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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Kentucky Downs Press Staff – Earlier in the week, Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse admitted that running his 6-year-old gelding Get Smokin in the 32nd running of the $1.7 million FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup (G2) was going to be an experiment.

Guess what?

The experiment was a rousing success.

Get Smokin was known for his run-from-the-bell style of running. Not known so much was his ability to run that way going the marathon mile-and-a-half distance of the Turf Cup, one of the marquee races of the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.

Casse looks like a genius now after Get Smokin turned the Turf Cup into his personal playground. The son of Get Stormy out of Hookah Lady by Smoke Glacken led every step of the way and won the race by 1 ¾ lengths.

Get Smokin played a game of catch me if you can, and no one could.

“What a horse he is!” Casse said by phone from Lexington. “Going to the lead, that was the strategy. We felt we would establish a big lead and hope that everyone else would think he could not go that far. Guess what? He did.”

Get Smokin, at 19-1, was the third-longest price in the field of 12.

And it was absolutely no surprise that when the gates sprung open jockey Fernando De La Cruz, the second-leading rider at Horseshoe Indianapolis, put Get Smokin where he likes to be.

The plot was drawn up by Casse and Harlan Malter, the managing partner of Ironhorse Racing Stable, which owns Get Smokin along with BlackRidge Stables, T-N-T Equine Holdings and Saratoga Sevens Racing.

In his 26-race career, Get Smokin had never ventured this far. He had tuned up for the Turf Cup with a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup at Ellis Park on Aug. 6. That was 1 ¼ miles and Get Smokin did his thing and tired, getting beat a length.

“I have often told Harlan that he is the craziest owner I train for,” Casse said. “But this was not a crazy idea.”

“Look,” Malter said, “he’s a horse that gets caught late. So you think if you keep stretching him out farther, it’s going to be even harder for him to get it. We looked at it the opposite way. He gallops at a very high rate of speed and has a huge heart. He carved out fractions that were workable for him and they weren’t going to catch him.”

Get Smokin was comfortable running these splits: 24.00, 49.61, 1:14.18 and 1:37.99 for the mile. And he wasn’t getting tired. He was getting stronger.

He maintained a two-length advantage virtually the whole way around. It also didn’t hurt any that speed was holding up all day.

“They told me to take him to the lead and see what happens,” De La Cruz said. “It’s a mile and a half, a long way to go. He just kept going.”

Santin, ridden by Florent Geroux, and Verstappen and Declan Cannon – both trained by Brendan Walsh – followed Get Smokin around the track for most of the way but couldn’t put a dent in his advantage. They would settle for third and fifth, respectively.

“We have no excuse,” Walsh said. “You can’t take anything away from the winner. He ran his race and we didn’t get him.”

Spooky Channel, ridden by James Graham and trained by Jason Barkley, came on in the stretch and got second at 17-1. They finished a head in front of Santin, who was a nose in front of defending champion Red Knight, the 7-2 favorite.

“He tried every inch of the way. I thought I would run down (the winner),” said Spooky Channel’s trainer Jason Barkley. “He just kept trying. He ran big. Very proud of him.”

Get Smokin has won two of six starts this year and has six wins in 27 career starts. He banked $972,220 on Saturday and now has earnings of $1,650,497.

Casse said he did not want to commit to what might be next for Get Smokin, but a trip to the Breeders’ Cup can’t be dismissed. After all, Get Smokin earned a fees-paid spot in the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf by virtue of winning the Kentucky Turf Cup, part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.

“We want to enjoy this,” Casse said. “We’ll talk to Harlan and the rest of the owners. This is just a great win for a really good horse who gives you everything.”

The final time was 2:28.66. Get Smokin paid $41.14, $21.16 and $11.50.

After Verstappen, the order of finish was Kitodan, Me and Mr. C, Therapist, Never Explain, Foreign Relations, Another Mystery and Nautilus.

Turf Sprint: Gear Jockey repeats 2021 victory

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023) — On a day when past stakes-winners at Kentucky Downs proved dominant, the $1 million, Grade 2 Ainsworth Turf Sprint came down to two former winners over the course.

