Archive for February, 2015

Horton mulling start in Rebel for champion filly Take Charge Brandi

Owner Willis Horton confirmed Wednesday afternoon he is mulling starting his champion filly Take Charge Brandi against males in the Grade II, $750,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park March 14.


Horton told Oaklawn Park’s publicity staff that Take Charge Brandi, the reigning champion 2-year-old filly, is “50-50” to stay against her own sex and run in the Grade III Honeybee Stakes on March 7 but that he personally was leaning toward an outing in the Rebel.


The 1 1/16-miles Rebel Stakes is expected to mark the seasonal debut for Zayat Stables’  American Pharoah, the champion 2-year-old male of 2014. The Rebel would be Take Charge Brandi’s first race against males.


“I guess we’re going to have to look at it and see,” Horton told Oaklawn Park. “I haven’t completely made up my mind yet, but I would like to run in the Rebel. That’s exactly where I’d like to.”


Horton said he will confer with the filly’s Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, before a decision is made, which the owner believes will come by the middle of next week. Post positions for the 1 1/16-mile Honeybee will be drawn March 4.


Lukas also trains Mr. Z who,  like American Pharoah, is owned by Zayat Stables. Mr. Z finished third in the Grade III Southwest Stakes this past Sunday. While Lukas  indicated he wanted to run the colt back in the Rebel, owner Ahmed Zayat and his son Justin Zayat announced on Twitter this week that Mr. Z would instead be pointed to a start in the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 28 in order to keep him and American Pharoah apart.


Take Charge Brandi, in her 3-year-old debut, won the $100,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 31 by a head. The daughter of Giant’s Causeway earned divisional honors after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, the Grade III Delta Princess, and the Grade I Starlet Stakes to close out her nine-race campaign in 2014.


Take Charge Brandi is out of the mare Charming, who is a half sister to champion Will Take Charge. Will Take Charge was conditioned by Lukas and campaigned by Horton throughout his career before retiring to stud at Three Chimneys Farm for the 2015 season.


China Horse Club buys into Grade I winner Daredevil

Edited release:

China Horse Club has acquired a minority interest in Grade I winner Daredevil, who is set to make his 3-year-old debut in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park.


A son of More Than Ready, Daredevil captured the Grade I Champagne Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths at Belmont last October before finishing last in a field of 11 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The chestnut colt is trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by Let’s Go Racing and WinStar Farm.


“Let’s Go Racing and WinStar are thrilled to have such an exciting new partner as China Horse Club, who recently approached us with an interest in buying into Daredevil,” said Let’s Go Racing’s Bryan Sullivan. “China Horse Club’s racing accomplishments at the highest level around the globe are nothing short of impressive.”


China Horse Club is an emerging international Thoroughbred racing club that has bought into such recent world-class horses as three-time Group I winner Australia, last year’s winner of the Epsom and Irish Derbies, and Parranda, last Sunday’s winner of the $3.05 million Singapore Cup.


China Horse Club has also bought into Australian star Dissident, who captured his fourth Group I win earlier this month in the CF Orr Stakes Feb. 14 at Caulfield. Dissident, who’s retiring to stud this spring at Newgate Farm, is by More Than Ready’s son Sebring, a rising young sire in Australia.


“China Horse Club has already enjoyed tremendous success with a top colt from the More Than Ready sire line with Australian superstar Dissident,” said WinStar Farm president Elliott Walden. “So it’s a great fit to have such a top international outfit associated with an exciting young Grade 1 winner in Daredevil, who possesses such a great international pedigree.”


Daredevil earned $345,000 last year as a 2-year-old. Prior to his Champagne effort, he scored an impressive 6 ¼-length debut win at Belmont. The colt hails from the multiple Grade I-producing Forty Niner mare Chasethewildwind, who is also the dam of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Grade I Donn Handicap winner Albertus Maximus.

Champion Main Sequence gets his season started in Mac Diarmida

Winning four straight Grade I races in the same calendar year is a feat even some brilliant champions don’t have on their resume. Not Curlin, not Wise Dan.  Even reigning Horse of the Year California Chrome had his collection of top-level triumphs in 2014 interrupted by a few defeats in between.

