The Early Times Mint Julep was the last of three graded stakes races run under the lights as part of Churchill Downs’ special “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” nighttime racing program. Earlier, Island Bound won the Grade III, $110,100 Winning Colors and Rothko prevailed in the Grade III, $109,400 Aristides. On-track attendance totaled 21,827.
“I’m very proud of this,” McPeek said via phone from New York, where he is overseeing the training of Atigun and Unstoppable U for next Saturday’s Belmont (GI). “It’s awesome. A lot of people helped me get here: the horses, owners and my great staff.”
Bizzy Caroline broke well as the 9-5 favorite and rated in mid-pick through fractions of :24.32, :48.95 and 1:13.24 set by Heavenly Landing, who opened up a three-length advantage in the stretch. Bizzy Caroline angled out in midstretch and was set down for the drive by Cruz. She responded with a strong rally and got up just in time.
“When we turned for home and (Heavenly Landing) opened up, I thought, ‘Oh no, it’s too much.’ But she kept gaining and we got there on time,” Cruz said.
Hard Seven finished another 2 ¾ lengths back in third and was followed in order by Ravi’s Song, Artemus Kitten, Snow Top Mountain and Warm Hugs. Tapitsfly and Joharmony were scratched.
A 4-year-old dark bay or brown daughter of Afleet Alex out of the Saint Ballado mare Sacre Coeur, Bizzy Caroline covered the 1 1/16 miles on the firm course in 1:43.29.
It was the second consecutive victory in the Early Times Mint Julep for the McPeek-Cruz duo, who were victorious in last year’s running with Magdalena Racing’s My Baby Baby.
The victory was worth $67,444 and improved Bizzy Caroline’s bankroll to $294,844 with a record of 4-2-2 from 12 career starts. The other graded stakes win of her career came in last spring’s Regret (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
Bizzy Caroline returned $5.60, $3.60 and $3. Heavenly Landing, ridden by Corey Lanerie, returned $7.20 and $4.80 with Hard Seven, under Leandro Goncalves, finishing third and returning $4 to show.
Racing continues Sunday with 10-race program that includes a Pick 6 carryover of $8,568. Post time for the first race is 12:45 p.m. (all times Eastern) and the Pick 6 begins on Race 5 at 2:51 p.m.
EARLY TIMES MINT JULEP HANDICAP QUOTES
Ken McPeek, trainer of Bizzy Caroline, winner: “It was nip and tuck and I thought Manny (Cruz) rode a great race. She’s pretty special. I’m really happy for the Clay family.”
Q: On 300 career wins at Churchill Downs? “I’m very proud of this. It’s awesome. A lot of people helped me get here: the horses, owners and my great staff.”
Manny Cruz, jockey on Bizzy Caroline, winner: “The trip is so important and I had a great trip. When we turned for home and (Heavenly Landing) opened up, I thought, ‘Oh no, it’s too much.’ But she kept gaining and we got there on time.”
Eddie Kenneally, trainer of Heavenly Landing, second: “She ran a big race, she sure did. She’s a real nice filly. It was a real nice filly that ran her down, and we just got beat a neck and the rest of them were far back. So it was a good effort. She redeemed herself. She ran here on (Kentucky) Derby Day and there was no pace in the race, and she didn’t relax behind a slow pace. Today there was no pace in the race and we elected to let her run, and it worked out well.”
Corey Lanerie, jockey on Heavenly Landing, second: “I thought I was home. My filly ran so hard to get beat, it’s a shame that she got beat. But she gave me everything she had. When I turned for home and called on her, I thought she was gone. I never, ever thought somebody would run me down. But at about the sixteenth pole I kind of checked and saw (Bizzy Caroline) coming and there was nothing I could do to hold her off. Everything went according to plan. We tried to let her run today. We’ve been rating her and, for some reason, she hasn’t been showing up. So tonight we thought we’d just let her free-run and it worked out pretty good.”
Dan McFarlane, trainer of Hard Seven, third: “She ran good, but I can’t get out of this ‘third.’ I keep running third. Whether it’s California or here, running in Grade II and Grade IIIs, and I keep running third. But I’m very pleased with her effort. I want her to go a little further, too. I think a mile-and-a-quarter and a mile-and-an-eighth would suit her a little better. But she ran well.”
Q: What brought you to Churchill Downs this summer? “I just think there’s more opportunity back here in the Midwest. It’s tough in California, and it’s tough here, too. But I just wanted to try something different.”