Gear Jockey, winner of the 2021 Turf Sprint, loomed alongside pacesetter Bad Beat Brian with an eighth-mile to go, but 2022 Franklin-Simpson winner One Timer was flying fast on the outside. The two came to the wire together. Or almost together. Gear Jockey, with Jose Lezcano aboard, held on to win by a short head. Bad Beat Brian, who last year won a Kentucky Downs allowance race, grudgingly gave way to finish another neck back in third, with Olympic Runner another neck back in fourth.

“We’re pretty happy,” understated winning trainer Rusty Arnold. “He’s a favorite. I thought he had lost his edge. He’s had his issues, and we thought we had him in pretty good shape. He loves this course. Two times he’s won on it, so obviously he does. Great ride. Very happy.

“He won kind of the same way two years ago. We wanted to run here last year. We missed it. It’s nice to get him back.”

In victory, Gear Jockey earned another fees-paid berth in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, this time at Santa Anita. Gear Jockey finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar two years ago.

It was Gear Jockey’s first win since the 2021 Turf Sprint nine races ago. He was off eight months after getting the winter off when he fell off form. Arnold was able to get only one prep into the 6-year-old horse, in which Gear Jockey finished last of six that day in a $150,000 stakes at Colonial Downs. Arnold was forced to scratch from a planned earlier race at Ellis Park when a sprinkler issue flooded the turf course and necessitated the race moving to dirt.

But everything was smooth sailing with the big money on the line. Lezcano settled the horse into second behind front-running Bad Beat Brian.

Bad Beat Brian and jockey Chris Emigh rattled off fractions of 21.77 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 45.08 for the half before Gear Jockey engaged the leader after five-eighths of a mile in 57.23 seconds. Gear Jockey covered six furlongs over firm turf in 1:10.59  and paid $48.60 to win as the seventh choice in the field of 11 older horses. In the mad dash to the wire, a total of a length separated the winner from sixth-place Front Run the Fed and seventh-place Eamonn.

“He broke very sharp,” Lezcano said. “He gave me the same race he gave me two years ago when he won here. To be honest with you, I knew it was going to be very close. At first, I thought the other horse (One Timer) got me. I thought he got me in the last bob and I was like” — he illustrated by clenching his teeth — “I really didn’t know. Sometimes you know. The angle here is different so it’s hard to know.

“I was very happy for the horse. He is a tough horse and he tries all the time. I am very happy for Rusty and his whole team. They work very hard.”

Jockey E.T. Baird also thought One Timer won.

“I thought I got there,” Baird said. “He ran good. They out-footed me the first part so I just conceded and held him together. I didn’t know at the wire. I knew it was going to be close. He ran hard.”

One Timer is a fast horse and broke on the rail. But he was fifth early on, several lengths behind Bad Beat Brian.

“The other horse, Bad Beat Brian, caught a flier,” said Larry Rivelli, One Timer’s trainer. “We’ve run against him several times and we’ve been in front of him. There’s nothing you can do. He just got us. Baird knows the horse well enough that he let him settle in.

“He likes this track. We’ll see him next year. Same race. That’s what we’re going to do. We’ll run him in the Breeders’ Cup and give him some time off.”

Bad Beat Brian continued to prove a great $40,000 claim by trainer Brittany Vanden Berg during the 2022 Ellis Park meet.

“He looked like he was going to carry on,” said Vanden Berg, who is married to Emigh. “Chris said, ‘I caught a flier when I broke. I’m going to take advantage of this.’ He went to the lead, and was like, ‘I better keep him in hand, keep him in hand. I know they’re going to be coming.’ He said, ‘Just at the end Gear Jockey kind of got a little in front of me, but Brian started fighting back. But then I just got overtook at the end.’ I was screaming so loud I actually ended up over the fence. My legs were off the ground. It was so close, I couldn’t decipher it.”