When put in such context, what Main Sequence achieved last season deserves all the reverence his two Eclipse Awards can quantify. Four times the chestnut gelding raced in 2014, all in Grade I company. And every time he came away victorious and in better form than he began.

In the aftermath of Main Sequence’s Breeders’ Cup Turf triumph last November, trainer Graham Motion declared that the world was his oyster at the moment. What Motion hopes will be the jump off point for another exceptional bout of momentum kicks off this Saturday as champion Main Sequence makes his seasonal bow against seven others in the Grade II, $200,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes going 1 3/8ths miles over the Gulfstream Park turf.

This January, Main Sequence joined John Henry (1981), Gio Ponti (2009), and Wise Dan (2012-13) as the only horses to sweep the Eclipse Awards for both champion older male and champion turf male. Ironically, it was announced Thursday that due to “a growing consensus among…the three voting organizations to more clearly define the older horse categories” that the voting for the newly-christened Older Dirt Male and Older Dirt Female categories would now be limited to performances on dirt and main track surfaces in North American races.

No matter the surface one was examining in 2014, no older male was as dominant as Main Sequence. After  winning the Grade I United Nations Stakes last July in his first start after coming over from England, the Flaxman Holdings’ homebred ripped off subsequent victories in the Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational and Grade I Joe Hirsch Classic before capping off his championship year with a half-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

“It was very rewarding and very gratifying. I could never imagine that when the horse came to me at this time last year that we would have had that kind of a year ahead of us,” Motion said. “The horse has done everything we’ve asked. Every time I’ve worked him, every time I’ve run him he always seems to improve to me. He just continues to impress me.

“You just like to see the horse get the recognition for what he accomplished. I’m  not sure people appreciate it is how hard it is to win four Grade Is in a row without a blemish on your record.”

Previously trained in England by David Lanigan, Main Sequence was sent to Motion’s barn late in 2013 in an attempt to break the son of Aldebaran out of a 10-race losing skid, but he ended up getting pneumonia while in quarantine and spent a month in a New York clinic.

Once recovered, Main Sequence remarkably was able to unearth the best form of his life under Motion’s keen handling.

His Breeders’ Cup outing was the only race he truly got away from the gate in good order. And anyone wanting to tag him a distance-loving plodder need only watch the closing kick Main Sequence delivered in the Joe Hirsch after rating fifth behind an opening half mile in 50.89.

“I like to think there is a lot of upside to him,” Motion said. “He just kind of was figuring out the gate issue at the end of the year and I think that’s what made such a big difference in the Breeders’ Cup.”

In addition to having the class edge in the Mac Diarmida, Main Sequence will be reunited with his regular jockey Rajiv Maragh. Maragh had to miss the Breeders’ Cup due to a broken arm, watching as Hall of Famer John Velazquez guided his quirky mount to his defining win.

“Rajiv did such a great job with this horse and he is a big part of what made this horse so good,” Motion said. “I’ve always told him it was his mount. And certainly Johnny understands that.”

Beyond the Mac Diarmida, Motion plans to send Main Sequence to Dubai for the start in the $5 million Sheema Classic on March 28. From there, it will be all about trying to better the remarkable tear he went on a season ago.

“The Mac Diarmida is five weeks before the Sheema Classic so the timing is perfect really,” Motion said. “I think then he could still come back and have the same campaign as he had last year in a race like the United Nations.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Eclipse Awards categories renamed Older Dirt Male, Older Dirt Female

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, National Turf Writers and Broadcasters and Daily Racing Form announced Thursday rules modifications and name changes in two Eclipse Awards categories. The Older Male category has been renamed Older Dirt Male and the Older Female category has been renamed Older Dirt Female.


Beginning with voting on the 2015 Eclipse Awards at the end of this year, criteria for the Older Dirt Male category, for horses 4-years old and older, will be limited to performances on dirt and main track surfaces in North American races, and the criteria for the Older Dirt Female category, for fillies and mares 4-years old and older, will also be limited to performances on dirt and main track surfaces.


