Carpe Diem an even-money Blue Grass favorite
Ocho Ocho Ocho (Street Sense) will invade from California after sustaining his first loss, a troubled eighth in the March 7 San Felipe (G2) in which he got nicked up after being knocked around in the early stages. The Jim Cassidy trainee captured all three starts at two, including a gutsy nose tally in his lone previous foray outside of California, the $1 million Delta Jackpot (G1) in November, and the speedy colt figures to be much more involved from the start than he was last time. He's listed as the 6-1 co-second choice with new rider Santiago Gonzalez.
Danzig Moon (Malibu Moon), Frammento (Midshipman) and Gorgeous Bird (Unbridled's Song) come next on the morning line at 8-1.
Danzig Moon opened 2015 with a smart 4 3/4-length maiden score at Gulfstream Park and followed with a fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby. The promising Mark Casse pupil is eligible to improve upon his first start against winners and will retain the services of top Keeneland jockey Julien Leparoux.
Frammento was no factor as well in his stakes debut, the January 24 Holy Bull (G2), but will attempt to keep moving forward after offering an encouraging late run for third in the February 21 Fountain of Youth (G2). Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, a two-time Kentucky Derby winner, is excited to get his charge away from Gulfstream Park and Frammento recorded his lone victory over maiden special weight rivals at Keeneland last October. Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Gary Stevens picks up the mount on the confirmed closer.
Gorgeous Bird will make his second stakes attempt for Ian Wilkes following a fifth in the Fountain of Youth. Bet down to 6-1, the gray colt did not appear to like the tiring track last time after opening his sophomore campaign with an excellent seven-length score over allowance/optional claiming foes. Brian Hernandez Jr., who was up for Gorgeous Bird's maiden win at Churchill Downs last fall, will retake the reins.
Completing the Blue Grass line-up are Unrivaled (Super Saver), who exits a five-length allowance romp at Parx Racing in his seasonal bow; and John Battaglia Memorial runner-up Pepper Roani (Broken Vow). Both are 12-1 on the morning line.
Far From Over sidelined due to injury
Far From Over impressively rallied to win the 1 1/16-mile Withers by 1 3/4 lengths after a slow break saw him trail the field of six most of the way.
The colt debut over Aqueduct's inner dirt December 12, when he won a maiden race by a nose going one mile and 70 yards.
Richardson to replace retiring Lehr as Churchill super
Lehr joined the Churchill Downs staff two days after his graduation from Louisville's DuPont Manual High School in 1972 and, with the exception a stint in the Army in 1973-74, has worked beneath the track's venerable Twin Spires since then. Even during his military duty, he came home to work with the track crew for the 100th Kentucky Derby in 1974.
Lehr became part of the track maintenance team upon his 1972 arrival at the track, and later served as Director of Operations at Trackside Training Center, which has a six-furlong training track and stabling facilities and is located about five miles from Churchill Downs, from 1994 through May 2005. After his service at Trackside, Lehr returned to Churchill Downs and served as assistant track superintendent until he was named to the department's top post in 2012.
"Churchill Downs has been an important part of my life and the lives of members of my family as long as any of us can remember, so my decision to retire after 43 years is somewhat bittersweet," Lehr said. "The decision is, however, the right thing for me and my family, and I'm looking forward to the next step in my life. We have always tried to do things the right way in taking care of our dirt and turf courses, and we've been on the lookout for new practices and technology to keep those tracks safe and fair. I'm very proud of our accomplishments and the growth of Churchill Downs racing during my career, and I wish Jamie Richardson the best in this very special job."
As only the fifth person to hold the post of track superintendent at 141-year-old racing and sports icon, Richardson follows Tom Young, who was appointed as the track's first track superintendent by legendary General Manager and President Col. Matt Winn in 1911 and held the job for the next 50 years; Thurman Pangburn, who succeeded Young in 1962 and held the post until his retirement in 1981, and the Lehr brothers.
In Richardson, Churchill Downs will have a new track superintendent who has served in the number two position on its track team since 2012 and a veteran of Triple Crown events. Along with the two Kentucky Derbys he has worked at Churchill Downs, Richardson served as track superintendent for the Maryland Jockey Club from 1989-2008. The MJC's tracks includes Pimlico, the home of the Preakness.
Richardson, a 46 year-old native of Jarrettsville, Maryland, also served as track superintendent at Oaklawn Park for two years before he joined Churchill Downs.
