|By JENNIE REES — When Tammy Fox comes back from a morning workout on a racehorse, the ultimate sign of approval is the former jockey flashing two thumbs up as they come off the track.
After Albaugh Family Stables’ 2-year-old colt Dennis’ Moment cruised five-eighths of a mile in 58 1/5 seconds Friday at Churchill Downs, Fox only flashed one thumb but explained, “I’d do two, but I’m using my ‘stick’ for the second one.”
Also, sometimes a person simply runs out of thumbs. So Fox offered this instant analysis of the work, “He moves like a Cadillac and is fast a Ferrari.”
Dennis’ Moment is one of the favorites for the $2 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 1 at California’s Santa Anita Park off a 19 1/4-length maiden win at Ellis Park and impressive win in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes by a cruising 1 3/4 lengths over the promising Scabbard.
“It gave me goose bumps watching him work today,” said trainer Dale Romans. “He just went so easy…. When Tammy started off, I thought she was going too slow. I was starting to get a little aggravated, and Big John (Nichols, the clocker) started clicking off the times. It just looked like he was galloping.”
Dennis’ Moment’s 58 4/5 was the fastest of the morning among the 42 five-furlong works. He was timed galloping out three-quarters of a mile in 1:11 3/5 after going the first quarter mile in 22 2/5 seconds and the half in 46 3/5.
“His rhythm, how smooth he is,” Romans said of what he liked most. “It’s different than watching most horses. You can tell how fast most horses are going. It just looks like he’s skipping over the ground, he’s so efficient.
And you could tell, turning for home, he just picked it up again when he switched to the right lead. The last 100 yards, he just looked like he accelerated and didn’t want to slow down.”
Dennis’ Moment has had three officials starts. However, in his much-anticipated debut at Churchill Downs, he was squeezed between horses shortly after the start, unseating jockey Robby Albarado.
With Albarado sidelined by a wrist fracture, Miguel Mena was aboard for the Ellis Park romp, with New York-based Irad Ortiz getting the mount for the Iroquois and Breeders’ Cup.
“That’s what’s scary with this horse,” Romans said, when asked how much room for improvement there might be for such a lightly raced horse. “He doesn’t get tired.
Nothing phases him, nothing rattles him. I don’t know where the bottom is. There is a lot of room for improvement. We haven’t seen the best of him.”
Dennis’ Moment is expected to compete for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile favorite’s role with Keeneland’s Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity winner Maxfield (trained by Louisville-based Brendan Walsh) and Santa Anita’s Grade 1 American Pharoah winner Eight Rings (Bob Baffert). Tiz the Law, winner of Belmont Park’s Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, is bypassing the Breeders’ Cup to wait for a 2-year-old stakes in New York or at Churchill Downs.
“Right now I think there are three top horses going in there,” Romans said. “That’s Bob’s horse on the West Coast, Brendan’s horse that won at Keeneland and our horse.
“I’m sure they feel the same way I do: None of us would trade places with anybody. But I tell you, this is a very special horse. I’ve run second and I’ve run third in the Juvenile. This horse is doing things that even they didn’t do at this time of the year.”
Said Jason Loutsch, Albaugh Family Stables’ racing manager and partner in the venture with father-in-law Dennis Albaugh: “I think we’ve got a great shot. Our horse is training tremendously, and we’re going with a tremendous amount of confidence.
“Obviously Mr. Baffert has a very talented one out in California, but we’re not backing away. The way he’s been training and his (handicapping) numbers from the races he’s been in, they all fit really well.
“We’ve got a healthy and happy horse right now, so that’s all you can ask for. Dale and I talk probably three times a day. We’ve come to grips that we’re not going to worry about anyone else; let’s just worry about ourself. That’s the only one we can control.
We know it’s a Grade 1 race, the world championships. It’s going to be a tough race. We’re going to have to run the best race of his life and hopefully it’s good enough.