Races conducted on synthetic surfaces during the year will be considered as main track races in both Older Dirt Male  and Older Dirt Female categories.


In previous years, older male turf horses were eligible to win both the Champion Turf Horse honor and Champion Older Horse, and older female turf horses were eligible to win Champion Female Turf Horse and the Older Female Eclipse Awards.


The groundswell to make a change to that has peaked in recent years as Gio Ponti (2009), Wise Dan (2012 and 2013) and Main Sequence (2014) all swept the champion turf male and older males categories. Main Sequence and Wise Dan – who combined for seven Grade I wins between them in 2014 – were two of the three finalists for champion older male this year with Palace Malice rounding out the trio.


Since the Eclipse Awards were established in 1971, no female has swept both champion older female and champion turf female.



“There has been a growing consensus among members of the three voting organizations to more clearly define the older horse categories in determining male and female champions on dirt and turf,” said Keith Chamblin, Senior Vice President of the NTRA and a member of the Eclipse Awards steering committee. “Older male and female turf horses will continue to compete for the turf championships in their gender divisions, while the older male and female dirt horses will compete strictly against horses on the dirt or main track surfaces in their respective divisions. All are eligible for the Horse of the Year category. ”


Hall of Famer John Henry was the first horse to sweep both champion older male and champion turf male when he achieved the feat in 1981.


The Eclipse Awards honor excellence in Thoroughbred racing in 17 human and equine categories. The NTRA, the NTWAB and DRF comprise the three voting organizations of the Eclipse Awards.


The 17 equine and human categories for 2015 are as follows:  2-year-old Male, 2-year-old Filly, 3-year-old Male, 3-year-old Filly, Older Dirt Male, Older Dirt Female, Male Sprinter, Female Sprinter, Male Turf Horse, Female Turf Horse, Steeplechase Horse, Horse of the Year; Owner, Breeder, Trainer, Apprentice Jockey and Jockey.

Jones hoping Bluff becomes his latest barn standout

The Mardi Gras celebration was taking place all around trainer Larry Jones’s Fair Grounds base this week. But while the annual festival still sets the bar in terms of debauchery, it is the Jones shedrow that reigns of late as one of the pinnacle spots of merriment within The Big Easy.

Each time the Hopkinsville native checks on the 37 horses currently is his care, Jones is reminded how good he has it – specifically of the 63 percent win percentage he boasts in stakes races thus far in 2015 and the 34 percent overall win percentage that is tops among any trainer in the top 20 nationally.

“It’s pretty fun to go to work in the morning,” Jones said this Tuesday.  “When I look at my list in the morning, I think I have one maiden and everybody else is a stakes horse when I go to ride in the morning.”

An additional boost to any trainer’s mood this time of year is having a Kentucky Derby contender in the barn. Already bursting  with depth and quality, Jones is looking to add that to his stockpile when he saddles Fox Hill Farms’ Bluff in Saturday’s Grade II, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

The winner of the 1 1/16-miles Risen Star will be awarded 50 points towards Kentucky Derby eligibility as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

A son of leading sire Tapit, Bluff earned his shot to try stakes company for the first time off his impressive 5 3/4-length victory in a maiden race going one mile and 70 yards at Fair Grounds January 22. That outing was the third career start for the leggy chestnut colt, but the first time he got  both a good trip and his mind fully into the game, according to Jones.

Sent off as the favorite in his career debut on December 11, Bluff had to race up closer than Jones wanted after traveling wide on the first turn and ended up a well-beaten fifth behind fellow Risen Star entrant Tiznow R J.

His next start on January 1 was another hair-puller as Bluff got carried seven wide around the first turn – “about  to the parking lot,” Jones cracked – and never got his momentum going as he came home eighth.

“He’s always shown us a lot of talent, he was just a very immature horse so we’re pretty much been having to drag our feet with him and let him grow up and fill up that brain that he’s got,” Jones said. “His first couple races, we weren’t having the racing luck we would have liked him to have. But then the third trip we got a good trip, he was able to get in, save ground, and get out when it was time to go.

