FRANKLIN, Ky. (Friday, Sept. 2, 2022) — When Gray’s Fable, Toby’s Heart, Take Charge Ro and Static Fire run at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs, it’s not just the huge stakes purses trainer Brian Lynch covets.
There’s also the guitars.
Playing to its close proximity to Nashville, Kentucky Downs in 2020 started a tradition by giving the winner of the $500,000 Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey Music City Stakes a guitar signed by country music icon George Strait as the trophy. Last year the guitar trophies — autographed by Reba McEntire — were expanded to all graded stakes races and the Music City for 3-year-old fillies. This year, Trace Adkins is the Official Music Ambassador signing the trophies.
Lynch is a guitar kind of guy. He thought he had a shot last year when Toby’s Heart, whom he co-owns, won the Music City. But his partner, Terry Hamilton, was on hand and claimed the trophy.
“What a great collectors item,” Lynch said recently at his Churchill Downs barn. “I’m a bit of guitar guy myself. I have one at each house. I can’t play them, but I like to see them. I’d certainly like to have one of them hanging on the wall in my man cave. Absolutely a classic collector’s item if you’re lucky enough to win one.”
Lynch has several chances this year, including Toby’s Heart in $600,000 The Mint Ladies Sprint on Sept. 10. That purse will balloon to $1 million for registered Kentucky-breds — as is Toby’s Heart — if a Grade 1 winner runs. Trainer Wesley Ward has announced that two-time European Group 1 winner Campanelle will run, triggering the increase.
“I’m looking forward to running her back because she really seemed to like the track last year,” Lynch said. “It’s horses for courses. (Campanelle) has never run down there, but obviously she’d be the class of the field. Look, if you would beat her, it would be wonderful. But if you’d run second to her for $1 million, that’s not bad either.”
Gray’s Fable, winner of Ellis Park’s Henderson Turf Mile, runs in Saturday’s $1 million WinStar Mint Million (G3), Admission Office in the $1 million Kentucky Turf Cup (G2) at 1 1/2 miles on Sept. 10, Take Charge Ro in the $750,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3) or the restricted $400,000 One Dreamer and Static Fire in the Sept. 11 Music City. Lynch also will saddle Ellis maiden winner Anglophile in Saturday’s $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile.
“I think we’re taking a live batch of horses down there,” Lynch said. “If the sun were to shine on this ol’ Aussie one more time, we’d win one or two of them. I think our horses going down there, on their day at their best distances, they’ll be very competitive.”
Admission Office won Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Arlington Stakes and most recently was sixth in the Arlington Million (G1) run at Churchill.
“There was a lot of kickback, very speed favoring,” Lynch said of the Churchill course. “I’m looking forward to running him. He’s definitely a horse who will get the mile and a half. He’s definitely a marathon sort of stayer.”
Lynch believes Take Charge Ro was the best horse when fourth in Ellis Park’s Centennial Distaff Turf Mile, which she lost by a total of a length.
“On the day I thought she was way the best,” he said. “Just had a troubled trip and never got out until late and then came flying. She seems like she’s in good order, too.”
Static Fire won her debut at Saratoga on turf last year, was off until winning a Churchill Downs allowance race on dirt in May and then finished fourth in Saratoga’s Coronation Cup on turf on July 15.
“She got a bad break and a troubled trip and finished fourth,” Lynch said. “She’ll be in the race Toby won last year.”
While Lynch says he can’t really play the guitar, he vowed he’ll be strumming away should one of his horses win one.
“I will be,” he said, jokingly alluding to Kentucky Downs giving the winners of select races a decorated bottle of the bourbon or whiskey of the day, “drinking a bottle of that bourbon.”
— Jennie Rees
As far as the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs, it’s still Mike and Mike in the afternoon.
Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time leading trainer, recorded a triple Thursday, the first of seven scheduled 2022 racing dates over the undulating, non-symmetrical 1 5/16-mile European-style grass venue that opened in 1990 as Dueling Grounds.
Maker’s saddled favored Hawk of War ($7.48) to win the second race, Mendel’s Secret ($16.06) to win the fourth race and Wicked Genius ($7.74) to win the sixth race. The triple pushed Maker’s career total at Kentucky Downs to 70 – Wesley Ward is a distant second with 43 victories – and helped boost his career purse earnings to $9,548,332, another runaway track record.