El Kabeir polishes off Wood preparations
Also running will be the Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Far From Over (Blame), who bested El Kabeir in the Withers (G3) and then returned to Palm Beach Downs, and last year's Champagne (G1) victor, Daredevil (More Than Ready), who went a half in :48 4/5 on Saturday at Belmont.
Far From Over and the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Frosted will be flown from Florida to New York on Thursday.
McLaughlin said Monday morning that Ocean Knight (Curlin), who had been under consideration for the Wood, would not make the trip after working 1:00 4/5 at Palm Meadows.
Keeneland opens 15-day spring meet with Transylvania featured
In all, Keeneland's 15-day Spring Meet features 16 stakes races worth $4.35 million.
The Spring Meet runs through April 24, with live racing Wednesday through Sunday. Gates open at 11 a.m. (EDT); post time for the first race is 1:05 p.m. except on April 4 and April 11, when first post is 12:35 p.m. Keeneland is closed this Sunday due to the Easter holiday.
The shift of the Blue Grass to the first Saturday of the Spring Meet makes opening weekend one of the most impressive slates in racing. Three other graded stakes traditionally featured on the Blue Grass undercard will join the opening Saturday lineup and each has earned a purse enhancement: the $350,000 Madison (G1) for older fillies and mares going seven furlongs, up $50,000 from last year; the $300,000 Commonwealth (G3), for older horses at seven furlongs, up $125,000; and the $125,000 Shakertown (G3) for older horses at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, up $25,000.
Other prominent stakes this spring are the $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile (G1) on the turf for older horses on April 10, and the $250,000 Lexington (G3), a 1 1/16-mile race on April 11 for three-year-olds with Triple Crown hopes.
The opening day feature is the $100,000 Transylvania (G3), a 1 1/16-mile turf race for three-year-olds. Luck of the Kitten (Kitten's Joy), a close second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) when last seen in November, is the likely favorite in his sophomore debut. Prior to the Breeders' Cup, Luck of the Kitten had won the Zuma Beach at Santa Anita and finished second in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile.
Other leading contenders are Eh Cumpari (Elusive Quality), recent winner of the Palm Beach at Gulfstream; Divisidero (Kitten's Joy), a close third in the Palm Beach in his stakes debut; Night Prowler (Giant's Causeway), who captured the Dania Beach (G3) at Gulfstream prior to a troubled fifth in the Palm Beach; A Lot (Tapit), a recent allowance winner after running second in the Dania Beach; Tuba (Magna Graduate), upset winner of the Black Gold at Fair Grounds; and last-out maiden winners Saham (Lemon Drop Kid) and Danish Dynaformer (Dynaformer).
Pimlico meet commences with hi-def signal, low-takeout Pick 5
"We are very excited about going high-definition and anxious for the public to see the new graphics on our daily show," said Maryland Jockey Club General Manager Sal Sinatra. "Pimlico is an historic track, and it plays hosts to one of sport's most iconic events in the Preakness S. (G1). I think our fans will be pleased with the new direction we're taking for a more vibrant telecast."
There will be free admission and live programs Thursday. First race post is 1:10 p.m. (EDT). The spring meet runs through June 6 and will be highlighted by the 140th running of the Preakness on May 16 and Black-Eyed Susan Day on May 15.
The Maryland Jockey Club announced earlier this month that it would offer a Pick 5 with an industry-low 12-percent takeout during the Pimlico meet, as well as a 10-cent Rainbow 6.
The Rainbow 6 will be offered on the last six races of each race day. The Rainbow 6 carryover jackpot is paid out only when there is a single ticket sold with all six winners. On days when there is no unique ticket, 60 percent of that day's pool goes back to those bettors holding tickets with the most winners, while 40 percent is carried over to the jackpot pool.
Graham, Amoss, Moss take Fair Grounds titles
Three players who teamed up for several scores throughout the 143rd Thoroughbred racing season were named meet champions at Fair Grounds, where James Graham was named leading rider, Tom Amoss named leading trainer and Maggi Moss named leading owner. A pair of three-year-olds who swept the sophomore stakes in their respective divisions, International Star (Fusaichi Pegasus) and I'm a Chatterbox (Munnings), were named co-horses of the meet in a tied vote.