“If he can do that (Saturday) I think he’s this caliber. He seems to be a very good horse and I think he’ll get better with age.”

Bluff’s big body and mental development have demanded patience. But his maiden win in which he crossed the wire while geared down was a glimpse at what he could be if the cards fall his way in Saturday’s 10-horse field, which also features LeComte Stakes winner International Star.

“He doesn’t have a lot of early speed to shake loose. He’s got to get tucked in and be able to get out when its time to go,” Jones said. “He was little bit awkward as a young horse because he’s so tall, trying to get his legs to go the right way…it just didn’t happen all the time. It just took him a while to learn his trade but he’s getting good.”

If he soaks in the atmosphere around him, Bluff could about be unbeatable this weekend.

On Tuesday as Bourbon Street housed the masses, Jones went home with his fifth stakes win from eight starts this year as Divine Beauty captured the Mardi Gras Stakes.

In addition to Bluff in the Risen Star, Jones is saddling three starters in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies including morning-line second choice I’m a Chatterbox. And he still has horses like graded stakes winner Coup de Grace and 2013 Kentucky Derby starter Normandy Invasion gearing up for spring campaigns.

“We’re just very blessed and right now we’re just going to ride with it,” Jones said of his barn. “And there are horses you haven’t heard of yet. We have (Oaks winner) Proud Spell’s Bernardini colt, we have a half to (Oaks winner) Believe You Can sitting in here that runs on Saturday. We have a deep bunch. It makes my job a whole lot easier and a whole lot more fun.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

TVG acquires HRTV; will merge operations

Edited release:

Betfair’s TVG subsidiary and The Stronach Group Wednesday announced that TVG will assume the operations of HRTV, which will be operated from the TVG Studio complex in Los Angeles. The unified television operations will feature races from Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park, Pimlico, Laurel Park, and Golden Gate Fields over a seven-year period, as well as additional premium domestic and international racetracks.


The agreement paves the way for more than 5,000 additional races from US tracks to be broadcast over the two networks. Via cable, satellite and telco distribution, TVG is currently available in 36.5 million US homes and HRTV is available in 19.5 million US homes.


“This is a very exciting step for TVG and HRTV as it enhances our ability to deliver premier horseracing content to our viewers, to show more races and to promote racing in the US,” said TVG CEO Kip Levin. “With our recent investment in our new, state of the art, HD studios now complete, we’re pleased to expand our coverage of the Stronach Group tracks as part of a unified TV platform. This agreement is part of TVG’s commitment to deliver the very best in US racing, to generate incremental wagering on our advanced-deposit wagering platform and, to drive additional advertising and distribution opportunities.”


“Combining the significant investments we have made in our facilities and racing content with TVG’s significant investments in television technology and distribution is the best way forward for ensuring a world class experience for all of our important customers and our fellow stakeholders in racing,” said Alon Ossip, CEO of the Stronach Group.


The two networks will be able to show more live horse racing, officials indicated. Today TVG telecasts approximately 27,000 races per year, and HRTV shows approximately 16,000, with significant overlap and many races on tape delay due to scheduling conflicts. TVG officials estimate that the two networks will be able to broadcast live approximately 40,000 races per year — over 5,000 additional new races than are shown today. The networks will merge operations over the next several weeks.


Betfair will make an initial payment of $25 million and estimates that it will pay further consideration totaling $47.8 million over the seven-year period, although the total consideration is dependent upon TVG’s future handle. Based on projected future cash flows, the present fair market value of these payments is estimated to be $56.3 million. In the last twelve months, under previous agreements, TVG paid $4.3 million in television fees to HRTV related to television content, including The Stronach Group racetracks, for which HRTV has held exclusive rights. This transaction eliminates the need for TVG to pay those television fees.


Following the transaction, Betfair will own 100% of the equity in the unified television operation. The transaction does not include XpressBet, the advanced-deposit wagering company owned by the Stronach Group.