“Races, best in the country,” Maker said during training hours Friday morning at Kentucky Downs. “Have a lot of turf horses. Fits us well and gives clients a chance to turn a profit.”
Hawk of War won for the fourth time since Maker, on behalf of Little Rock, Ark., owner Michael Hui, claimed the then-4-year-old Declaration of War gelding for $50,000 out of sixth-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile dirt race Nov. 17, 2021, at Churchill Downs.
Maker and Hui have been a formidable team since uniting in early 2015, particularly at Kentucky Downs. They sent out Hogy to win the $400,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint Stakes (G3) at 6 ½ furlongs in 2017 and Zulu Alpha to win the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes (G3) at 1 ½ miles in 2019.
“Michael Hui’s a great guy, great client,” Maker said. “Can’t say enough good things about him. Just fortunate that he picked me.”
Hui started his first horse in 2010 and began to make waves nationally after a cold call to Maker, eventually tapping the trainer because of his ability to move up high-end claims, especially in turf routes.
Zula Alpha, taken for $80,000 in September 2018 at Churchill Downs, gave Hui his first career $1 million victory in the Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup and first career Grade 1 victory a few months later in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes in January 2020 at Gulfstream Park.
The tenacious Hawk of War made his first three starts on a synthetic surface after being claimed. Moved to the turf, the gelding strung together three consecutive victories this summer for Hui and co-owner John H. Yocum in starter allowance, allowance and allowance/optional claiming company. The margin of victory in those two-turn races at Churchill Downs, Horseshoe Indianapolis and Ellis Park was a head, neck and a nose, respectively. Hawk of War won Thursday’s race, a $50,000 mile claiming race with a $70,000 purse, by a head under Tyler Gaffalione.
Hawk of War marked the first horse Hui, who co-founded Transportation Insight, a Hickory, N.C.-based logistics cost management consulting firm in January 2000, and Yocum owned together. Yocum is a Little Rock orthopedic surgeon. Hui (partially torn Achilles tendon) is one of Yocum’s patients.
“We’ve been blessed,” Hui said outside the Kentucky Downs paddock late Thursday afternoon. “You know, it’s the classic Mike Maker story. Claim for ($50,000). I think he’s won four times and only missed the board twice. He got claimed today for ($50,000), so he (Yocum) had a good experience. Any time you can stay in the black is good.”
Hui said he plans to return to Kentucky Downs next week to watch his Maker-trained homebred, Fadethenoise, run in the $500,000 Global Tote Juvenile Sprint Stakes. The 6 ½-furlong race is for 2-year-olds.
Fadethenoise became the first North American winner sired by Mendelssohn in his turf debut July 16 at Ellis Park. Fadethenoise, in his last start finished sixth, beaten 4 ¼ lengths, in the $150,000 Skidmore Stakes at 5 ½ furlongs on the turf Aug. 19 at Saratoga.
“The Skidmore was a deep race,” Maker said. “Looking forward to stretching him out a little bit.”
Hui, who ranks among Kentucky Downs’ biggest cheerleaders, is looking forward to it, also.
“Came up last night and wanted to watch ‘Hawk’ run here,” Hui said before returning to Arkansas. “This is kind of a special place. It’s very unique, laid back – shorts, T-shirt. And I’ll be back Thursday. That race, it’s a half-million dollars. Why not?”
— Robert Yates
Trainer Mike Maker crossed entered Bourbon Therapy in Thursday’s $500,000 Global Tote Juvenile Sprint at 6 1/2 furlongs. Bourbon Therapy also is entered in Saturday’s $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile. Including Bourbon Therapy, the Juvenile Sprint attracted a field of eight. The others: Sharp Aza Tack, Bourbon Spirit, the Maker-trained Fadethenoise, Private Creed, Accident, Revere Note and Half a Chance.
In either stakes, Bourbon Therapy will be making his first start for Maker and owner Three Diamonds Farm after being purchased for $40,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s July sale of horses of racing age. Then trained by John Ennis, Bourbon Therapy won a Horseshoe Indianapolis maiden race.
