March 24, 2018

Honorable Duty faces Eagle, Fear the Cowboy in Lukas Classic

Honorable Duty with James Graham aboard gets in front of Breaking Lucky to capture the 92nd running of the New Orleans Handicap (G2) at Fair Grounds (c) Hodges Photography/Amanda Hodges Weir

Seven horses have been entered to go 1 1/8 miles in the $200,000 Lukas Classic Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, the highlight of a three-stakes card under the Twin Spires on Saturday.

Honorable Duty is first in BRIS Prime Power (146.6) against his six opponents off a pair of runner-up finishes at Churchill for trainer Brendan Walsh. The Distorted Humor gelding captured the Mineshaft Handicap (G3) and New Orleans Handicap (G2) at Fair Grounds to kick off his five-year-old season, before shipping to Churchill for seconds in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) on May 5, Kentucky Oaks Day, and the June 17 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) most recently.

“He’s been training really great since the Stephen Foster,” Walsh said. “We kept him at home this summer and he put his first published breeze since the race in early August. He worked six furlongs (in 1:12.60) the other morning (September 23) with Corey (Lanerie) aboard and he just did it so effortlessly. He loves this surface and I think he’ll fit this race well coming back off the layoff.”

Honorable Duty ran in last year’s Lukas Classic, finishing fifth, before closing out his 2016 campaign with a nice win in the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds on December 17. Lanerie has the call for the first time on Saturday.

Eagle finished fourth behind Honorable Duty in both the Mineshaft and New Orleans ‘Cap, but went on to capture the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial Stakes and place in the Philip H. Iselin Stakes (G3) and Ben Ali Stakes (G3) this year. The Neil Howard-trained five-year-old also ran second in the 2016 Stephen Foster and reunites with Brian Hernandez Jr. in this spot.

Fear the Cowboy will do his best to upset the apple cart after a fourth-place run in last year’s Lukas Classic. The Efren Loza Jr.-conditioned bay ran twice more in 2016 following the Lukas Classic, recording unplaced efforts against stakes rivals, before kicking off his five-year-old season with a 4 1/2-length score in an allowance/optional claimer. The son of Cowboy Cal also captured the Skip Away Stakes (G3) in March and enters the Lukas Classic off a two-length triumph in the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes on August 5. Regular rider Jesus Rios will be aboard.

Completing the Lukas Classic field are Seeking the Soul, third in last year’s Jefferson Cup Stakes over the track; Grade 3 scorer Albano, who is attempting to climb out of the claiming ranks; Grade 3-placed dual stakes winner Flashy Jewel; and stakes-placed Money Flows.

One race after the Lukas Classic, Awesome Slew will attempt a return to the winner’s circle in the $100,000 Ack Ack Stakes (G3) sending a field of nine one mile on the main track.

The Mark Casse-trained Awesome Slew was last seen crossing the finish line first in April at Keeneland, where he took the Commonwealth Stakes (G3) by 1 1/2 lengths. The Awesome Again four-year-old just missed by a head next out in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G2) on May 6, Kentucky Derby Day, then suffered a well-beaten fourth in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park.

Awesome Slew filled the runner-up spot in his last two, the Belmont Sprint Championship (G2) and Forego Stakes (G1), and brings Lanerie along for the ride here.

Conquest Big E might relish returning to a mile after finishing fourth in the Philip H. Iselin Stakes (G3) last out on August 26. Prior to that, the Donna Hurtak charge posted a seventh-length wire job in the Coast is Clear Handicap at Gulfstream Park going eight furlongs, which followed an 8 1/2-length gate-to-wire score against allowance/optional claiming rivals at the same distance. Getting Florent Geroux in the saddle for the Ack Ack can only help the Tapit gelding’s chances.

One race before the Lukas Classic, a field of eight sophomores will take to the turf for the $100,000 Jefferson Cup Stakes going nine furlongs. Last-out Super Derby conqueror Mr. Misunderstood and Mystic Lake Derby hero Giant Payday are among the top draws in the group.

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