Shared Belief bound for Big ‘Cap; Chrome confirmed for Dubai World Cup

Edited release:

It was business as usual for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and his crew after recording one of their most memorable victories, Shared Belief’s 1 ½-length triumph in Saturday’s Grade II San Antonio Invitational over Horse of the Year California Chrome in a race that will be indelibly ensconced in the minds of the 21,522 fans in attendance at Santa Anita Park in addition to legions who watched on TV and on-line.

“Jerry got to the barn at 2:40 this morning and I was already there,” said Hollendorfer’s trusted assistant, Dan Ward. “He said, ‘I thought I’d beat you here this morning.’

“Shared Belief was excellent this morning,” Ward said. “He ate all his feed. What happened in the past is not important. The only thing is the future, and that would include the Santa Anita Handicap (on March 7).

“He’ll go back to Golden Gate tomorrow, train up there, probably come back the Wednesday before the race, keeping the same schedule as in the past.”

Both Hollendorfer and Ward were magnanimous after Shared Belief’s ninth victory from 10 career starts, Ward saying California Chrome’s trainer and his team are “100 percent class at all times.”

Hollendorfer, swarmed by media Saturday in a post-race press conference in the winner’s circle, said, “California Chrome has a big following, deservedly so. He deserved to be Horse of the Year. If things had gone a little bit different (in the Breeders’ Cup Classic), I might have got a chance, but you can’t always get things to go your way . . . I’m proud of Art and his horse, and I’m very proud of my horse and my partnership.”

The much anticipated rematch between Shared Belief, the 2013 champion 2-year-old male, and California Chrome lived up to every billing Saturday with the former delivering a brilliant stretch run to collar the dual classic winner in emphatic style.

A future meeting between the two champions, however, will have to wait as trainer Art Sherman confirmed that California Chrome will now prepare for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 28.

“He’s going to Dubai,” Sherman said by phone from his Los Alamitos base Sunday morning. “We’re preparing for that. The horse came out the race well and ate up good.”

“It was a good race for the fans,” said Mike Smith, who once again authored a Hall of Fame ride aboard Shared Belief. “It’s going to be a great rivalry. It’s great for racing and hopefully they’ll get a chance to meet a few more times. Shared Belief is already a great horse. He’s young and has time to get better and do more great things.”

While Sherman expressed dissatisfaction with Chrome’s final pre-race breeze as being “too slow,” he did not use that as an excuse for getting beat. “He tried hard,” Sherman said. “We’ll hook up again.”

Only time will tell.

The undercard of the San Antonio saw Grade I winner Dortmund rally after being passed in midstretch by Firing Lane, fighting back on the rail to take the Grade III Robert B. Lewis.

Both Bob Baffert, trainer of Dortmund, and Simon Callaghan, trainer of Firing Line, said their charges came out of the race in good order.

“Dortmund looked really good at the barn afterwards,” Baffert said Sunday morning. “I was surprised, because after the Los Alamitos race, he was tired. After this race he was a pretty happy dude.

“It was a good race for him. We’ll look at the Santa Anita Derby (April 4) or we could go out of town.”

Callaghan had similar considerations for Firing Line.

On the opposite coast, Byron Hughes, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, reported Sunday morning that Far From Over emerged from his improbable victory in the Grade III, $250,000 Withers at Aqueduct in fine fettle. The bay son of Blame took a bad stumble coming out of the starting gate that left him at the back of the pack, but powered home to a 1 ¾-length victory over El Kabeir on Saturday.

“He came out in good shape, ate everything up today,” said Hughes. “I talked to Todd this morning; there are no immediate plans for him, but it looks like he’ll be staying in New York.”

Runner-up El Kabeir came out of the Withers in good shape according to the colt’s trainer, John Terranova. The son of Scat Daddy still sits atop the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard with 25 points, having picked up four points for his second-place finish in the Withers.

“So far, so good,” said Terranova, who trains El Kabeir for Zayat Stables. “He cooled out really well after the race and is a nice, sound horse.”


After dueling with pacesetter Classy Class for much of the journey, El Kabeir, the odds-on favorite in the Withers, edged away from that rival in deep stretch, but could not hold off Far From Over.