Dennis’ Moment will fly to California on Oct. 20, getting his final workout at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.
Mr. Money works easy half-mile in 48 for Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile
Chester Thomas, the two-time Ellis Park leading owner from nearby Madisonville, Ky., had no plans to run his 3-year-old standout Mr. Money in the Breeders’ Cup for much of the year.
But plans changed after Mr. Money’s streak of four straight impressive victories in Grade 3 stakes was tripped up in the final strides of Parx Racing’s $1 million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania won long shot Math Wizard.
Thomas and trainer Bret Calhoun said they believed Santa Anita made appropriate changes to the racetrack to alleviate concerns about the rash of injuries to horses during the spring amid record rainfall.
While the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic had been given some consideration, Mr. Money is headed to the $1 million Big Ass Fan Dirt Mile (for those not familiar with this corporate sponsor, the Lexington-based company makes really big fans for industrial, agricultural and commercial use).
“I think the mile and an eighth is well within his scope,” Calhoun said of the decision to run in the Nov. 2 Dirt Mile. “A mile and a quarter is definitely an unknown. Might be fine, but right now I don’t want to be experimenting. I want to go with something we know.
“All year long, we’ve taken a certain course with this horse, been pretty methodical about it. It’s worked out well. It was a tough beat in the Pennsylvania Derby.
“But honestly, the loss in the Pennsylvania Derby was one of the reasons we got pointed in this direction because we felt like we needed to win a Grade 1 on a big stage.”
In a race where no one else went out early, Mr. Money found himself on the lead of the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby, the first time the 3-year-old colt had ever been in front early in a race. Jockey Gabriel Saez slowed down the pace but couldn’t hold off Math Wizard at the end.
“It was obviously a disappointment to us,” Calhoun said. “I don’t think it was necessarily him not being at his best. He got down on the inside of that track, which is not ideal there.
“He was really restrained for most of the race. I think it took a little bit of his advantage, which is a high-cruising speed. He tends to run them off their feet a bit. A couple of things here and there. I think he went into the race very good, was just unlucky that day, and he came out of it good.”
Thomas was on hand Friday morning when Mr. Money worked an easy half-mile in 48 seconds, ninth fastest among 80 at the distance at Churchill Downs, shortly after the track opened at 5:30.
The owner noted that cutting back in distance after a fifth place in the 1 1/8-mile to the Pat Day Mile, as Mr. Money embarked on his win streak.
“The horse has had five really good races, two 1 1/8-mile races. We’re trying to save him for next year,” Thomas said.
“The Dirt Mile just seemed like a logical place. Goldencents, his sire, won that race twice, as a 3-year-old and 4-year-old. We’re thinking the horse will fit in there pretty well. The horse has earned his spot to get there. He’s had a phenomenal summer and fall, really thriving.
“Bret and those guys have done an awesome job. The horse deserves the opportunity to go out there and run against the best. Hopefully we’ll find out how good he is.”
Mr. Money started his career last year with a pair of seconds at Ellis Park before winning at Churchill Downs and finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
An untimely illness compromised his Derby prep schedule, but the colt rebounded from three defeats to blow through the Pat Day Mile, Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn, the Indiana Derby and the West Virginia Derby.
Thomas called the subsequent Pennsylvania Derby defeat “brutal.”
“Are you kidding me? To get caught at the wire, they called it a neck, to get beat a long head,” he said. “But I could see it coming down the stretch. It’s horse racing. It takes a lot of luck.”
Still, Thomas is extremely grateful for the year he’s had. It started with By My Standards winning the $1 million, Grade 2 Louisiana Derby to give Thomas his first graded stakes triumph.
By My Standards finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby and afterward went to the sidelines. But Mr. Money took over with aplomb and became a millionaire. “It’s been a phenomenal year,” Thomas said. “We’re just pinching ourselves.”
Jennie Rees, for Kentucky HBPA, Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs, is an HRI contributor