The Louisville native hopes for a strong start with Jerry Romans’ Sassy Image in the $73,600-added Roxelana, an overnight stakes for fillies and mares at seven furlongs on the main track. A 5-year-old chestnut daughter of Broken Vow, Sassy Image is a five-time winner at Churchill Downs with four graded-stakes wins. The most prominent of those was the 2011 Humana Distaff (GI), with her other local stakes victories being the Pocahontas (Grade III) – Golden Rod (GII) double during her 2-year-old season and last spring’s Winning Colors (GIII).
“We wanted to run her at Churchill before the end of the meet in a spot where she could come back and get a win,” said Romans, who is leading the trainer standings this spring with 18 victories.
The 6-5 morning-line favorite, Sassy Image will break from post three under Shaun Bridgmohan.
The Roxelana, one of two stakes races highlighting the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program, is scheduled as Race 5 at 8:27 p.m. (all times Eastern).
In the following race at 9:00 p.m., Romans will have Donegal Racing’s Roman’s Avenue for the 111th running of the $100,000-added Bashford Manor (GIII) for 2-year-olds at six furlongs on the main track.
A dark bay or brown son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Roman’s Avenue made his career debut on May 27 at Churchill Downs and came away victorious, winning by 4 ¼ lengths.
“He didn’t run as fast as some of the other horses, but for him to win like that going 4 ½ furlongs was big,” Romans said. “He’s not that kind of horse. The horse that ran third came back and ran a big second the other day, so that legitimizes the race.”
Romans also said Roman’s Avenue will appreciate the extra distance the Bashford Manor provides.
“The further the better for him,” Romans said.
The 5-1 morning-line fourth choice, Roman’s Avenue will break from post six under the Spring Meet’s leading rider Corey Lanerie.
Romans’ final stakes competitor will come on Sunday in the $150,000-added Firecracker (GII) with Michael Bruder’s Guys Reward, who is coming off a victory in the Opening Verse on the Matt Winn Turf Course on June 9.
“They’re all training well and they have a good shot,” Romans said. “I’d like to get a stakes triple.”
A 5-year-old dark bay or brown son of Grand Reward, Guys Reward will break from the outside in the field of six in the one-mile race on the Matt Winn Turf Course. He will be ridden by Corey Lanerie.
The Firecracker will go as Race 7 at 9:30 p.m.
CALHOUN DISCUSSES PREPARING HORSES TO RACE IN HIGH TEMPERATURES – Trainer Bret Calhoun has recorded more than 2,000 victories in a career that began in 1994 and many of those wins came at racetracks in his home state of Texas, where temperatures in the summer will regularly hit triple digits. The 48-year-old conditioner has a lot of experience preparing horses to race in high temperatures and he said his horses will be ready for this weekend’s racing at Churchill Downs.
With near-record heat looming in the forecast, Churchill Downs officials adjusted post times for Friday, Saturday and Sunday and the first race on each of those days will come at 6:30 p.m. Thursday’s nine-race program was cancelled earlier in the week because National Weather Service forecasters were calling for a high of 103 with a southwest win of 5-15 mph and gusts up to 26 mph.
“You have to concentrate on keeping them hydrated,” Calhoun said. “We give our horses electrolytes when the temperature increases. The way you do it now most times is to feed them the electrolytes a few days before the race.”
Calhoun, who has five horses entered at Churchill Downs over the weekend, said post-race care is also a key factor for keeping the horses safe.
“You need to get some cool water on them as quick as you can,” Calhoun said. “You can get them cooled down pretty well, but they need attention as soon as they pull up.”
Calhoun, who won two Breeders’ Cup Championships races at Churchill Downs in 2010 with Dubai Majesty (Filly and Mare Sprint) and Chamberlain Bridge (Turf Sprint), does not expect there to be any horse-related issues during this weekend’s racing.
“The horses handle the heat pretty well,” Calhoun said. “The times when they don’t handle it well is when there are extreme temperature changes. But we’ve had so many nice days leading up to this that I think all the horses will be well acclimated and well hydrated and I don’t expect there to be any problems.”
LANERIE, MIDWEST THOROUGHBREDS HOLD COMMANDING LEADS; ROMANS WITH NARROW ADVANTAGE IN STANDINGS ENTERING FINAL WEEK OF MEET – Through 35 days of the 38-day Spring Meet, jockey Corey Lanerie has a commanding 26-win lead in the jockey standings and barring Shaun Bridgmohan winning aboard every mount he has this weekend, Lanerie will take home his first Churchill Downs riding title.
