For the fourth time this year, Neal McLaughlin found himself taking part in a stakes-winning presentation at Keeneland while his brother Kiaran was tending to business in New York.
“I like these ceremonies on the grass,” McLaughlin said after greeting Shadwell Stable’s Alwajeeha upon her return for the infield trophy presentation for winning Saturday’s $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1).
“It has been a while since Kiaran has been here (for a stakes win),” said McLaughlin, who is hoping for another visit to the infield this afternoon with Big Stick in the Grade 3 Bryan Station. “He (Big Stick) is in a little tough, but he prefers firm turf and he should get that today.”
For Alwajeeha, the QE II was likely her last hurrah.
“Sheikh Hamdan (bin Rashid Al Maktoum) normally retires fillies after their three-year-old season,” McLaughlin said. “He will probably do that with her; she has nothing left to prove.”
McLaughlin also has two stakes near-misses through the first seven days of the meet: runner-up finishes by Shakis (IRE) in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) and by Habaya in the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine. McLaughlin said there is a chance Shakis may be bound for California.
“He has been doing well since his last race and he might go to the Breeders’ Cup,” McLaughlin said. “The unfortunate thing is that he would be a nine percent supplement. If he does not go in the Breeders’ Cup, there’s the Citation at Hollywood Park.
“I think they are thinking California, one way or another. The Citation (a $400,000 Grade 1 to be run at 1 1/16 miles on November 28) might suit him better with more pace in the race. He is doing so well right now, it would be hard to stop for the year.”
PLANS FOR HATTA FORT UNCLEAR AFTER PERRYVILLE SCORE
Godolphin Racing’s Hatta Fort (GB) exited his neck victory over Amazing Results in Saturday’s Perryville Stakes (G3) in good order, according to Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
“He came out of the race great and ate up everything last night,” Mettee said. “We had this race penciled in for him after he ran second here in the spring in the Lafayette.”
Hatta Fort gave jockey Julien Leparoux his third winner of the afternoon and made up for a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Cup Sprint (G3) at Turfway Park on September 27.
“At Turfway, he was stuck on the outside, but nobody was going to beat Fatal Bullet that day,” Mettee said. “Actually that race was better than it looked and we had a lot of confidence coming in here.”
Mettee said there were no immediate plans for Hatta Fort.
“It seems like he runs better on Polytrack than the turf and seven-eighths seems to be the right distance for him,” Mettee said with a nod toward the Grade 2 Commonwealth Stakes here in April as a possibility should Hatta Fort return to the races as a four-year-old.
ACOMA WORKS TOWARD TURF DEBUT IN PIN OAK VALLEY VIEW
Helen Alexander and Helen Groves’ Acoma worked a half-mile on the main track in :48 Sunday morning as trainer David Carroll continued the filly’s preparations for her scheduled turf debut in Friday’s $150,000 Pin Oak Valley View (G3) at 1 1/16 miles.
“The turf is a bit of an unknown with her, but she is bred for it being an Empire Maker out of a Danzig mare,” Carroll said. “She has won on Polytrack and is a graded stakes winner of the dirt, so this will be a bit of an experiment.”
Idle since running second in the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks on August 9, Acoma had her first turf work at Keeneland last Monday, going five furlongs in 1:04 around the “dogs.”
“She is the kind of filly who likes to get settled in in one place before she runs,” Carroll said. “We brought her over here from Churchill Downs about a week and a half ago.”
The break after the Monmouth Oaks was by design.
“She was in season when she ran in the Coaching Club Oaks (Grade 1 on July 19 at Belmont) and then three weeks later we shipped in to Monmouth,” Carroll said. “Nobody was going to beat Larry Jones’ filly that day (Maren’s Meadow) because she was the lone speed. We just let her regroup after that and when we got back to Kentucky, she really perked up.”
In the Pin Oak Valley View, Acoma may face a full field, according to Keeneland racing officials, as 12 horses are considered as probable for the race.
Among the dozen are three grass stakes winners: Marion Montanari’s Julia Tuttle, Maybry Farm’s Miss Challenge and Pin Oak Stable’s Much Obliged.
GRADE 1 STAKES WINNERS TARGET SATURDAY’S LEXUS RAVEN RUN
Ron McCauley’s Golden Doc A and Gerson Racing and Charleville Stables’ Set Play, Grade 1 stakes winners in California, are among six fillies considered as probable by Keeneland racing officials for Saturday’s 10th running of the $300,000 Lexus Raven Run (G2) at seven furlongs on the main track.
Golden Doc A captured the Las Virgenes (G1) in February at Santa Anita and, in her lone Keeneland start, finished second in the Grade 2 Stonerside Beaumont. She is now trained by Greg Fox.
Peter Miller conditions Set Play, winner of the Del Mar Debutante (G1) last summer. Winless in four starts this year, Set Play ran fourth in the Missile Belle on September 20 at Belmont Park.
Others considered as probable for the Lexus Raven Run are High Resolve, a Greg Gilchrist trainee and stablemate of Thoroughbred Club of America (G3) winner Indyanne; two-time Grade 3 winner Rated Fiesty for trainer Steve Asmussen; Saratoga allowance winner Secret Gypsy for trainer Ronny Werner; and Stealin’ Kisses, trained by D. Wayne Lukas.
Two other stakes are on tap for the coming weekend: the 14th running of the $150,000 Sycamore (G3) at 1 1/2 miles on the turf, and the 17th running of the $150,000 Rood & Riddle Dowager for fillies and mares going 1 1/2 miles on the turf.
Among the probables for the Sycamore are the past two winners of the Grade 3 Stars And Stripes at Arlington Park, Always First (GB) and Silverfoot, along with Kentucky Cup Turf (Grade 3) winner Rumor Has It and 2007 Sycamore winner Transduction Gold.
Headlining the list of eight probables for the Rood & Riddle Dowager is Helen Groves’ Tejida, a multiple graded stakes-placed mare who ran second in this spring’s Bewitch (G3) at the 1 ½-mile distance. Tejida is trained by Michael Matz.
A couple of grass stakes-winning mares are among the probables: the Todd Pletcher-trained Almonsoon, winner of the Omnibus at Monmouth Park in her most recent start, and the Neil Pessin-trained You Dancing Devil, winner of Arlington Park’s Nancy Vanier Illinois Owners Stakes in her most recent start.
Trainer Graham Motion said Sunday morning that 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner Better Talk Now is scheduled to work Monday morning at Fair Hill. “If he works well, we will pre-enter him,” Motion said, regarding this year’s renewal of the Turf to be run October 25 at Santa Anita. Tuesday is the deadline to pre-enter. Motion also has Saucey Evening, winner of the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies, being pointed to either the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) or the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Trainer David Carroll said Sunday morning that Denis of Cork, runner-up in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), would be rejoining his barn in November. “He is just over at the farm right behind here,” Carroll said, referring to Fares Farm, where Denis of Cork has been recovering since suffering a hairline fracture of his right rear leg in July. “I am looking forward to getting him back. He won’t run at Churchill Downs, but at the Fair Grounds this winter and see if he is good enough for the handicap ranks.”
WEDNESDAY HANDICAPPING CONTEST
Each Wednesday, Keeneland and its partner Daily Racing Form will host a $2,500 Handicapping Contest on races 3-9. Entry fee is $10; the first 200 participants receive a free Daily Racing Form.