Gear Jockey, a Kentucky-bred son of Twirling Candy, now is 5-2-6 in 24 starts, earning $1,586,651 with the $589,680 payday for owner-breeder Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm. Kelley, a native of Simpson County, is a previous owner of Kentucky Downs.

“We had this horse in at Ellis to get him ready,” Arnold said. “We got him down there and were ready to go. It was a beautiful day, but the sprinklers had been left on all night so we couldn’t run him. Then we were scrambling, and I don’t think he got to Virginia the right way. It was a disaster. Then we just pointed for here. He had three really, really good works.

 “We thought we had him right, but there is a way of being fit and there is racing fit. Everybody else has been running and we’ve been on the shelf with one start in a year basically.

“He’s had his issues. You get him over here without his issues and you’ve got a different horse.  Each time he ran one of those there was a reason for it. We tried to give him the winter off and get him right. The only one we kind of scratched our head on was the last race in Virginia because we thought we had him good enough to run a good race. We knew we were coming here. But he didn’t run at all. We had shipped down the day before and nothing went right. Everything went right for this one.”

 Rounding out the field were Cogburn, Front Run the Fed, Eamonn, Dr. Zempf, Dream Shake, Counterstrike and Noble Reflection.

Ladies Turf Sprint: This time Bay Storm gets it done

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023) – Gritty Bay Storm withstood non-stop pace pressure and the late charge from Wakanaka Saturday to win the $1 million AGS Ladies Turf Sprint (G2) by a neck at Kentucky Downs.

Trained by Jonathan Thomas, who won a pair of $1 million races during the program and has four victories at the meet, Bay Storm blended two themes of the day into a victory that made her a millionaire. Getting to the lead was an important element as was past success over the Kentucky Downs course. A year ago, the daughter of Kantharos owned by Bridlewood Farm was not in front at any of the calls and finished a nose behind Campanelle.

Though she had company throughout the 6 ½ furlong race, once she gained the advantage none of the other six horses in the field was able to get in front of Bay Storm and Florent Geroux Saturday. Most of the time Tony Ann and jockey Tyler Gaffalione were on her right flank as she set fraction of 22.63 seconds, 45.80 and 10:10.41. Wakanaka came with a strong run from the back of the field, pulled alongside the leading pair at the sixteenth pole but could not get past them.

“She broke in the air,” Geroux said. “She recovered and came back on the inside of Tyler and made the lead. She ran great here last year on this track. It was a big advantage. She is a fighter. It’s very simple here: they either like it or they don’t. She fought today.”

Bay Storm won by a neck in 1:17.06 and paid $7.72. Wakanaka, a slim 5-2 favorite over Bay Storm edged Tony Ann by a head for second.

Thomas said the victory took some of the sting out of last year’s loss.

 “Without a doubt,” he said. “She really deserves this. She’s got a crazy-good resume. I think that’s her (17th) lifetime start and she’s only been off the board twice. It’s a real credit to her, a graded-stakes winner. George Isaacs and the Bridlewood team have been really patient with her. It’s kind of like a bow on a present. It feels good to have gotten her that win.”

Bay Storm was the fourth stakes winner Saturday that had either won before or run very well over the distinctive Kentucky Downs course.

“Some horses have an affinity (for the course),” Thomas said. “She’s certainly taken to this track real well. The common thread is all the winners we’ve had, they’ll run on anything. I don’t know if they just like the track or they’re just tough. Everything we’ve won with, they’re tough hardy front-end type of horses.”

Thomas said that, with Wakanaka charging, the contact with Tony Ann in the stretch probably was a positive.

“There were a couple of dodgy moments,” he said. “Honestly, the filly on the outside bumping her a couple of times probably fired her up. That probably helped us get to the wire the way we did, kind of made her dig down a little deeper. But that’s what we expect from her.”

Thomas has two other wins in $1 million races on his resume courtesy of Catholic Boy in 2018: the $1.25 million Travers and the $1.2 million Belmont Derby. This is his first daily double in $1 million dollar tests.

 “I was actually thinking that earlier, being here and winning two races, basically the monetary equivalent of the Travers, is a pretty big deal,” he said.