“I thought it was a good effort,” said Terranova. “We were second best, but (El Kabeir) put in a good, solid effort. If you look at the numbers, he’s earned Beyer Speed Figures of 94, 95, and 93 for his last three races. He’s an ultra-consistent horse, hopefully we can take that next jump forward in his next race.”
According to Terranova, El Kabeir’s next race is likely to come in the Grade III, $400,000 Gotham on March 7 at the Aqueduct.

Racing treated to rematch of champions in San Antonio Stakes

Jerry Hollendorfer and Art Sherman share both a friendship and a mind set.

The California-based trainers each have champions in their barns they staunchly did right by in the face of clamor. Though their charges have only met once on the track months of debate has raged over whether Hollendorfer’s once-blemished gelding is really the superior runner or if Sherman’s transcendent Horse of the Year is the honest-to-God, best to come out of his generation.

Luckily, the respective topics of discussion are healthy and breathing fire during training hours. So neither Hollendorfer nor Sherman hesitated to showcase their shared sporting nature and let their horses give the Thoroughbred racing community another special matchup to witness.

California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year and 3-year-old champion male, and Shared Belief, the 2013 juvenile champion, are spoiling the sport early this season by the virtue of their slated meeting Saturday against seven others in the Grade II, $500,000 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

Ailments and/or the ongoing desire by many trainers to space their horses’ starts out too often prevents enduring, on-track rivalries from growing legs in the current racing climate.

All the more reason why fans about fell over themselves when the camps of both horses declared early intentions to try and bring some clarity to what was left decidedly unsettled in the aftermath of last November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park.

Though Bayern narrowly prevailed in the Classic over California Chrome in third and Shared Belief coming home fourth, the fact Bayern came over sharply at the break and appeared to body slam Shared Belief only sparked questions as to what an outcome between the three would look like if all had a fair run.

Bayern had to skip the San Antonio when his training was interrupted last month due to a foot ailment. But for the first time since 1987 (Tasso vs. Snow Chief), the champion 2-year-old male and his 3-year-old successor are going to meet as older horses in what many are hoping is the first of several such clashes.

“It reminds me of when we were kids and you had the hot rods and were going for pink slips. You know what I mean, who’s the best horse?,” Sherman said during a national teleconference this week. “It’s going to be fun. Whatever happens, whoever outruns each other, I just want them to have a fair shake at it.

“Me and Jerry Hollendorfer go back a long time and you know, I felt bad for him in the Breeders’ Cup, because he did have to steady and didn’t really have a good shot at it.  But I’ve been wanting to meet his horse head’s up for a long time.”

Sherman and Hollendorfer have each seen their horses shake off their Breeders’ Cup outings to score Grade I victories at the end of 2014.

Shared Belief, who was unbeaten in seven starts prior to the Classic, stamped his 2014 campaign by taking the Malibu Stakes on December 26, his fourth career Grade I triumph.

His wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes made him a national darling, but it was California Chrome’s victory on the turf in the Grade I Hollywood Derby November 29 that likely provided the extra ammo in securing his Eclipse Awards after a campaign that saw him win six of nine starts.

“Shared Belief has been remarkably consistent,” said Hollendorfer, who also co-owns Shared Belief in a group that includes radio host Jim Rome. “I would say that he’s carrying a little more weight than he used to.  So are we improved?  A little bit. As far as California Chrome goes, the Derby Trail is a difficult…and the fact that he’s still around and running makes him to be a tough competitor.”

Though Bayern didn’t make the San Antonio, his trainer Bob Baffert still has a chance to throw a shiny wrench into the promoted showdown of champions.

Breaking from the rail in the 1 1/8-miles San Antonio will be Baffert trainee Hoppertunity, who missed the Triple Crown races last year due to injury but came back to beat older horses in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on November 28. The son of Any Given Saturday opened 2015 with a win in the Grade II San Pasqual and while he needs to improve to match California Chrome’s high cruising speed and Shared Belief’s turn of foot, it wouldn’t be a total shock if he grinded his way into the winner’s circle.

