JUVENILE TURF STAR AIROFORCE MADE 3-1 FAVORITE FOR DIRT DEBUT IN
SATURDAY’S GRADE II, $200,000 KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB AT CHURCHILL DOWNS
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015) – John C. Oxley’s Airoforce, the winner of Keeneland’s $250,000 Bourbon Stakes (Grade III) who was beaten a neck by fast-closing Hit It a Bomb in last month’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI), was made the 3-1 morning line favorite for his dirt debut in a full field of 14 juveniles entered for Saturday’s 89th running of the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Presented by TwinSpires.com (GII) at Churchill Downs.
Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile race is the co-headliner on the penultimate day of the 21-date Fall Meet. Billed as “Stars of Tomorrow II,” each of the 12 races is exclusively for 2-year-olds that may have aspirations of trail-blazing their way to next spring’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks.
The Kentucky Jockey Club – a “Prep Season” race on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” in which the Top 4 finishers will receive 10-4-2-1 points, respectively – goes as Race 11 at 5:35 p.m. (all times Eastern). First post is 12:40 p.m. The co-featured $200,000 Golden Rod (GII) for fillies is Race 9 at 4:35 p.m.
Airoforce landed post three under regular rider Julien Leparoux, and track odds maker Mike Battaglia made the Kentucky-bred son of Colonel John the favorite over California-based Mor Spirit (7-2), who won one-mile maiden race at Santa Anita in 1:37.48 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and New York-based Annual Report (5-1), the 1 ½-length winner of last month’s $200,000 Futurity (Grade I) at Belmont Park for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Airoforce (3-2-1-0—$402,000) and Annual Report (2-2-0-0—$170,400) are the lone graded stakes winners in the field of promising juveniles.
Despite Airoforce’s tremendous success on grass, his connections have been keen to try top competition on the main track.
“He’s always worked real well on the dirt and we’ve always thought that he was one of our better 2-year-olds this year,” said assistant trainer Norman Casse, who oversees the training of his father Mark’s Kentucky division. “He’s shown that he’s obviously very talented on the grass but we feel that as long as he continues to do well that this would be the perfect time to try him on the dirt being that this is at his home track and just to give us a good idea on where to go with him from here on out.”
Airforce, a gray colt, will race with blinkers for the first time in the Kentucky Jockey Club after sporting them during a half-mile breeze in company with barn mate Damascus Road on Nov. 20. Airoforce began two lengths back of his workmate and finished even after recording splits of :24.60 and :48.60. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:01 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:14.
“We’ve kind of been playing with the idea of putting blinkers on him … and Julien said that it made a big difference.”
Oxley and the Casses teamed to win the 2012 Kentucky Jockey Club with Uncaptured, and Oxley has won the KJC on two other occasions with Jambalaya Jazz (1994) and Beethoven (2008).
Godolphin Racing LLC’s unbeaten Annual Report, a Kentucky-bred son of the late Harlan’s Holiday out of the Seeking the Gold mare Pension, is already proven on dirt. He won the Oct. 17 Futurity at Belmont Park, clocking six furlongs in 1:09.82, and beat King Kranz that day, who returned to finish third in the $100,000 James F. Lewis III Stakes at Laurel Park on Nov. 14. Sent off as the second-longest shot in the field of six at 7-1, Annual Report was squeezed at the start and was taken back before rallying to overtake the leader at the three-sixteenths pole.
Prior to that effort, Annual Report won a 5 ½-furlong maiden race at Parx on Sept. 20 by 5 ¼ lengths in front-running fashion.
“He got squeezed and dropped back but once he got going he was very impressive,” McLaughlin said after the Futurity. “That was a nice win. It ended up an excellent race because he went to the lead at Parx. He took the dirt well and finished strong. I loved the way he moved through the turn.”
McLaughlin targeted the KJC for Annual Report’s first try around two turns to avoid a conflict with barn mate Mohaymen, the unbeaten Nashua (GII) winner who is entered to run in Saturday’s $300,000 Remsen (GII) at Aqueduct. Regular rider Joe Bravo has the mount and they’ll break the gate from post 11.
Godolphin and McLaughlin will attempt to avenge a tough loss in last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club when Imperia finished a neck short of Zayat Stables’ El Kabeir.
Michael Petersen’s Mor Sprit (2-1-1-0—$41,600) enters the Kentucky Jockey Club off a flashy 4 ¼-length maiden win around two turns at Santa Anita on Oct. 23. The Eskendereya ridgling has been favored in both of his two starts, and will attempt to give four-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Baffert his third Kentucky Jockey Club triumph. He won back-to-back renewals of the race in 1998-99 with Exploit and Captain Steve, respectively.
Mor Spirit drew post nine and Martin Garcia will taking over riding duties from Hall of Famer Gary Stevens.
The Kentucky Jockey Club also attracted Radar Racing LLC’s Rated R Superstar, the Iroquois (GIII) runner-up and Breeders’ Futurity (GI) who was never a threat while 11th in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) for trainer Kenny McPeek; G M B Racing’s duo of Mo Tom (trained by Chris Richard) and Tom’s Ready (Dallas Stewart), who ran 1-2, respectively, in the $81,750 Street Sense Overnight Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 1; and Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm’s promising Gun Runner, who beat fellow KJC entrant Uncle Jerry by two lengths in a first-level allowance around two-turns at Keeneland for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Asmussen has won the Kentucky Jockey Club twice before – Private Vow (2005) and Tapiture (2012) – while his chief assistant Scott Blasi won the race in 2006 with Tiz Wonderful. McPeek won the 2001 renewal with Repent.
