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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

J. O’BRIEN STRIKES AT KD

By Jennie Rees, Kentucky Downs Irish-based trainer Joseph O’Brien earned his first victory at Kentucky Downs as Reckoning Force outfought Deer District by a neck in the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile.

O’Brien sent a string of four horses to Saratoga this summer, with three traveling on to the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs. Only two got in the entries, with Stay Lost finishing third in a Sept. 8 maiden race. While O’Brien’s horses had run well — with two seconds and a third at Saratoga — this was the first victory of the trip. And it came with a maiden taking on winners in a stakes.

“We’re delighted,” said Gary O’Connor, O’Brien’s assistant trainer. “Hopefully that will entice him to come back next year. I think that was our eighth or ninth runner, so finally we got a winner going home.”

Reckoning Force was 0 for 3 going in but he’d been very competitive and was well-seasoned. He was a good third in Ireland before coming to America, with a fourth and third at Saratoga.

“Talk about Lady Luck,” said Fergus Galvin, who with Marc Detampel bought into the Kentucky-bred Reckoning Force after his first start. “He was scheduled to run in a maiden race on Sept. 10 and when the stakes (on Sept. 3) got canceled the entries re-opened, we were able to see the runners from the stakes, what the opposition was like. We thought he’d run two pretty good races at Saratoga. Joseph had enough confidence to go into the stakes. He and his crew have done a great job with him in Saratoga and getting him ready at Kentucky Downs.”

Reckoning Force, with 2021 Kentucky Downs meet-leading jockey Joel Rosario up, came from near the back of the pack in the eight-horse field, collaring pacesetting Mayfield Strong in upper stretch. A neck separated four horses with an eighth-mile to go, with Reckoning Force wearing down Really Good and holding off Deer District while finishing the mile in 1:34.63. He paid $10.58 to win.

Really Good finished another 3 1/2 lengths back in third, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Mayfield Strong. Laver, King Ice, Castleknock and Mikey Bananas rounded out the order of finish. Bourbon Therapy and Steele Money were scratched.

“I had a perfect trip,” Rosario said. “He said to get him out a little bit and, hopefully, he was going to get a good spot and he did. I was in a good spot the whole time and not too far from the leader and he kept coming with a strong finish. He seemed really professional. I took him out and he decided to go and he kept moving forward.”

Said O’Connor: “I was happy enough the whole way around here. He was handy in behind the leaders. I thought he should pick up. He was in great position to win from where he was turning in (into the stretch). Joel gave him a great ride.

“We’re heading back home. Reckoning Force is going into training with Brendan Walsh and should be with him tomorrow morning or the next day. We’re heading back to Ireland tomorrow morning.” 

Reckoning Force, a son of the War Front stallion Air Force Blue, picked up $300,700 to bring his earnings to $322,012. He was originally purchased for $30,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s October yearling sale.

Galvin watched the race while at Keeneland’s famed September Yearling Sale.

“It was a big thrill, watching here from Keeneland,” he said. “We were selling yearlings all day and found a few minutes to go watch it. It was very exciting. We bought into him, Marc and myself, after he ran in his maiden race in Ireland. Joseph obviously had the plan to come over to Saratoga and run him there and we had the plan to come to Kentucky Downs after Saratoga. It was fantastic. Huge thrill.”

Galvin, who has been involved with several Kentucky Downs stakes-winners, is a huge fan of the track.

“Between Marc and myself, we’ve had horses with Joseph for two years now,” he said. “I can always give him (O’Brien) a little reminder (about Kentucky Downs’ record purses) every so often — especially when they’re a Kentucky-bred — but he was definitely on board to go there. I believe he’ll have a bigger interest maybe next year.”

Noting the transfer to Walsh, Galvin said a logical next race would be Keeneland’s $350,000 Castle & Key Bourbon Stakes (G2), with an eye on the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). 

“He’s a cool horse,” Galvin said. “He’s got a great temperament. Justin Casse picked him out as a yearling for his syndicate, Magnolia Racing. He brought some Kentucky-breds over to Joseph. They’ve had 2-3 winners in Ireland already, and this was another one. Just lucky to be a part of it.”

Play Action Pass scores big for Parcells in Pepsi Gun Runner

Somewhere, Bill Parcells was watching. Trainer Robbie Medina had no doubt about that.

And, wherever he was, Parcells had to have been pleased after his 3-year-old colt Play Action Pass won the $400,000 Pepsi Gun Runner Stakes at Kentucky Downs.

Parcells is a member of the pro football Hall of Fame and is a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the New York Giants. With his football days behind him, Parcells has turned his full athletic attention to thoroughbred racing. 

Play Action Pass, aptly named for a horse owned by Parcells – his official owner’s name is August Dawn Farm – won the mile over firm turf by 1 3/4 lengths over Fuerteventura.

Medina, 49, who has been out on his own for the last 2 1/2 years after spending 25 years as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, won his first career race at Kentucky Downs in his fifth start.

“Anytime you win, no matter where it is, it’s really good,” Medina said. “It’s obviously a stakes, this is a fun place to be. It’s nice to have a win here.”

