Ellis Park staged a pair of $75,000 juvenile stakes Sunday that carried much more weight than their purses implied. With promising prospects testing their mettle ahead of next month’s Churchill Downs meet, and the first points races toward the 2018 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Oaks (G1) coming up, each seven-furlong event is likely to be informative.
In the Ellis Park Juvenile, Albaugh Family Stables’ well-regarded Dak Attack extended his record to a perfect two-for-two. The 2-1 second choice was coming off a debut score at Churchill over Sporting Chance, a next-out winner at Saratoga. But he had to contend with the outside post, and with unbeaten 3-5 favorite Ten City, hero of the Bashford Manor (G3). Neither turned out to be any problem for the Dale Romans pupil.
Well handled by Robby Albarado, Dak Attack raced a few lengths off the fast pace set by Make Noise through splits of :21.65 and :44.70 on the fast track. Make Noise’s 81-1 stablemate from the Jack Van Berg barn, Northern Trail, picked up the baton with a rush into the stretch, and spurted away.
Dak Attack was just leveling off down the outside, rolled past Northern Trail, and won going away by three lengths. The $625,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, who is indeed named in honor of the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, clocked 1:22.96.
“He went down there and did what he was supposed to do,” trainer Dale Romans told Jennie Rees by phone from Saratoga. “That was a good field of horses he beat, and I think his future is bright.
“He had to go wide, he got some dirt in his face. He did everything he’s supposed to do. And he also ran fast, which is good.
“He’s doing everything his namesake did. He’s a rookie like Dak was last year, yet he’s the star of our show.”
“I had a great trip,” Albarado said. “Historically you wouldn’t prefer the outside post, but circumstances with two-year-olds, the second start, I was able to let the race unfold in front of me and I wasn’t committed to any spot on the track. I got my sights on Ten City. I got to draft next to him, pulling with him around there, matching strides and turning for home I tried to pull away from him. And he did.”
Dak Attack will probably make his next appearance around two turns in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, according to Romans and Jason Loutsch, the co-owner and racing manager for the Albaugh stable. He’s not going to the Iroquois (G3) at Churchill on the way, as that’s the destination for another Albaugh juvenile, Sanford (G3) runner-up Free Drop Billy. Their Hollywood Star, second in the Saratoga Special (G2), will remain at the Spa for the Hopeful (G1).
“We’re very proud of him; he ran hard,” Loutsch said of Dak Attack. “All along we thought he was the most talented. We just took a little easier approach with him and brought him to Ellis. We had it in the plan book all along, and the plan came together and it’s working great.
“We’re coming off back to back second-place finishes at Saratoga, so I’m not taking anything away from our other two horses. But that was professional today. Breaking from the (11), sitting back there and eating dirt. And Robby asked him to go, he went.”
Hall of Famer Van Berg indicated that Northern Trail, who broke his maiden on the Ellis lawn, would revert to turf for the Fasig-Tipton Turf Showcase Juvenile at Kentucky Downs.
Ten City wound up third, a further three lengths behind the surprising runner-up Northern Trail.
“I had him where I wanted to be,” new rider Jack Gilligan, 20, said of the favorite. “I wanted to give him a nice, clear trip. I wanted Robby to be a bit behind me on my outside, so I could control him a little bit.
“To be honest, he’s going to be great guns going two turns. He just didn’t have sprinters’ speed on the middle of the turn, where Robby was able to move up me. I had no horse to go with him. He just felt like a two-turn horse at that point of the race where I needed to be able to hold my position, to push up on Robby to keep him out.”
“Ten City is a very nice horse,” said Albarado, who’d ridden the Ken McPeek pupil in both of his prior starts but was already signed on for Dak Attack here. “He won the stakes last time out.
“I’m not going to take anything away from Dak Attack. He’s royally bred and was well prepared for today, as he was for his first start.
“There are some talented babies in Kentucky. I’m excited for the fall. His talent is striking. But his demeanor, going to the track, coming off the track, walking to the winner’s circle. Nothing fazes the horse. He settles. He’s fast enough to be forwardly placed if they go too slow. He’s been perfect to this point.”
Dak Attack was bred by Airdrie Stud’s Brereton C. Jones, who still has a share in the colt. By Hall of Famer Ghostzapper, he is the first foal from Indian Spell, a stakes-winning daughter of Indian Charlie and champion Proud Spell.
One race earlier in the Ellis Park Debutante, 6-5 favorite Upset Brewing was apparently the victim of her own name when getting nailed late by the 11-1 Kelly’s Humor.
Owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash and trained by Brad Cox, Kelly’s Humor was turning back in trip after a debut victory in an off-the-turf mile maiden here. That experience benefited her as a pace meltdown ensued.
Upset Brewing chased fractions of :21.76 and :44.24, punched clear down the lane, but grew weary in the final furlong. As the favorite shortened stride, Kelly’s Humor was just reaching top gear for Shaun Bridgmohan. Collaring Upset Brewing by a length, the Midnight Lute filly finished in 1:24.63. The final time was considerably slower than the Juvenile despite a similar early pace.
“Once she got rolling, she really gave me a nice sustained finish,” Bridgmohan said. “At the eighth pole, I felt I had a real good chance because she was just getting warmed up. She just got into that big stride of hers and got comfortable. She’s a very talented filly and has a lot of ways to improve.”
Cox admitted he was not exactly forecasting a win.
“These Ellis Park stakes races, maiden specials and allowance races top to bottom are really good races. This is solid racing, a good race quality-wise. Coming into it? Honestly, I was hoping to be third.”
Kelly’s Humor will likely circle the Pocahontas (G2) at Churchill Downs in her datebook.
The 8-5 Sunny Skies, the hitherto undefeated winner of Churchill’s Debutante, was a belated third. The daughter of Animal Kingdom thereby brought the same kind of profile, with the same result, as her stablemate Ten City in the Juvenile.