Also on Thursday’s card, the $250,000 Keeneland September Fillies and Keeneland September Colts allowance races each drew a field of 10. The races are restricted to those who went through the sales ring at Keeneland’s 2021 yearling sale. Such horses were eligible for the allowance races whether they were sold or if their predetermined minimum purchase price was not attained.
— Jennie Rees
Callie Witt, the 20-year-old exercise rider who died last spring after being thrown by a young horse, is being memorialized by a pair of 2-year-old fillies. That includes Callie’s Grit, who runs in Saturday’s $500,000 Aristocrat Juvenile Fillies at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.
Callie’s Grit and Callie’s Passion are co-owned by Brad Grady and Carl Moore and trained by Joe Sharp. Grady became close to Witt’s parents, Tim and Jennifer, after their daughter’s death. Grady has a daughter the same age as Witt and, as one of Sharp’s long-time clients, is close to much of the trainer’s staff.
“Brad made a connection with the family,” Sharp said. “We had talked about naming a couple of horses in honor of Callie. Callie’s parents actually came up with the names of a couple of horses, Callie’s Grit and Callie’s Passion. It’s a pretty neat deal, and it’s nice to see that one of the fillies can actually really, really run.”
Callie’s Grit has raced once, finishing second in a Saratoga maiden race on turf. She’s 6-1 in the morning line in the field of nine, with the meet’s early riding leader, Tyler Gaffalione, back on board.
“We were going to go in a mile maiden special weight,” Sharp said. “The Juvenile Fillies looked like it was coming up pretty similar. The other horse in there that is favored (Janis Joplin) is a maiden. So we went ahead and said we’d take a shot.”
If Callie’s Grit would win, “it would be incredible for so many reasons,” he said. “It would be great. Her family has been amazing. We’ve gotten really close. Obviously tragedy brings people closer together. They’re just really quality people, and hopefully we can do more to honor them and to honor her.”
Witt, who was from Rogers, Neb., attended the Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s North American Racing Academy as she worked toward becoming a jockey. Her obituary read in part: “Callie loved horses, she was born with them running through her veins….. Callie worked harder than anyone you would ever know, constantly raising the bar to be better, be stronger and at the top of (her) craft. She always knew the risk of her passion and she left us living out her dreams.”
— Jennie Rees
Running Laver in Saturday’s $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile was plan B for trainer Rusty Arnold. Plan A was a maiden race on opening day. Laver got in the body of the race, but wound up on the also-eligible list when the overflow field had to be redrawn, requiring four scratches in order to run.
“I didn’t want to risk not getting in again,” Arnold said of entering in another maiden race. “I saw the stakes was coming up. I didn’t think it was the end of the world being tough — though tough enough with Mike Maker (having two horses entered). I decided with New York having the same type of stakes the same weekend and Woodbine having one two weeks later, that I’d just go ahead and roll the dice. I thought the 2-year-olds are all scattered around right now and I’d give it a shot.”
In his only start, Laver was second by 1 1/4 lengths at Ellis Park behind Mayfield Strong, who also is among the nine 2-year-olds entered in the Juvenile Mile.
“If he’d been a length and a half better in his maiden race, he’d have been in the same race,” Arnold said of the stakes.
Owner G. Watts Humphrey is putting up $12,500 to make Laver a supplementary entry since the colt wasn’t nominated to the Juvenile Mile. Arnold was philosophical about the role of fate in not getting in the maiden race.
“I’ve been on both ends of that,” he said. “I’ve been outside of races that had to be redrawn — just things that happen — and gotten in when they redrew it. Things happen. Sometimes it works for you. Sometimes you get a better post. Sometimes you get a worse post. And sometimes you get no post, like this one.”
Chris Landeros has the mount on Laver, a son of champion Bernardini and who is out of Humphrey’s Grade 1-winning mare Centre Court, who also was trained by Arnold. Centre Court likewise is the dam of the Grade 3-winner Navratilova, whom Arnold plans to run in either the $600,000, Grade 3 The Mint Ladies Sprint (whose purse will increase to $1 million if Grade 1 winner Campanelle runs as expected) or the restricted One Dreamer Stakes on Sept. 14’s closing card.