Play Action Pass, sent off at odds of 4-1, attended the early pace in second while 15-1 Dowagiac Chief set the early pace of 22.53 seconds for the first quarter and 45.79 for the half. Play Action Pass and jockey Jose Lezcano took over in mid-stretch and powered to the win.

“The trainer told me to let him break and do whatever he wanted to do,” Lezcano, who was riding the son of Cairo Prince for the first time, said. “It worked out the way he told me, He kept going and going and won the race.”

Lezcano, a regular on the New York circuit, rode the last three days of the Kentucky Downs meet. He also won the $500,000 Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey Music City Stakes on Tuesday aboard Freedom Speaks.

Medina said he was confident that Play Action Pass would run well after watching him train the last two weeks.

“He had been training better than at any point in his life,” Medina said. “He was touting himself that he was getting ready to do something.”

Play Action Pass has now won four of 11 career starts, all on the grass. In his last start, he won an allowance at Ellis Park going 1 1/16 miles. That was his first start since June.

He has been training at the Blackwood Training Center in Versailles, which is owned by Guinness McFadden, who co-owned Country House, who was awarded the 2019 Kentucky Derby win when Maximum Security was disqualified.

“Robbie gets his first stakes win with a horse he bought and trained for coach,” McFadden said. “The horse never left Kentucky and only trained at Blackwood. So awesome.”

Play Action Pass was purchased by Parcells for $150,000 at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Select Sale.

The Pepsi Gun Runner was the sixth win for Parcells this year in 21 starts. Medina said he has four horses in his care owned by Parcells. 

“He has been a mentor to me and we get along great,” Medina said. “I am more happy for him than anything. He deserves to win a race like this. He gives the horse every chance and stays out of the way.”

When asked if Parcells gets into coach mode when discussing his horses with him, Medina said that is not the case.

“He gives more life advice than anything else,” he said. “Getting life advice from him … I should pay him with all the good advice he has given me.”

Play Action Pass completed the mile in a time of 1:34.27. American Mayhem finished third and was followed by St. Anthony, Fort Washington, Castle Leoch, Dowagiac Chief, Ice Blast, Credibility, Rome and Camp David.

Alms takes Pepsi One Dreamer by a nose over Burning Ambition

Godolphin’s 5-year-old mare Alms won for the first time in 12 races, that coming 2 1/2 years ago, wearing down front-running Burning Ambition to take the $400,000 Pepsi One Dreamer Stakes by a nose on Wednesday’s closing card of the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.

“It’s been a long time between wins, so it was great to get that one, for sure,” said winning trainer Mike Stidham. “She’s been running in a lot of tough spots. Sometimes conditions of the turf course didn’t really suit her in a couple of those races. Last time she came flying and was short by a neck. But she’s a hard knocker, and honest filly and got the job done.”

Alms and jockey Jose Ortiz came from mid-pack to get up late for the nose victory. Burning Ambition and jockey Florent Geroux dueled with Navratilova, then Tightly Twisted for the early lead. Longshot Tightly Twisted hung on for third beaten, 3 1/2 lengths, with Petricor (GB) another three-fourths of a length back in fourth after having one horse beat early on. The winning time was 1:37.93 for the mile and 70 yards.

Curly Ruth, Justify My Love (BRZ), Navratilova, Rocking Redhead, Poca Mucha, Gogo Shoes, Ylikedis and Caroline’s Story finished in that order after the top four. Sunny One was scratched.

Alms finished the mile and 70 yards in 1:37.93, paying $7.44 to win as the favorite in the capacity field of 12.

“She really dug in,” Ortiz said. “She is a nice filly, has a lot of back class…. I was a little worried; she had never been here before. She tries to get a little strong going to the first eighth of a mile; (Stidham) said don’t let her do that. Here, going uphill the first eighth, they relax nicely. When you want to take them back, you can. She was very professional. I was in a good spot the whole race and she gave me a great kick coming home. Mike did a great job, she was ready. That other filly was coming back, but she was never going to go by me.”

A daughter of City Zip and the Empire Maker mare Charity Belle, Alms started her career with four straight wins, including Belmont Park’s Grade 3 Matron and Del Mar’s Grade 3 Jimmy Durante as a 2-year-old. The run concluded with victory in the Fair Grounds’ Shantel Lanerie Memorial Overnight Stakes to start Alms’ 3-year-old season. That was her last victory until the One Dreamer, which was restricted to fillies and mares that hadn’t won a stakes in 2022. 

In her prior start, Alms was second by a neck in Colonial Downs’ $150,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Old Nelson Stakes. She’s now 5-3-1 in 16 career starts, earning $623,270 with the $230,640 paycheck. 

The victory gave Godolphin, last year’s meet-leading owner with four wins, two wins for this meet. Both were stakes, including Adventuring taking the $550,000 AGS Ladies Marathon on Tuesday.

“We waited until the end of the meet, but it was great,” said Dan Pride, the chief operating officer for Darley America and its Godolphin racing operation. “Adventuring and Alms have been special fillies for us, both homebreds. It was great to see them both win here. Adventuring obviously loves the course; this was Alms’ first time here.”

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