James Graham, second in the Fair Grounds rider standings on four occasions, captured his first meet title at the New Orleans oval, tallying 106 wins over the 81-day meet, earning more than $3.2 million in purses. The 106 wins gave Graham his best Fair Grounds meet, a one-win improvement upon his 105 wins in the 2013-2014 racing season and provided him a 34-win margin of victory over his closest pursuers in the standings. Graham's biggest win of the season came in the $400,000 New Orleans H. (G2) last Saturday aboard Call Me George (Point Given), a 22-1 outsider. Not only was the New Orleans 'Cap the most prestigious win of the meet for Graham, it also marked his 2,000th career win as a rider.
New Orleans native Tom Amoss captured his 11th Fair Grounds training title and second in the last three years when recording 41 victories, six more than his closest challenger while his runners collected a meet-leading $1.29 million in earnings from 152 starts. Ranked second all time in training wins at the Fair Grounds, Amoss has now recorded 1,051 victories at his hometown racecourse, second only to Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg's estimated 1,210 local wins.
Maggi Moss once again prevailed as leading owner, with her 15 wins earning her a fifth consecutive year atop the standings. Moss' runners earned $437,695 while finishing in the exacta 52 percent of the time. Her royal blue and lime green silks could be found in the winner's circle after several stakes races, including the Thanksgiving H. and Bonapaw S. with stable star Delaunay (Smoke Glacken) and with Grand Contender (Strong Contender) after capturing the Buddy Diliberto Memorial S. -- both runners are conditioned by leading trainer Amoss.
The series of Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) preps at Fair Grounds was little more than a two-horse show this season, with both International Star and I'm a Chatterbox sweeping the trio of stakes in their respective divisions, earning them the shared title of Horse of the Meet.
International Star, owned by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey and conditioned by Mike Maker, posted three impressive victories this year under jockey Miguel Mena, proving best in the Lecomte (G3), the Risen Star (G2) and the Louisiana Derby (G2). His counterpart in the three-year-old filly division was Fletcher and Carolyn Gray's Larry Jones-trained I'm a Chatterbox, who was successfully guided to victory in three dramatically differing styles by jockey Florent Geroux in the Silverbulletday S., the Rachel Alexandra (G3) and the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2).
Voted on by 15 members of the media, the Fair Grounds racing office and the Fair Grounds publicity team, both International Star and I'm a Chatterbox received seven votes, with owner-trainer Jorge Gomez's hard-knocking Louisiana-bred Udoknowjack (Storm Day) receiving one vote after winning four races at the meet including Saturday's Star Guitar S.
American Pharoah closes as 5-1 favorite in KDFW Pool 4
Mubtaahij (Dubawi) (#20), a new wagering interest in the KDFW, was the only other one to close at single-digit odds in Pool 4. The Irish-bred saw his 30-1 morning-line plummet to 8-1 by Future Wager close after romping by eight lengths in Saturday's U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) on the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) undercard at Meydan.
The mutuel field or "All Other 3YOs (#24)," a perennial favorite in the KDFW, opened at 8-1 in Pool 4 and closed at 11-1 to be the fifth choice behind Carpe Diem (Giant's Causeway) (#5), who was bet down to 10-1 following his five-length triumph in the March 7 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
Wagering on Pool 4 of the KDFW was offered at Churchill Downs and racetracks throughout North America; on the web via TwinSpires.com, the official online wagering site of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs Inc.; and at other simulcast centers and off-track wagering sites.
No scratches or betting refunds are permitted in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, but betting will be suspended immediately on a wagering interest in any KDFW pool if Churchill Downs determines that injury, illness or other circumstance revealed during a pool would prevent a horse from competing in the race.
Brisnet.com offered free Ultimate Past Performances for wagering interests in Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Brisnet also has complimentary past performances for all Triple Crown nominees.
