Keeneland’s graded stakes on Saturday featured winners of contrasting profiles. While former turf champion Channel Maker captured his eight-year-old bow in the $310,538 Elkhorn (G2), up-and-coming four-year-old Scalding extended his skein in the $299,375 Ben Ali (G3).
Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber, R.A. Hill Stable, and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s Channel Maker hadn’t won since his Eclipse Award campaign of 2020, but the veteran was coming off a creditable fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Del Mar. The Bill Mott trainee faced an easier field here, if he could deliver a winning effort off the bench. As it turned out, Channel Maker was ready to assert his class despite circumnavigating widest of all.
Another son of English Channel, Two Emmys, was dispatched as the 2.20-1 favorite off a romp in the Muniz Memorial Classic (G2) at Fair Grounds. Two Emmys got a flyer out of the gate and enjoyed a cozy lead through fractions of :25.13 and :49.53 on the firm turf.
But the race shape turned against the favorite as the field made its second tour of the backstretch. Tiberius Mercurius, who had unsuccessfully probed for room passing the stands for the first time, sneaked through on the rail. By the time Two Emmys reached six furlongs in 1:14.05, Tiberius Mercurius was on the march, and the 22-1 shot grabbed a slim lead through the mile 1:37.91.
Meanwhile, the 7-2 Channel Maker hovered in a close tracking position for Luis Saez, covering extra ground but traveling in a comfortable rhythm. Two Emmys, feeling the pressure of Tiberius Mercurius to his inside and Channel Maker to his outside, gave way on the final turn. Neither could Tiberius Mercurius withstand the advance of Channel Maker.
Swinging for home, Channel Maker struck the front and put the race away. Bemma’s Boy and Another Mystery rallied, and Bama Breeze darted on the inside, but none could threaten the old champ. Channel Maker held sway by 1 1/4 lengths in a stakes-record 2:27.10 for the 1 1/2-mile feature.
“He’s pretty tricky,” Saez said, “but I rode him a couple times before and learned a lot from him. He used to run on the lead, but we decided last night to take him a little from behind, so the key today was to break and let the three horse (Two Emmys) go because we knew that was the speed in the race. So I sat right there at his shoulder, and when we came to the top of the stretch, it was all about him.”
Another Mystery outfinished Bemma’s Boy by a half-length for the runner-up spot, with Bama Breeze a further three-quarters of a length away in fourth. Next came Sole Volante, Cullum Road, Two Emmys, and Tiberius Mercurius. Phantom Currency was withdrawn.
Channel Maker has bankrolled $3,595,576 from his 44-8-6-5 line. Canada’s champion three-year-old male on the strength of his 2017 Breeders’ S. victory, the chestnut earned his 2020 Eclipse through scores in the Sword Dancer (G1) and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) and a fine third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland. His resume also includes wins in the 2018 Joe Hirsch and Bowling Green (G2) as well as the 2019 Man o’ War (G1). Among his other notable placings are the Hollywood Derby, the 2018 Sword Dancer and Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1), 2019 Joe Hirsch, and last year’s Neom Turf Cup on Saudi Cup Day. Channel Maker took a while to round back into form after his Middle Eastern venture, perhaps accounting for his subdued results in 2021.
Bred by Ivan Dalos’s Tall Oaks Farm in Ontario, Channel Maker is a full brother to Canadian champion turf male Johnny Bear and a half to stakes-winning Court Return, runner-up in the 2020 E.P. Taylor (G1). Their dam, stakes heroine and Monmouth course record-setter In Return, is a Horse Chestnut mare from the family of Grade 1 star Auntie Mame and Grade 3 vixen Gam’s Mission.
Ben Ali (G3)
Proving well-named, Scalding extended his winning streak to four for Shug McGaughey. The rapid improver has ascended the ladder from his Jan. 5 maiden at Gulfstream Park and Feb. 11 allowance romp at Tampa Bay Downs to the March 12 Challenger (G3) and now a Keeneland prize.
With regular rider Javier Castellano aboard, Scalding recovered from a slightly awkward start to sit a couple of lengths off the contested pace. Two-time Canadian Horse of the Year Mighty Heart led the way through an opening quarter in :23.72, but the 68-1 Cowboy Diplomacy hustled on the rail to head him at the half in :47.71. As Mighty Heart regained control from the weakening longshot passing six furlongs in 1:12.54, he was beset by 1.30-1 favorite Warrant and soon retreated.
But Warrant had the advantage only briefly between calls, for Scalding was already lapped on him turning for home. Kicking away with authority, the son of Nyquist loafed late while crossing the wire with 1 1/4 lengths to spare.
“I like the way my horse did it today,” Castellano said of Scalding, who clocked 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.30. “He broke not too sharp, but (put me in) the place to keep track of those two horses in the lead, and he made a little sweeping move. I liked the way he finished. I really like the horse. I followed this horse since he started. Shug did a really good job, and I thank Shug and all the owners for the opportunity to ride the horse.”
Dynamic One, third in the Challenger, again did his best work in deep stretch and cut the deficit as a clear second. Another 1 3/4 lengths back in third came Proxy, who nipped Warrant in a photo. The rest – Tartufo, Mighty Heart, and Cowboy Diplomacy – were all strung out. Title Ready was scratched.
Campaigned by Grandview Equine, Cheyenne Stable, and LNJ Foxwoods, Scalding advanced his resume to 6-4-1-0, $306,150. The dark bay was bred by Godolphin and Cobalt Investments and sold for $400,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling.
Scalding is a half-brother to Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Tracksmith and stakes-placed Tortuga, all out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Hot Water. Second dam Elusive Heat, herself a Grade 3-placed stakes vixen, is a daughter of Elusive Quality and Hall of Fame sprinter Xtra Heat.