“My family and I recently moved to Kentucky. This is home. So we’ve had a good kind of home-coming here.”

 Thomas said he relocated to Kentucky in search of more opportunities. Right now he is based at Turfway Park.

Wakanaka, co-owned by Team Valor and Gary Barber, has been a consistent performer and has finished in the top three in 16 of her 20 career starts.

“She came running,” said jockey Joel Rosario. “It looked for a second that we might win the race. It was a good run.”

Franklin-Simpson: Private Creed fulfills goal set a year ago

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023) – After Mike McCarty’s Private Creed won the Juvenile Sprint race at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs last year, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen pointed his son of Jimmy Creed to the $1 million Exacta Systems Franklin-Simpson (G2) at the 2023 meet.

Private Creed didn’t disappoint his trainer as he was full of run in the 6 1/2-furlong race for 3-year-olds, coming up the rail to win by a widening 2 1/4 lengths. Jockey Joel Rosario, who was in the saddle when Private Creed won the Juvenile Sprint last year by three-quarters of a length, was on board Saturday as well.

“Dream trip,” Asmussen said. “Just as good as it gets. He got away from there well, so he put him in hand and he was comfortable. He’s a really big horse. Joel put him in the pocket, came right up the fence.”

It was the third win of the afternoon for Rosario and second stakes race. He won the $1 million Aristocrat Ladies Marathon earlier on the card.

“I had horse,” Rosario said. “I was just trying to keep riding him. He came off the rail and I just took it.”

This was the first win of the season for Private Creed in his sixth start. He had finished second twice, including in his last start, in the ungraded Mahony at Saratoga on Aug. 13. That was his first start since May when he was fifth in the William Walker at Churchill Downs.

Following that race, Private Creed missed time because of an open cut he suffered in the Walker.

“Off the race at Churchill, we were very concerned,” Asmussen said. “Big open gash on him, but it healed up extremely well. It did take longer than we were wanting it to, but he was back just in time. He clipped heels and I believe it was his other leg hitting himself.”

This was the first win for Asmussen at the meet.

“Very important for us to have a little success here, with (major client) Ron (Winchell) being a partner on owning the racetrack,” Asmussen said.

Private Creed earned $585,960 for his victory and is now a millionaire with earnings of $1,248,286. Private Creed has won four of 10 career starts on the grass, his only dirt try coming in the Risen Star Stakes earlier this year when he was 12th.

Sweet Cherry Pie, trained by Rusty Arnold and ridden by Irad Ortiz, set the early pace, setting fractions of 21.94, 45.90 and 1:10.46. In the final three-sixteenths, Sweet Cherry Pie was joined by the lone filly in the race, Playlist (5-1) for trainer Wesley Ward and John Velazquez.

Sweet Cherry Pie went off as the 7-2 favorite in the wide-open race.

Private Creed blew past both of them and poured it on heading to the wire.

Playlist outfinished Sweet Cherry Pie and was 2 1/4 lengths in front of him. Sweet Cherry Pie was a neck in front of Closethegame Sugar, who was a nose in front of Behind Enemy Lines, who was also 7-2.

Behind Enemy Lines had to overcome the No. 12 post position.

“I don’t think if he had drawn inside that we would have beaten the winner,” said Jack Sisterson, trainer of Behind Enemy Lines. “It might have been closer.”

Ward was pleased with the runner-up performance for Playlist.

“She ran great,” he said. “We had to run her against the boys because she didn’t get in the other day (in the Music City Stakes). I think she is going to go on to be a really good filly.”

Private Creed was timed in 1:17.03 and paid $14.02, $6.38 and $4.20.

The immediate plan for Private Creed could be a trip to California to run in the five-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November.

“Heck yes,” Asmussen said. “Whether we run him back between now and then, I’m not sure. We’ll have to see how much this took out of him.”

Asmussen, though, might already be targeting Private Creed for another visit to Kentucky Downs in 2024 and a run in the $1 million Ainsworth Turf Sprint (G2) against older horses.

