’s cancellation was only the 18th documented weather-related cancellation in track history and the first related to extreme heat.
Documented Live Racing Cancellations at Churchill Downs
 
Date Races Races Lost Reason
June 28, 2012 All Races 9 Forecast of extreme heat
June 23, 2011 All Races 9 Cleanup of damage following June 22 tornado
May 8, 2009 After Race 5 5 Heavy rain, thunder & lightning
May 30, 2004 After Race 4 6 Severe weather, tornado warnings
June 6, 1990 After Race 3 6 Severe weather, tornado warnings
Nov. 13, 1986 All Races 9 Frozen racetrack
Nov. 24, 1970 All Races 9 Frozen racetrack
Nov. 23, 1970 All Races 9 Frozen racetrack
Nov. 17, 1959 All Races 8 Frozen racetrack
Nov. 4, 1936 All Races 7 Snow
Sept. 29, 1884 All Races n/a Rain
Sept. 27, 1884 All Races n/a Rain
Sept. 24, 1884 All Races n/a Rain
Oct. 4, 1883 All Races n/a Rain
Oct. 1, 1883 All Races n/a Mud
May 22, 1883 All Races n/a Rain
Sept. 28, 1882 All Races n/a Rain
Sept. 21, 1882 All Races n/a Mud
 
        Admission gates for Friday, Saturday and Sunday will open at 4 p.m. (although Gate 17 will be open for simulcast wagering each day at 11:30 a.m.). Buffets in the dining rooms will open at 5 p.m. General admission is $3 on Friday and Sunday, and $10 on Saturday for Downs After Dark ($3 before 4 p.m.).
Friday’s Happy Hours in the paddock area, featuring 16-ounce Stella Artois for $3 and music by Edgewood, will switch to 6:30-9:30 p.m.
        The spring finale of “Downs After Dark” is Saturday and the 11-race card is billed. Another special treat will be an appearance by Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another who’ll be on hand to accept the engraved Kentucky Derby 138 trophies on behalf of the winning connections.
        Sunday’s Junior Jockey Club activities will go on as scheduled but the one-day “Who’s the Champ? Handicapping Contest” scheduled that day has been postponed because of timing conflicts. Pre-registered contestants will be contacted in the next few days by track officials.
Although live racing was cancelled for Thursday, Churchill Downs will be open at 11:30 a.m., as usual, for simulcast wagering on racetracks throughout North America in the in the track’s Clubhouse. Those groups and individual patrons who purchased seating for Thursday are being contacted by Churchill Downs to reschedule their visit.

Turallure, Successful Dan set for weekend stakes

There is something to be said at times for traveling on the path of least resistance.

With potentially daunting tasks lying ahead for his charges in the second half of the year, trainer Charlie Lopresti isn’t the least bit sorry two of his top runners appear to be landing in relatively softer spots for their outings this weekend.

The Keeneland-based Lopresti figures to have two favorites to saddle within a span of 48 hours as veteran graded stakes winner Successful Dan is slated to start in the Grade III Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows on Saturday while his Grade I winning stablemate Turallure is headed to the Grade II Firecracker Handicap on Sunday, the closing day of the Churchill Downs Spring meeting.

Both Successful Dan and Turallure looked their respective parts as the ones to beat when they were sent out for their final pre-race drills Tuesday morning. The six-year-old Successful Dan blew out three furlongs in :36 flat over the Keeneland Polytrack with Turallure covering four furlongs in an easy :49.60.

“They’re doing good,” Lopresti said.

In just his second start back after being sidelined for nearly 17 months with a suspensory injury, Successful Dan reaffirmed the long held belief  he could be among the leaders in the handicap division when he captured the Grade II Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs in May over the likes of Mucho Macho Man – then the top ranked horse in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll.

Though Lopresti considered sending Morton Fink’s homebred  to the Grade II Suburban at Belmont Park on July 7 off that emphatic win, he didn’t want the disadvantage of having to ship the gelded son of Successful Appeal into New York to face Grade I winners like To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty that were already stabled and training over the sandy 1 1/2-miles oval.

Among those Successful Dan could face in the Cornhusker are defending race winner Headache and Grade II winner Prayer for Relief.

“I just think those horses in the Suburban have been training and running up there and (the Cornhusker) will be an easier spot,” Lopresti said outside his Keeneland barn Tuesday. “At (Prairie Meadows) everyone is going to have to ship in and it will be an even playing field. When I can hook those horses, I’d rather it be at Saratoga when I can be up there training. (The Suburban) is $350,000 and a Grade II and the other race is $300,000… but he’s a gelding so grading doesn’t matter. It’s all about the money.”

It’s also partly about trying to keep Successful Dan and his Grade I winning half brother, Wise Dan, out of each other’s hair – something Lopresti concedes he may not be able to do for much longer.

Both Wise Dan and Successful Dan were entered in the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on June 16,  but the latter was only done as a precautionary move in case Wise Dan came up with an aliment. Though little brother hardly disappointed by finishing second, beaten only a head by Ron the Greek after having run extremely wide in the stretch, Lopresti thinks he and Fink may have ended up celebrating after all if they had gone ahead and let the siblings sort out for themselves which one was currently leading the ability curve.

“I’m starting to think maybe I shouldn’t try to keep these horses apart,” Lopresti said, adding he might start both Dans in the Grade I Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on August 4 depending on how the Cornhusker goes. “I gave up a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup race down there the other night because I’m not so sure that if Successful Dan was in there he wouldn’t have won. I don’t know how you can separate either one of them really. I always said if it comes down to a dogfight I think Successful Dan is a little tougher, but Wise Dan got by Nates Mineshaft. He just never saw the other horse coming.”

Last year’s Firecracker served as a turning point for Wise Dan as he took the one-mile test in his first try over the turf to break a three race losing skid.

Lopresti is hoping Churchill’s closing day feature can provide the same confidence boost for Turallure, who has lost his last three outings since taking the Grade I Woodbine Mile last September.

Two of those defeats are ones Turallure  probably doesn’t realize he lost. Four D Stable’s homebred son of Wando was beaten a nose by Court Vision in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill last November and came up just a neck short of Data Link in the Grade I Maker’s 46 Mile in his seasonal bow at Keeneland on April 13.

Turallure’s seventh place finish in the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on May 5 was one of just five off-the-board outings in his 18-race career thus far, something Lopresti blames on running the five-year-old back too quickly after a hard previous outing.

“You look at Data Link and Get Stormy, they didn’t run very good either in (the Turf Classic) and they both came back and ran 1-2 (in the Grade II Monmouth Stakes on June 1o),” Lopresti said. “That tells me that I ran back too quick, and my horse had had a long layoff too. I was disappointed but then when I looked at how all those other horses ran that came out of the race here, they all didn’t fire.”

Turallure’s expected competition for the Firecracker went down a notch when trainer Dale Romans said last week that  Grade I winning mare Tapitsfly would not contest the race and instead point for the Grade I Diana at Saratoga on July 28. Romans is  expected to have Guys Reward in the Firecracker, but the five-year-old horse is still seeking his first graded stakes score.

“I think he’s going to run good, I think this will be his building block for the rest of the summer hopefully,” Lopresti said of Turallure. “We were going to go to Canada and run in the King Edward (last weekend) but I thought I would give him an extra week and I knew this one would come up lighter and give him an easier race. Hopefully it will get his confidence up.”

 

 

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