Reigning Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner Aloha West returned to his winning ways in Saturday’s $160,000 Kelly’s Landing S. at Churchill Downs.
The stretch-running five-year-old knocked heads with a couple of monsters in his first two runs of the season, finishing third behind champion Jackie’s Warrior in the Churchill Downs S. (G1) and fourth behind undefeated Flightline in the Metropolitan H. (G1).
Dropping down in class was a recipe for a rebound. Favored at odds of 9-10 under jockey Joel Rosario, Aloha West saved ground early while staying closer than usual to splits of :22.33 and :44.80, shifted outside for racing room down the lane, wore down pacesetter Kneedeepinsnow to take the lead, and dug deep late to deny longshot Miles Ahead by a neck.
The finish may have been closer than bettors expected, but Aloha West’s winning time of 1:15.44 for 6 1/2 furlongs was solid. Kneedeepinsnow, Bango, Heart Rhythm, Bob’s Edge, and Startdfromabottom completed the order of finish.
“I had to ride him a little bit up into the pace today to keep his position,” Rosario said. “I think he got his confidence back today. He’s a very talented horse and showed his class today.”
Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and trained by Wayne Catalano, Aloha West improved upon his fourth-place finish from the 2021 Kelly’s Landing and is eligible to stay on a positive path through the summer and fall.
“We’re glad he got his feet back underneath him today,” Catalano said. “He ran into some stiff competition in his last two starts and he was coming off the layoff. Our goal is to get him back to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Today, we started our way back by getting his confidence back.”
Two other ungraded stakes took place earlier in the afternoon. The $200,000 Tepin S. saw a quartet of sophomore fillies travel one mile over the main track, with Wicked Halo proving a decisive winner. The 3-10 betting favorite pressed early splits of :23.08 and :45.57, took command through six furlongs in 1:10.46, and drew clear under jockey Tyler Gaffalione to defeat Heartyconstitution, Zawish, and Verylittlecents by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:36.91.
“She was very professional today and handled things very well out on the track,” Gaffalione said. “We sat a perfect trip just off of the early pace and turning for home she was able to separate from the other fillies.”
Winner of the Adirondack S. (G2) at Saratoga as a juvenile, Wicked Halo entered the Tepin off a clear-cut score in the Leslie’s Lady S. at Churchill. The Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred is developing into a classy sprinter for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
Later on the card, the $200,000 American Derby served as a rebound opportunity for Rattle N Roll, who started as the 17-10 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile heat and successfully secured his first victory since the 2021 Breeders’ Futurity (G1). Exiting five straight defeats (including four against graded stakes foes), the three-year-Kenny McPeek trainee settled off the pace through splits of :24.40 and :48.66, rallied into contention through six furlongs in 1:12.98, and took command down the lane to score by two lengths in 1:43.27.
Kuchar, Red Run, Kitodan, Search Engine, Jr’s Gift, McLaren Vale, and O P Firecracker chased home Rattle N Roll, a Lucky Seven Stable colorbearer ridden to victory by Brian Hernandez.
Racing continues on Sunday at Churchill Downs with two more stakes on the agenda: the $160,000 Anchorage S. and the $160,000 Maxfield S. First post time is 12:45 p.m. ET.