“He is twice her size, not quite as easy to handle,” Arnold said of Laver and Navratilova. “She’s a sweetheart, always has been. He’s not real bad studdish, but plenty studdish enough. No, he doesn’t remind me much of her. She’s just a sweet kind little filly. You’d never know she’s in the barn. He lets you know he’s in the barn.”
— Jennie Rees
After Mark and Tina Casse purchased a California Chrome filly for $25,000 at Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale last year, Tina wanted to name the youngster after a female blues singer.
“She’s out of Seeking the Blue,” Mark Casse said. “She belonged to Tina, my wife. She looked up blues singers and came up with Janis Joplin. She applied for the name and they (The Jockey Club) didn’t give it to her in the beginning. She wrote a letter saying that Janis Joplin was a big blues singer, and they gave it to us.
“When we ran her at Saratoga, you could hear all the people yelling her name. A lot of people love the name.”
On paper, Janis Joplin is the class of the field of nine 2-year-old fillies, even if she’s winless. She was third in Saratoga’s Grade 3 Schuylerville at six furlongs and second in the Grade 3 Adirondack at 6 1/2 furlongs after taking a good third in her debut at Churchill Downs. She has never raced on turf before, however, nor even worked on the grass.
“California Chrome won on the turf,” Casse said of the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner and two-time Horse of the Year. “In fact, I have a couple of California Chromes that are only good on the turf. More the intriguing part was the mile. It’s more about the distance than the surface. She’s a big tall filly that acts like she wants more ground. That’s what got me there.
“If she handles the turf, then Katie bar the door,” continued Casse, who after her first start sold Janis Joplin to major client Gary Barber. “That’s the big question mark. We ran her the first time a couple of weeks before she was really ready to run. It was getting toward the end of the meet and I was just wanting to get a start into her. She ran really well, sold her and brought her to Saratoga. The Schuylerville was coming up really light. I said to Gary, ‘Maybe we ought to try the Schuylerville.’ So we did, and she ran well. Then the Adirondack was coming up pretty light. I said, ‘Well, we’ll try that.’ So there really wasn’t any time to breeze her on the turf.
“Again, the major reason we’re there is because of the distance.”
— Jennie Rees
Eleven-time winner Tut’s Revenge seeks his first graded-stakes victory in five years of racing when he runs in Saturday’s $1 million WinStar Mint Million (Grade 3) at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs. The 6-year-old chestnut gelding ran twice at Ellis Park this summer, finishing second by a neck in the Jeff Hall Memorial Stakes on dirt and then third by a total of a length-length in the Henderson Turf Mile behind Mint Million contenders Gray’s Fable and Mr Dumas.
Trainer Shea Stuart originally planned on running Tut’s Revenge in the $180,000 Tight Spot Overnight Handicap on the Sept. 14 closing card. But owner Claim to Fame Stable wanted to enter the Mint Million to take a look, and Tut’s Revenge’s team opted to stay in the field of nine older horses running a mile.
“He’s doing great,” Stuart said. “Everything’s going well. We’re full speed ahead. You can’t say anything about his last two races except that he ran two really good races. It could have gone his way either time. He was just unlucky and got beat by some good horses. He’s right there with them. Hopefully he can get that win pretty soon. I think if he gets a good trip and likes the course, I think he can run there with everybody. I think he’s got a shot.”
Vince Cheminaud, who in late spring moved to the Kentucky circuit from France, picks up the mount with Ellis Park meet-leader Gerardo Corrales having another commitment.
“I don’t know Vince, but I watched him ride at Ellis,” Stuart said. “He seems very capable. He’s won group races all over the world.”
The 38-year-old Stuart is a third generation trainer around the Midwest and Southwest. He works in conjunction with his dad, Clinton, the winner of 1,171 races and currently stabled at Minnesota’s Canterbury Park. Shea had three horses at Ellis Park most of the summer, including Tut’s Revenge.
“I’m excited,” said Shea Stuart, who wants to establish a Kentucky-Arkansas base. “This is the biggest race I’ve ever run in.”
