By Gary West
The four stakes on Wednesday, opening day for Kentucky Downs, signal exactly what fans and bettors can expect for the track's brief season — lucrative purses, large fields and quality racing.
Wednesday’s four stakes offer $1.25 million in purses; the two juvenile stakes overflow with entries; and the entrants in The Tourist Mile Stakes have an average bankroll of $375,787.
Youngsters are in the spotlight Wednesday, and what’s arguably the day’s most compelling race, the $350,000 Fasig-Tipton Showcase Juvenile, has attracted a full field of 2-year-olds that bulges with potential. The 7-2 favorite in the morning line is Snapper Sinclair, a four-length maiden winner at Saratoga in his last outing.
He has made a favorable impression this week galloping around the cones on Kentucky Downs’ unique turf course. And Wednesday’s seven-furlong distance, where the typical winner over the last two years has rallied from about 2.5 lengths back after the opening half-mile, should suit him perfectly. In his New York victory, at 5.5 furlongs, the handsome son of City Zip rated willingly behind a couple of speedsters and then swept by them to win by four lengths.
Northern Trail, the runner-up in his most recent outing behind highly regarded Dak Attack, is the second choice in the morning line at 4-1. Prior to his encouraging performance in the Ellis Park Juvenile, Northern Trail won his turf debut by more than three lengths, leaving the gate like a popped champagne cork and leading throughout. Both favorites are trained by Hall of Famers, Snapper Sinclair by Steve Asmussen and Northern Trail by Jack Van Berg.
The most intriguing horse in the field, however, could be Arawak, who’s third choice at 9-2. In May, he won his debut by seven lengths at Belmont Park and then journeyed, with a large Wesley Ward contingent, to Ascot. Although beaten by more than six lengths in the Coventry Stakes, Arawak led at Ascot until the final quarter-mile. Fifth in his most recent outing, the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, Arawak should appreciate a return to the turf.
The key to success Wednesday for more than a few of these youngsters could be avoiding a pace battle with Northern Trail’s stablemate, Make Noise, and Arawak. But if a hot pace indeed develops, Sky Promise, who’s turning back after winning at a mile at Arlington Park; Bantu, a mile winner at Ellis; and Stolen Pistol, who rallied strongly to win at Saratoga, could all benefit.
Like the Showcase Juvenile, the other stakes for 2-year-olds, the $300,000 Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies, has attracted horses from all directions — Best Performance and Ultima D from Saratoga, Moonlight Rain from Woodbine, Our Graycious Girl from Gulfstream Park, Arabella Bella from Arlington, Secret Passion from Prairie Meadows and several from Ellis Park.
Last year, trainer Christophe Clement came here with two juvenile fillies, and both won: Lull a stakes race and Joust a maiden race. This year the popular New York trainer has sent Best Performance to Franklin, Ky., and she’s the 5-2 favorite in the morning line for the Exacta Systems.
But Lull and Joust had raced on grass before coming to Kentucky; Best Performance, on the other hand, will be making her turf debut Wednesday. Still, she’s clearly the most accomplished filly in the field. Since her maiden victory in May, the powerfully built daughter of Broken Vow has been the runner-up in both the Astoria Stakes at Belmont and the Schuylerville at Saratoga.
But will she handle the turf? Would she even be here if there was a doubt? Before traveling, she worked over the turf in New York, and she has made a favorable impression here.
Also among those entered are Secret Passion, winner of the Prairie Meadows Lassie Stakes; Moonlight Rain, a rallying winner at Woodbine; and Ultima D, a runner-up in her turf debut at Saratoga.
The $150,000 One Dreamer, named for the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner who had won at Kentucky Downs when the track was known as The Dueling Grounds, has attracted My Impression here from New York. After the scratch of graded stakes winner Zipessa, My Impression could be heavily favored among these older fillies and mares.
A graded stakes winner herself, My Impression most recently finished five lengths behind the great Lady Eli in the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga. Last year, My Impression won the Winter Memories Stakes at Aqueduct and the Grade 3 Commonwealth Oaks at Laurel. For Hall of Fame trainer “Shug” McGaughey, she has been at Kentucky Downs since last Friday.
But Daddy’s Boo, who was won three of her last four races, appears to be a serious threat. Over the last two years, front-runners have won 3 of 13, or 23 percent, of the races run at this mile-and-70-yard distance; and Daddy’s Boo, who’ll be on or at least near the early lead Wednesday, won by nine lengths at this same distance in her Kentucky Downs debut last year. Also among those entered are Bonnie Arch, a recent winner at Ellis; and Rattataptap, for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
But the day’s richest race is the $400,000 Tourist Mile, named for the winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile who was a stakes winner at Kentucky Downs in 2015. Irish Strait, the 2-1 favorite in the morning line, certainly deserves the honorific based on his most recent outings; the 5-year-old half-brother to Irish War Cry who’s by the turf champion English Channel appears to be in the best form of his career. Runner-up in the recent Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes, Irish Strait had won the Grade 3 Red Bank Stakes in his prior outing, leading throughout.
But he has proven himself to be a versatile sort, readily adapting to whatever might be the situation; he also has won by both rallying and stalking. And versatility could be a valuable virtue Wednesday. At this one-mile distance, where the initial furlong is uphill, the typical winner over the last two years has rallied from 3.5 lengths back after the opening half-mile.
Flatlined, at 6-1, and Hootenanny, at 5-1, could represent the most serious threats to the favorite. Last year at Kentucky Downs, Flatlined scored the first stakes victory of his career, taking the Old Friends with a determined effort in the stretch. Hootenanny, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2014 at Santa Anita, finished second in the recent King Edward Stakes at Woodbine and should be prominent from the outset in The Tourist. Also among those entered are stakes winners Shining Copper, Dimension, Western Reserve and Applicator.
Post time for the first of 10 races Wednesday is 1:25 p.m. Central, with 10 more races to follow on Thursday, when the feature will be the Old Friends Stakes.