“Absolutely,” Asmussen said. “Hope we have another Snapper Sinclair on our hands. It’s great to have a horse that has an affinity for this course because of how rich the purses are.”

Snapper Sinclair had that affinity. He had three wins and a second in four starts at Kentucky Downs during his 39-race career.

After Behind Enemy Lines, the order of finish was Mo Stash, Monsieur Coco, Frosted Departure, Two of a Kind, Bat Flip, Lugan Knight and Golden Bandit.

Ladies Turf: Regal Realm goes wire to wire

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023) – Wearing saddle towel #1 was perfect for Regal Realm, who led every step of the way to win the Grade 3, $1 million Castle Hill Gaming Ladies Turf Saturday at Kentucky Downs.

Florent Geroux put the 4-year-old Augustin Stable homebred trained by Jonathan Thomas on the lead coming out of the gate and that turned out to be the winning move in the one-mile race. Regal Realm was in front by a comfortable couple of lengths in the early going. Querobin Dourada moved up to challenge on the outside as they approached the turn into the stretch but was unable to draw even.

“She broke super-fast and made the lead very easily,” Geroux said. “We just wanted to see how she broke. We thought she might be forward because of a lack of speed in the race. When she jumped very well I just took control of the race. She did it very easily and she really liked the track. She had more and felt great.”

When Geroux asked her for more approaching the quarter pole, Regal Realm bounded away from the competition and went on to win by 1 ¼ lengths. Sparkle Blue, co-owned by George Strawbridge Jr.’s Augustin Stable and breeder Catherine Parke, rallied on the outside in deep stretch to finish second, a neck in front of White Frost.

(NOTE: Because of a timing snafu, the winning time has not been determined. Equibase is working on posting a time off of video.)

The Ladies Turf was Regal Realm’s fourth win in five starts this season. She has five victories in 12 starts in her career. Sent off at 6-1, she paid $14.16.

“She’s been training great. We were looking forward to getting her here,” Thomas said. “I thought Flo did a great job of getting her to the lead comfortably. She looked super with her body language. Took to the track very well. We’re just thrilled. Really, really happy for Mr. Strawbridge. Great owner-breeder, fantastic guy to work with. So this was really special to do for him.”

The Ladies Turf was the first graded-stakes win for Regal Realm, a daughter of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom out of the Empire Maker mare Sky Willow.

“She’s a beautiful filly herself, great family, adding some graded-stakes black type,” Thomas said. “And the million dollars doesn’t hurt at all. We’re just thrilled.”

Trainer Graham Motion’s longtime assistant Alice Clapham saddled Sparkle Blue and was pleased with her performance.

“She ran great,” Clapham said. “We weren’t sure about backing her up to the mile, but she ran really well. Just maybe ran out of ground.”

Ladies Marathon: Vergara returns to win another stakes

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023) – Gary Broad’s Vergara showed she is a horse for the Kentucky Downs course Saturday with a three-quarters of a length victory over Transient in the $1 million Aristocrat Ladies Marathon (G3).

Jockey Joel Rosario rode a very similar race to the one he turned in on Vergara for trainer Graham Motion last year when she notched her most recent victory in the Dueling Ground Oaks. This time, they stalked longshot Glenall, who went right to the lead under Reylu Gutierrez in the 1 5/16 miles race before seizing control entering the stretch. Sent off as the narrow 2-1 favorite in the field of six, Vergara paid $6.52 to win.

“She broke really well,” Rosario said. “The horse that set up the speed (Glenall), I got a little behind her. They were going a little slow. I guess at some point she was tugging a little bit, but very comfortable. Graham told me just to be comfortable with her. She likes it here. I’d like to thank Graham and all the team.”

Vergara, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Noble Mission out of the Street Cry mare Figure of Beauty, is named for the actress Sofia Vergara, famous for her role in the television series Modern Family. The winner’s share of $608,280 made her a millionaire in her 13th career start for Motion, who was on a plane from Europe when the race was run.

Glenall carried the field through splits of 26.12 seconds, 50.83 and 1:15.12. Rosario moved Vergara closer to the lead on the run down the hill nearing the half-mile pole. Vergara moved away from Glenall entering the long stretch, gaining a two-length advantage and withstood challenges by Transient and Sinfiltre.