“The horse is doing well. It’s going to be an exciting race,” said Baffert. “It’s going to be a great racing day.”

In addition to the San Antonio, Saturday’s coast-to-coast slate of racing features a couple key Kentucky Derby prep races with Grade I winner Dortmund headlining the field for the Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita and multiple graded stakes winner El Kabeir facing six others in the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct.

Gulfstream Park has its own exceptional lineup Saturday, highlighted by the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and the Grade I Donn Handicap. Lea, winner of the 1 1/8-miles Donn last year, stands as the 9-to-5 morning line choice in the field of 10 but will have to contend with Grade I winner Constitution – who is unbeaten in three starts at Gulfstream – and his stablemate Commissioner, the runner-up in the 2014 Belmont Stakes.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Churchill moves Derby Trial, is renamed Pat Day Mile

The Derby Trial, once considered a last major prep heading into the Kentucky Derby, has been moved from its traditional spot on the opening day of the Spring Meet and will now take place on the Derby undercard.

The Grade III, one-mile race for 3-year-olds – which has been a springboard for 13 Kentucky Derby winners – has been renamed the Pat Day Mile and will have its pursed boosted by $50,000 from $150,000 to $200,000. It is one of four Spring Meet stakes races to receive a purse hike.

The former Derby Trial was first run in 1924 and that inaugural running was won by Black Gold, who returned to win the Derby. Others who swept both races include Triple Crown winner Citation (1948), Hill Gail (1952), Dark Star (1953) and Tim Tam (1958).

Given that trainers have increasingly leaned towards giving their horses more time in between starts in recent years, the Derby Trial has taken on less significance with regards to its actual impact on the first leg of the Triple Crown. The last Derby Trial winner to start in the Kentucky Derby field was Don’t Get Mad, who finished fourth to Giacomo in the 2005 Derby.


“We’ve been kicking around the idea of moving the Derby Trial to Kentucky Derby Day for a couple of years now because the race is clearly not a significant step to the Derby anymore with the way horsemen train their horses today,” said Ben Huffman, Churchill Downs Racetrack’s Director of Racing and Racing Secretary. “We revere the storied history of the race but ultimately feel that a one-turn mile race with familiar 3-year-olds that aren’t up to the mile-and-a-quarter distance could prove to be very popular with both horsemen and fans alike on Kentucky Derby Day. We think this really bolsters an already substantial Derby Day card.”

Taking the place of the former Derby Trial on opening night will be the $100,000 William Walker, which is named to honor the riding great from yesteryear who is best known for guiding Dan Swigert’s Baden-Baden to a two-length victory in the 1877 Kentucky Derby at the age of 17 for eventual Hall of Fame trainer Edward Dudley Brown.
In renaming the Derby Trial, Churchill Downs is paying homage to Hall of Famer Pat Day who won a record 2,482 races at Churchill Downs, including 156 stakes, from 1980-2005. His local win total is more than double of his closest rival, fellow Hall of Famer Calvin Borel, who has won 1,176 races beneath the Twin Spires.
Day’s earned his lone Kentucky Derby win when he guided Lil E. Tee to victory in the 1992 edition of the race.
“There’s no better way for Churchill Downs to show its appreciation and honor Pat Day – a legendary jockey, great ambassador of horse racing, pillar in the Louisville community and a man known for his devout faith – than to pay tribute with a race named in his honor on Kentucky Derby Day, America’s greatest day of racing,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “We’re thrilled to salute one of our most beloved individuals and role models.”
The addition of the Pat Day Mile to Kentucky Derby Day on Saturday, May 2 means that seven graded stakes races cumulatively worth $4.05 million – the richest in the track’s history – will help comprise the 13-race Derby Day card. The 141st running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby will be preceded by the 29th running of the Grade I, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, a 1 1/8-mile test on the Matt Winn Turf Course for 4-year-olds and up; the 29th running of the Grade I, $300,000 Humana Distaff, a seven-furlong sprint for older fillies and mares; the 81st running of the Grade II, $500,000 Churchill Downs, a seven-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and up; the 30th running of the Grade II, $300,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, a one mile grass race for older fillies and mares; the 24thrunning of the Grade II, $250,000 American Turf, a 1 1/16-mile turf contest for 3-year-olds; as well as the newly-christened Pat Day Mile.
The Kentucky Derby and its sister race, the Kentucky Oaks held one day earlier, anchor a 25-race Spring Meet stakes lineup cumulatively worth $8.05 million – a $375,000 increase or  5 percent jump from 2014.
The Oaks Day card features six stakes cumulatively worth a record $2.2 million, including the 30th running of the Grade I, $300,000 La Troienne, a 1 1/16-mile test for older fillies and mares; the Grade II, $400,000 Alysheba, a 1 1/16-mile test for 4-year-olds and up; the Grade III, $200,000 Eight Belles, a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies; the Grade III, $150,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint, a five-furlong dash on grass for 4-year-olds and up; and the Grade III, $150,000 Edgewood, a 1 1/16-mile race on turf for 3-year-old fillies.
The Grade I, $500,000  Stephen Foster Handicap going 1 1/8-miles will headline a night racing program on June 13 that will offer total stakes purses of $900,000.
Closing night on Saturday, June 27 will showcase a stakes tripleheader for the spring “Downs After Dark” finale. The headliner under the lights is the Grade II, $200,000 Firecracker, a one-mile grass test for 3-year-olds and up, the Grade III Bashford Manor  for 2-year-olds at six furlongs; and the $100,000 Debutante for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs, which is being carded one week later than recent renewals.



