It’s hard to believe it’s been 12 years since Churchill Downs inaugurated its “Stars of Tomorrow” program for juvenile runners only. Then you look at its history and, as the great Dick Enberg might say. “Oh, my.”

Its lynchpin, the Jockey Club Stakes, has taken a bit of an unfair hit in recent years for not being the harbinger of winning Kentucky Derby form it should be.

While it’s true that the 1-1/16 miles two-turner has produced only two winners--Super Saver who doubled up in 2009-10 and Real Quiet, runner-up in 1997 but a Derby hero the following year--the day has been a launching pad for numerous Grade 1 stars.

Shackleford, a future Preakness and Met Mile winner, raced on the day, as did 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge; Belmont Stakes winner Creator; a pair of Classic winners, Fort Larned and Gun Runner, and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and this year’s protem Best in Show.

It’s difficult to know what lies ahead for Grade 2 Golden Rod winner Road to Victory, or Jockey Club Stakes winning Enticed, but their futures look extremely bright. Ladies first:

We’ve seen this movie before and Mark Casse, a force at the Churchill Fall meet for a decade, did it again. This time he shipped Road to Victory in off a single 7-furlong debut on Woodbine turf and parlayed that win into a two-turn dirt score, and did it the hard way.

Not only did she take on a seasoned, undefeated-in-three-starts speedster, Monomoy Girl, but did so on the hard chase most of the way. To credit the speedy surface in place at Churchill Saturday would be a disservice to the winner and runnerup.

A replay or review of the chart will show that Monomoy Girl was forced into setting fast fractions for the distance and race dynamics--23.81 and 46.87--but it was the winner who applied that pressure while spotting ground to the leader.

Julien Leparoux, in the process of winning his fourth Golden Rod, knew exactly what was required: “I didn’t want the leader to get too far away from us,” the rider said. And he kept his own counsel.

“They went a little quick up front and she really didn’t get a breather down the backstretch, being pressed the whole way… Julien is a smart rider and I thought the race around the turn and up the backside took its toll,” said Brad Cox, trainer of the runnerup.

What Road to Victory accomplished was very rare in light of her inexperience, unfamiliarity with dirt, a second turn, and challenging dynamics. As she is scheduled to join Casse’s Florida division soon, look for her at Gulfstream Park this winter.

The same can be said for Enticed. He will join Kiaran McLaughlin’s Florida string but, unlike Mohaymen, this guy is built for the Derby grind. Making his two-turn debut following a third in the Champagne, he got about two races worth of education Saturday.

Check the video or take it from the official chart: “Enticed came out at the start, was bumped and bothered into the first turn, fanned into the eight path in the far turn, made a bid three wide down the lane, was under a long drive in the final stages and prevailed...”

Personally, we’re dubious of the eight-path estimate, but then neither was there mention that Enticed raced between horses through most of the backstretch run and was repeatedly gathered up to extract himself from possible jackpots to come.

“It was about as an eventful of a race as you can get as these babies are doing a lot of growing up and maturing – and Enticed did a lot of that today,” said Jimmy Bell, Racing Manager for Godophin/Darley.

“Maybe it was a little more experience than we asked for…” was the other way Bell put it.


It might have taken a bit longer to arrive than fellow Lukas graduates Todd Pletcher and McLaughlin, but Stewart has been enjoying a much deserved breakthrough season and he’s beginning to get the attention he’s earned.

Somewhat of a “wise guy” favorite for his longshot money finishers in major races and shocking upset of the 2006 Kentucky Oaks with Lemons Forever, the dam of Unbridled Forever and certain female titlist Forever Unbridled, Stewart has earned his way to the highest level.

Spacing races precisely this year while giving his runners plenty of down time to develop, he turned a three-race campaign into a highly likely Eclipse championship for Forever Unbridled and an upset Friday’s Grade 1 Clark with Seeking the Soul.

The late developing 4-year-old could join female stablemate Forever Unbridled in the Pegasus World Cup starting gate. Both runners are owned by Charles Fipke.

Stewart had Seeking the Soul primed for a peak performance in a Keeneland allowances last month, and he parlayed that into a Clark victory this weekend after a rider switch to birthday boy Johnny Velazquez. Sound familiar?

In addition, Stewart trains Tom’s Ready, another recent peak performance winner of the G3 Bold Ruler following his third in Saratoga’s G1 Forego. He is pointed to Saturday’s Cigar Mile and Mike Smith is shipping East for the ride.

Patience also played a role in Tom’s Ready’s development. Following an also-ran performance in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Stewart gave the More Than Ready colt six months R & R before starting what turned out to be his best campaign to date.


In our view, the New York Racing Association did the right thing, rescheduling its popular Cigar Mile Day program to December 2, a week later than in previous years. In doing so it got away from keen competition from Churchill Downs and Del Mar this weekend. They wrapped up their fall seasons this weekend.

The move also is a shot across the bow of Gulfstream Park, which begins its prime winter meet on Saturday with the Claiming Crown, a true handle magnet. Clearly, New York and Florida will own the upcoming weekend.

Right now there are 10 probable Cigar starters. The one-turn mile is the last Grade 1 of the year in New York. Dirt Mile runnerup Sharp Azteca is the probable favorite, followed by Practical Joke, never beaten around one turn, and strong-finish Sprint third Mind Your Biscuits.

Also expected are West Coast shipper Americanize, Beasley, Neolithic, Seymourdini, Summer Revolution, Tale of S'avall and the aforementioned Tom’s Ready. Vulcan's Forge, workmate of Neolithic, is another possibility.

The Cigar is one of four graded stakes Saturday, a program that includes the G2 Remsen and Demoiselle and the G3 Go for Wand.

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, November 26, 2017