— Jennie Rees
Law Professor was scheduled to return to his New York base Friday, a day after his half-length victory under Julien Leparoux in the $400,000 FanDuel Tapit Stakes at Kentucky Downs. The mile and 70-yard event was restricted to horses that hadn’t won a stakes race in 2022.
Law Professor ($21.10) marked the first Kentucky Downs starter for trainer Rob Atras, who wasn’t present and left saddling duties to his traveling assistant, Jesse Sauder. Law Professor was already a Grade 2 winner on dirt, that coming in the $200,000 off-the-turf Santa Anita Mathis Mile for 3-year-olds Dec. 26 at Santa Anita when under the care of Southern California-based trainer Michael McCarthy.
Law Professor, a homebred for Twin Creeks Racing (Randy Gullatt), moved to Atras following a ninth-place finish in the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) for older horses April 2 at Oaklawn Park.
“We really don’t have any plan going forward,” Atras said moments after Thursday’s race. “We just wanted to get him started somewhere. Honestly, credit goes to Randy, the owner. He suggested the race. I’m pretty conservative. I was going to run him here in New York in a (three-other-than allowance on dirt) and it was his idea to go. I told him I need to be pushed to go because it was kind of a tough spot. Credit goes to him. We’ll kind of see how he comes out of the race and then we’ll probably come up with a game plan.”
The Tapit was the fourth victory in 11 lifetime starts for Law Professor and increased his earnings to $516,440. The winning time over a firm surface was 1:38.10. Law Professor, a gelded son of Constitution, now owns two victories on dirt and two on turf.
“He’s run great on both surfaces,” Atras said. “This might change our plans going forward, but it’s just great to win a race like that.”
— Robert Yates
Trainer Rodolphe Brisset will try to parlay a victory Friday morning into another Sunday afternoon when he sends out Western River in the $750,000 Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby (G3) for 3-year-olds at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.
The Dueling Grounds Derby goes as the 10th of 11 races, with probable post time 5:31 p.m. (Central).
A full brother to 2016 Belmont and Arkansas Derby winner Creator, Western River drew into the 1 5/16th-mile race after Russian Tank was scratched Friday morning. Western River was one of two horses on the also-eligible list for the Dueling Grounds Derby, which is limited to 12 starters.
“I was really looking forward to drawing in,” Brisset said. “We got the 12 post this morning and we were really happy about that. Is he a better horse on the turf or the dirt? I don’t know. I think he definitely wants to go long and I think the dirt is definitely something he really likes. Now, he’s going to have to show us if he likes the turf, too.”
Western River (15-1 on the morning line) hasn’t run on turf since finishing second, beaten a nose by fellow Dueling Grounds Derby entrant Ready to Purrform, in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race last September at Ellis Park. Ready to Purrform is the 3-1 program favorite for the Dueling Grounds Derby.
“Looking at the (past performances), I don’t think the race came up that tough,” said Brisset, who also co-owns Western River. “Obviously, you’ve got Ready to Purrform. Does he want to go that far? We don’t know.”
Western River broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles on the Arkansas Derby undercard April 2 at Oaklawn Park and cleared his first allowance condition at 1 ½ miles June 18 at Churchill Downs. The gray colt exits an even fifth in the $150,000 Curlin Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles July 29 at Saratoga. He also ran fourth to his more heralded stablemate, We the People, in the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles May 14 at Belmont Park.
Brisset said Western River, if he didn’t draw into the Dueling Grounds Derby, would have been re-routed to the $1 million Caesars Jockey Club Derby Invitational (G3) Sept. 17 at Aqueduct. The 1 ½-mile turf race is for 3-year-olds.
“We’ve always kept it (turf) in the back of our mind,” Brisset said. “He got beat by Ready to Purrform on the wire last year. I think we were a nose in front before the wire and a nose in front after the wire. This race just feels like the right spot to try. What we’re looking at to close the year is maybe the marathon race on Breeders’ Cup weekend. Just feel like this race coming up, straight 3-year-olds, going that long could be the right spot to give it a try and go from there.”
Western River, by super sire Tapit out of Morena, has a 2-1-1 record from eight lifetime starts and earnings of $164,197.
The $350,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes (G2) on Nov. 4 at Keeneland is for 3-year-olds and up over 13 furlongs.
— Robert Yates