Champion Take Charge Brandi in good order after Martha Washington

Edited release:

Moments after Take Charge Brandi’s victory in the $100,000 Martha Washington Stakes Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn, owner Willis Horton left the door open for his champion to challenge males in upcoming months.


As expected, the 3-year-old filly’s Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, quickly closed that door early Sunday morning.


Lukas, who said Take Charge Brandi emerged from her Martha Washington victory in good order, reiterated she’s being pointed for the Kentucky Oaks – not the Kentucky Derby – and her next two scheduled starts remain the Grade III, $150,000 Honeybee Stakes March 7 and $400,000 Fantasy Stakes April 4 at Oaklawn.


“He’s having fun with it, I think,” Lukas said of Horton’s post-race reference to running Take Charge Brandi in the Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. “The plan is still the Honeybee, Fantasy and Oaks.”


Take Charge Brandi edged Sarah Sis by a head to win the Martha Washington, the fourth consecutive victory for the reigning champion juvenile filly.


Ridden for the first time by Jon Court, Take Charge Brandi cruised on a clear, uncontested lead through a modest :48.10 half-mile before Sarah Sis, on the inside, drew abreast in deep stretch. But, Take Charge Brandi fought back in the short run to the wire – mile races at Oaklawn begin and end at the sixteenth pole – to record her fourth career stakes victory.


Lukas said the outcome again illustrated Take Charge Brandi’s will to win. None of her five career victories have been by more than 2 ½ lengths. Three of those career victories, including the Grade I, $350,000 Starlet Dec. 13 at Los Alamitos, have been by a half-length or less.


“She’s very workmanlike,” Lukas said. “She knows how to win races. She’s cruising along, very relaxed, and then that horse comes to her and she surges back and wins. At Los Alamitos, two or three of them did that to her, and she surged every time they came. Jon, I think, got a little bit complacent and relaxed there, too.”


Victor Espinoza rode Take Charge Brandi to her victories in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Starlet, but was unavailable for the Martha Washington because of commitments in Southern California, Lukas said.


Lukas said he “assumes” Court will ride the filly back in the Honeybee because the  Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap is also run March 7, and Espinoza is the regular rider of reigning Horse of the Year California Chrome, an expected starter.


There are also three other stakes on the March 7 program at Santa Anita.


Lukas said Court followed instructions Saturday, notably not to use the whip (the trainer said she normally doesn’t need the stick because she’s so “genuine”).


“We told him to just cruise around there, get the money and let’s go for the next one,” Lukas said.