Owners Richard and Karen Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. also have a strong lead in the standings and have a four-win advantage over Paula Haughey’s PTK LLC.
Trainer Dale Romans is leading the trainer standings with 18 wins, but Tom Amoss (16 wins) and Steve Asmussen (14 wins) are well-within striking distance.
Lanerie is seeking his first title at Churchill Downs, while Midwest Thoroughbreds are going for back-to-back Spring Meet titles. Romans, an eight-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs, is looking to top the standings for the first time since the 2006 Spring Meet.
Here is a look at the leaders entering the final three live-racing days:
1. Corey Lanerie (66-for-252, 26% win-percentage, $1,917,020 in earnings)
2. Shaun Bridgmohan (40-for-218, 18%, $1,639,412)
3. Leandro Goncalves (32-for-169, 19%, $1,123,658)
4. Calvin Borel (30-for-193, 16%, $845,822)
5. Miguel Mena (25-for-178, 14%, $1,039,459)
1. Dale Romans (18-for-101, 18%, $1,615,072)
2. Tom Amoss (16-for-50, 32%, $483,140)
3. Steve Asmussen (14-for-91, 15%, $824,484)
4. Brad Cox (12-for-33, 36%, $211,065)
5. Bret Calhoun (11-for-36, 31%, $411,797)
1. Richard and Karen Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. (14-for-36, 39%, $245,845)
2. Paula Haughey’s PTK LLC (10-for-32, 31%, $197,522)
3. John Oxley (8-for-26, 31%, $332,733)
3. Ken and Sarah Ramsey (8-for-43, 19%, $341,780)
5. Billy, Donna and Justin Hays (5-for-48, 10%, $122,354)
BARN TALK – Admission gates for Friday, Saturday and Sunday will open at 4 p.m., with the first post at 6:30 p.m. General admission is $3 on Friday and Sunday and $10 on Saturday for the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program.
Friday’s Happy Hours in the paddock area, featuring 16-ounce Stella Artois for $3 and music by Edgewood, will take place from 6:30-9:30 p.m.
The final “Downs After Dark” racing program of the Spring Meet is billed as the second annual “White Party,” during which on-track guests are encouraged to wear an all-white wardrobe. Paddock entertainment will be provided by Trinity, a Miami-based trio that uniquely mixes the sounds of a DJ and drums, and popular Nashville band, Burning Las Vegas.
Sunday’s Junior Jockey Club activities will go on as scheduled, but the one-day “Who’s the Champ? Handicapping Contest” has been postponed because of timing conflicts. Pre-registered contestants will be contacted in the next few days by track officials. …
Hall of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas will send out Titletown Five for his career debut in Friday’s fourth race at Churchill Downs. A 2-year-old dark bay or brown son of Tiznow, Titletown five is owned by Heisman Trophy winner and Hall of Famer Paul Hornung in partnership with William Davis and Ed Martin.
Purchased for $250,000 at last year’s Keeneland September Yearling sale, Titletown Five is named for Green Bay’s nickname of “Titletown” and Hornung’s number, five.
Doug O’Neill, the trainer of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner I’ll Have Another, will be on hand Saturday night to accept the engraved Kentucky Derby 138 trophies on behalf of the winning connections. …
Jockey Jesus Castanon, who has been out of action since breaking his left hand in a spill at Churchill Downs on May 18, returned to the saddle Wednesday morning and will exercise a few horses this week; however, he will not ride in any races carded for the final weekend of the Spring Meet.
“There’s no pain, but I’m working on getting my hand stronger,” Castanon said. “I hope to be back for opening day at Ellis Park (July 4).”
WORKTAB – Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Stephanie’s Kitten, winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GII) and this spring’s Edgewood Presented by Kentucky National Insurance, breezed five furlongs on the fast main track at Churchill Downs on Thursday morning in 1:01 for trainer Wayne Catalano. It was the third fastest work of 12 at the distance. …
Klaravich Stables Inc. and William Lawrence’s Animal Spirits, winner of the Bourbon (GIII) at Keeneland and fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) at Churchill Downs during his 2-year-old campaign, breezed four furlongs on the main track Thursday morning in :48.40 for trainer Al Stall Jr. It was the third fastest of 39 works at the distance. …
Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier’s Battle Hardened, winner of the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay in February, breezed five furlongs on the main track in 1:00.40 for trainer Eddie Kenneally. It was the second fastest work at the distance.