Jockey Miguel Mena guided home three stakes winners on Saturday’s “Road to the Derby Kickoff” program at Fair Grounds.
While Hawaakom ushered in the trend in the $73,500 Louisiana S. on the main track, a pair of “Kittens” stepped up to sweep both of the day’s turf stakes. Granny’s Kitten earned his first graded victory in the $121,250 Colonel E.R. Bradley (G3), and stablemate Kitten’s Roar likewise scored a new high in the $72,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial. Both progeny of Kitten’s Joy are Ken and Sarah Ramsey colorbearers trained by Mike Maker.
In the Bradley, the 4-1 Granny’s Kitten stalked in third as the top two choices went forward. The 5-2 Western Reserve carved out splits of :23.77, :48.80 and 1:12.85 in the soft going. Even-money favorite and defending champion Chocolate Ride prompted the pace, and when serving it up to the leader turning for home, looked to be sitting pretty. But Western Reserve proved resilient, Granny’s Kitten loomed to make it three abreast in the stretch, and Chocolate Ride ultimately retreated.
Looking stronger the farther he went, Granny’s Kitten finally thrust his neck in front of Western Reserve at the wire. The five-year-old slogged about 1 1/16 miles on the soggy course in 1:43.61.
Chocolate Ride checked in another 2 1/2 lengths back in third. One Mean Man, who acted up in the gate and had to be passed fit by the veterinarian, was an uncharacteristic last in the scratch-reduced field of six. Greengrassofyoming was a notable absentee.
Granny’s Kitten, a full brother to Grade 1 victress Kitten’s Dumplings and Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Granny Mc’s Kitten, now sports a mark of 18-6-3-3, $460,851. The winner of the restricted Alphabet Soup for Pennsylvania-breds last year at Parx, he was a near-miss third to Western Reserve in the December 17 Buddy Diliberto Memorial here last out. His five other stakes placings include the 2015 Penn Mile (G3).
The 9-5 Kitten’s Roar, in contrast, just held on by a desperate nose in the Krantz over the same course and distance. After tracking 14-1 longshot Dynazar in second, Kitten’s Roar took command down the lane and skipped clear. Then Prado’s Sweet Ride erupted from last, gained ground hand over fist, and joined her on the line. The photo revealed that Kitten’s Roar clung on tenaciously in a final time of 1:44.92.
Kitten’s Roar had been knocking on the proverbial door. Best of the rest behind Cash Control in the November 19 Cardinal H. (G3) at Churchill Downs, she was beaten only a head by the same rival in the December 17 Blushing K.D. at Fair Grounds. Kitten’s Roar bested her on Saturday, for Cash Control was only fourth as the 7-5 favorite.
I’m a Chatterbox, who would have attracted plenty of support in her turf debut, was among a bevy of scratches. Trainer Larry Jones decided to stick with his preferred option of the January 29 Houston Ladies Classic (G3).
Mena had employed different tactics aboard Stephan Smoot and trainer Wes Hawley’s Hawaakom, who went last to first in the Louisiana on the muddy, sealed main track. Rolling past Dazzling Gem inside the final furlong, the 7-2 chance got up by three-quarters of a length. Rocket Time bested 2-1 favorite Iron Fist for third, and pacesetter Carve tired to fifth of seven.
Hawaakom clocked 1:44.01 for 1 1/16 miles and increased his bankroll to $473,175 from his 32-8-6-7 line. Bred by Shadwell in Kentucky, the Jazil gelding was claimed for $15,000 at Churchill in November 2014, and Hawley has raised him to a stakes performer. Last season, Hawaakom captured the West Virginia Governor’s S. and placed in the Fayette (G2), Greenwood Cup (G3), Lukas Classic, and Maxxam Gold Cup. He was most recently fifth in the Clark H. (G1).
Mena would have had a great chance of a four-stakes bonanza, if his mount in the $70,500 Duncan F. Kenner, morning-line favorite Yockey’s Warrior, hadn’t scratched. Trainer Al Stall Jr. wasn’t enthusiastic about subjecting him to the mud.
That left Holy Boss as the overwhelming 2-5 favorite versus three rivals, and he didn’t disappoint. Sprinting to the early lead for Ricardo Santana Jr., the Steve Asmussen pupil disposed of pace foe Chief Istan at the top of the stretch and kicked clear. Holy Boss extended his advantage to 5 3/4 lengths while splashing six furlongs in 1:10.14.
Asmussen was also responsible for third-placer Bayerd. Clearly Now, who was bumped between Holy Boss and Chief Istan at the start, brought up the rear in fourth.
Holy Boss was among the top sophomore sprinters of 2015, with victories in the Amsterdam (G2), Chick Lang, and Bachelor, a third in the King’s Bishop (G1), and a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). The son of Street Boss went winless in 2016, but amassed four more stakes placings in the A.G. Vanderbilt H. (G1), True North (G2), Commonwealth (G3), and Bet on Sunshine when last seen at Churchill. His resume now reads 18-6-3-3, $711,277.