Horse of the Year California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) will get a two-week break in the Rae Guest yard before he heads to the Newmarket gallops. The big chestnut, who has been under the care of trainer Art Sherman for his entire career, will transfer to the Guest barn for a tilt at Royal Ascot. "It's a great honor to have him and we're very lucky to be that close to a Kentucky Derby (G1) winner," Guest told Racing UK. "We're going to give him two weeks off, then get him back up and see how he is." The Lockinge S. (Eng-G1) at Newbury May 16 could be a possible first European start for California Chrome, while the Prince of Wales's S. (Eng-G1) at Royal Ascot June 17 remains the ultimate target. "Art's son Alan is going to come over and see him in about a month's time and make a decision which way they go with him," Guest continued. "Because they are used to training on their own in America, we will probably just send him out with another horse to start with. We will try and train him quite normally, but not with the string, just with another gelding to lead him. It takes some getting used to Newmarket to start with. Whether he goes for the Lockinge will be found out in the next month because it will be different for him. For a couple of weeks he will be getting used to Newmarket and English ways." Guest said the connection with Sherman was established through Chris Mills, who has horses with Guest. "His son Robbie worked for Art Sherman in California a couple of years ago and he was out there riding before Saturday's racing in Dubai," Guest said. "We had a chat and they asked if the horse came to England could he stay with me and liaise with Robbie, who they knew."...
Champion filly Untapable (Tapit) blitzed six furlongs in 1:10 4/5 over Oaklawn Park's fast main track on Monday, turning in by far the fastest of four moves at the distance. The others -- all fellow Steve Asmussen trainees -- didn't crack 1:12. Sophomore maiden Hottap (Tapit) clocked 1:12, while multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire Tapiture (Tapit) and Arkansas Derby (G1) candidate Bold Conquest (Curlin) each went in 1:12 1/5. Untapable was upset as the 1-10 favorite in her reappearance in the March 14 Azeri (G2), but the Winchell Thoroughbreds' homebred appears poised to rebound. "Reset the smoke detectors at OP," Winchell's Manager David Fiske tweeted after Monday's work...
Laurel closed its 2015 winter meet Sunday with total average handle up 14.6 percent overall and 15.8 percent on its live product. Laurel's average daily handle was $1.764 million compared to $1.540 in 2014. Daily export handle increased 20.2 percent from $1.179 million in 2014 to $1.417 million this winter. Laurel's increases on average handle came despite a mid-Atlantic dispute and the loss of 10 live days of racing -- 12 total days -- due to wintry weather and track conditions. Despite the lost days, total wagering was down only 5.4 percent, from $79.8 million to $75.5 million. "Despite losing 12 days this winter and with the mid-Atlantic dispute, the numbers are quite respectable overall," said Maryland Jockey Club General Manager Sal Sinatra. "There's no doubt we would have beaten our 2014 numbers for total handle if we had raced just a few more days. We want to thank our fans, many coming to Laurel in less than ideal weather conditions, as well as our horsemen, who put on a great show each day. We will continue working hard each day to improve Maryland racing and our facilities. We believe there is tremendous potential for growing Maryland Thoroughbred racing."...
Conditioner Jeremy Noseda apologized for comments he made after trainee Sloan Avenue (Candy Ride) was narrowly defeated in Saturday's Goldophin Mile (UAE-G2). After the race, Noseda aired his frustration, believing that the 15 post position cost his charge the race. "I knew my horse was ready to run the race of his life, but after the draw I realized the odds were heavily stacked against us," he wrote on www.jeremynoseda.com. "My passion, competitive desire to win the race and the frustration of going so close just came to the surface when I was interviewed moments afterwards. I apologize to the owner and connections of a very brave winner, if I upset them. Likewise, I want to apologize to the Dubai Racing Club. My comments were made in the heat of the moment."...
A case of strangles was confirmed at Newmarket in the barn of trainer Marco Botti. The horse, recently returned from the Dubai World Cup Carnival, has been moved into isolation and two stablemates who shared a flight from Dubai are being monitored at Botti's yard at the Warren Hills training grounds. This is the first strangles outbreak in Newmarket since 2009. "All three horses came back on the same flight," Botti told Racing Post. "We took one straight to a pre-training yard after he tested positive for strangles, and he has since been moved to an isolation yard out of town. We didn't want to take any chances with him and are monitoring the other two at our second yard, the White Stable. Their first tests have both proved negative and we are taking precautions by only exercising them in the afternoons as it's not fair on the other trainers if they go out normally. At the moment our main yard at Prestige Place is not affected and we are able to run horses and operate as normal." Mark Tompkins, chairman of the Newmarket Trainers Federation, stated, "I've only just heard about it and hopefully the vets have caught it in time as it's a horrible disease which is so easily spread. Trainers should be very aware about this outbreak of a disease which can shut racing down. It's all very well having all this international racing, but with no quarantine for some places, this is what can happen. I would hope all the horses in Marco's yard are being tested."
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