“Every time a horse came to her, she was wanting to do it,” Rosario said. “She always tries really hard, this filly. Like I say, she likes it here.”

Vergara completed the race in 2:10.96. Sinfiltre finished third, three-quarters of a length behind Transient.

Assistant trainer Alice Clapham, who has worked for Motion since 2007, handled the 4-year-old filly for the Ladies Marathon. Motion has been in France, where he and his wife Anita participated in the 80th birthday celebration for her father.

“Joel said she was a little keen because they slowed it down quite a bit,” Clapham said. “He said she just loves it around here. She won here last year. When they slowed it down again, he said he was just going to go for home and she did all the rest on her own. He said there was more there. With them taking the rail down and having the fresh track, he said it was really nice.”

Clapham said the Motion team was confident that Vergara was up for a big performance at Kentucky Downs.

“Everyone has been saying she has been training great since she ran at Saratoga (5th in the Glens Falls on Aug. 3),” she said. “They were all saying she was doing really good and they proved to be right. It’s great to win here. It’s a great place to come and enjoy it. The weather has been great. Fun to be here.”

Transient’s trainer Saffie Joseph said his 5-year-old mare ran well for jockey Tyler Gaffalione and had no excuses.

“We had enough of a chance to run her down,” Joseph said. “She is a kind of a difficult filly to relax, Tyler did a great job in getting her to relax. I’m proud of that. Obviously, the winner was going well at the top of the stretch. We were close enough, but we just could not run her down today. On the day, we were second-best. You always want to be first, but that’s racing. You can’t win them all and I am proud of the filly. She ran good and she came back well. You can’t complain.”

Rounding out the field were Personal Best, Lady Rockstar and Glenall.

2023 Kentucky Downs stakes schedule

All stakes are on turf and include Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund

Thursday Aug. 31 — $500,000 FanDuel TVG Tapit Stakes, 3 year olds & up who have not won a stakes in 2023, mile and 70 yards.

Saturday Sept. 2 — $1 million Big Ass Fans Music City (G3), 3-year-old fillies, 6 1/2 furlongs; $1 million Gun Runner, 3-year-olds, one mile; $2 million The Mint Millions (G3), 3 year olds & up, one mile.

Sunday Sept. 3 — $1 million National Thoroughbred League Dueling Grounds Derby (G3), 3-year-olds, 1 5/16 miles; $1 million Dueling Grounds Oaks, 3-year-old fillies, 1 5/16 miles: $500,000 National Thoroughbred League Handicap, 3-year-olds & up, one mile.

Thursday Sept. 7 — $500,000 Jeff Ruby’s One Dreamer, fillies and mares 3 years old & up who have not won a stakes in 2023, mile and 70 yards.

Saturday Sept. 9 — $1 million Ainsworth Turf Sprint (G2) *BC, 3-year-olds & up, six furlongs; $1 million FanDuel Turf Cup (G2) *BC, 3-year-olds & up, 1 1/2 miles; $1 million Exacta Systems Franklin-Simpson (G2), 3-year-olds, 6 1/2 furlongs; $1 million AGS Ladies Sprint (G2), fillies and mares 3 years old & up, 6 1/2 furlongs; $1 million Castle Hill Gaming Ladies Turf (G3), fillies and mares 3 years old & up, one mile; $1 million Aristocrat Ladies Marathon (G3), fillies and mares 3 years old & up, 1 5/16 miles.

Sunday, Sept. 10 — $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile, 2-year-olds, mile; $500,000 Global Tote Juvenile Fillies, 2-year-old fillies, mile.

Wednesday Sept. 13 — $500,000 Pepsi Juvenile Sprint, 2-year-olds, 6 1/2 furlongs; $500,000 Pepsi Untapable, 2-year-old fillies, 6 1/2 furlongs.

*BC: Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race – winner gets fees-paid berth in corresponding Breeders’ Cup race at Santa Anita

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