The complete Kentucky Jockey Club field from the rail out (with jockeys and morning line odds): four-length, first-level Churchill Downs allowance winner Force It (Emmanuel Esquivel, 20-1); two-time maiden special weight runner-up Nana Looch (Robby Albarado, 50-1); Airoforce (Leparoux, 3-1); Gun Runner (Ricardo Santana Jr., 8-1); 1 1/16-mile maiden winner Perfect Saint (Shaun Bridgmohan, 30-1); two-time runaway Indiana-bred stakes winner Derby Express (Malcolm Franklin, 15-1); Tom’s Ready (Brian Hernandez Jr., 15-1); first-level Churchill Downs allowance winner and Street Sense fourth Discreetness (Jon Court, 20-1); Mor Spirit (Garcia, 7-2); Mo Tom (Corey Lanerie, 8-1); Annual Report (Bravo, 5-1); Rated R Superstar (Calvin Borel, 8-1); Keeneland maiden winner and Street Sense sixth My Majestic Flight (Joe Johnson, 30-1); and Uncle Jerry (Mitchell Murrill, 30-1).
All starters will carry 122 pounds. Airoforce will race with blinkers on, while Uncle Jerry takes the blinkers off.
Saturday’s National Weather Service forecast for Louisville calls for an 80-percent chance of showers with a high near 54.
The Kentucky Jockey Club is named in honor of the holding company that operated Churchill Downs at the time of the race’s inaugural running in 1920.
Inaugurated in 2005, Churchill Downs’ Stars of Tomorrow programs have helped launched the careers of numerous graded stakes winners, including 36 Grade I winners and 23 millionaires led by 2010 Kentucky Derby champ Super Saver; 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile and Clark Handicap winner Shackleford; 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra; 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2013 Stephen Foster Handicap hero Fort Larned; 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can; and 2013 champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge. Horses showcased last year included Grade I-winning millionaires Dortmund and I’m a Chatterbox as well as Louisiana Derby winner International Star and Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve.
DAZZLING CARINA MIA FACES POCAHONTAS WINNER DOTHRAKI QUEEN,
The 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod is scheduled as the ninth event on the 12-race “Stars of Tomorrow II” program devoted exclusively to races for 2-year-olds, and is co-featured Saturday with the 89th running of the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII), a scoring race for the 2016 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series Post time for Saturday’s first race is 12:40 p.m. (all times EST), and the Golden Rod field is set to break from the starting gate at 4:35 p.m.
All fillies in the Golden Rod will carry 119 pounds.
The Golden Rod winner will automatically be nominated to the 2016 running of the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) and collect 10 points in the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” standings. The top four finishers earn points on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
Carina Mia, a bay daughter of Malibu Moon, earned the role of Golden Rod favorite in a sizzling 9 ¾-length victory in an Oct. 29 maiden race at Keeneland. She led most of the way and covered 6 ½ furlongs in rapid 1:15.18 over a fast surface. Mott’s filly had been runner-up to Golden Rod rival Stageplay in her Keeneland debut, also at 6 ½ furlongs, on Oct. 10.
A victory by Carina Mia in her stakes debut would provide Mott, Churchill Downs’ all-time leader in wins and stakes victories, with his second Golden Rod victory. He saddled Gold Sunrise to win the race in 1995.
The daughter of Malibu Moon will be ridden by Julien Leparoux and breaks from post eight in the Golden Rod.
Dothraki Queen, winner of Churchill Downs’ $200,000 Pocahontas (GII) on Sept. 12 and third to Fox Hill Farm’s unbeaten Songbird in the $2 million 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI), and unbeaten Stageplay, winner of the $80,000 Rags to Riches Overnight Stakes on Churchill Downs’ “Stars of Tomorrow I” program on Nov. 1, are the Golden Rod’s co-second choices at 5-2.
A sure hunch bet for fans of the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” Dothraki Queen is off to an impressive start on her young career and a triumph by the Pocahontas winner would provide her with a second graded stakes victory at Churchill Downs. But the most impressive effort in her five races for trainer Kenny McPeek was her third-place run in the Breeders’ Cup behind Songbird, whose perfect campaign has made her a strong favorite to be declared the Eclipse Award champion of this year’s 2-year-old filly crop. She rallied from last among 10 in the Juvenile Fillies to finish behind Songbird and runner-up Rachel’s Valentina, winner of Saratoga’s Spinaway (GI) and a daughter of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
The Pure Prize filly won her July 12 debut for McPeek at Kentucky’s Ellis Park before making a successful leap into stakes competition with her September win the 1 1/16-mile Pocahontas, a Breeders’ Cup “Win And You’re In” event that secured Dothraki Queen a spot in the starting gate for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She also was runner-up to Reddam Racing’s Gomo over a sloppy track in Keeneland’s $400,000 Alcibiades (GI) prior to her Breeders’ Cup run.
Dothraki Queen enters the Golden Rod with a record of 2-1-1 in four races and has earned $417,680. McPeek’s filly will start from the outside post under regular rider and Fall Meet win leader Corey Lanerie.
The highly-regarded Stageplay is perfect after the first two races in her young career. She was an impressive three-length winner in her 6 ½-furlong debut at Keeneland on Oct. 10, and followed that effort with a 1 ½-length triumph as the 3-5 favorite in Churchill Downs’ $80,000 Rags to Riches Overnight Stakes at a mile during the Nov. 1 “Stars of Tomorrow I” racing card.
The Steve Asmussen-trained daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin will make her debut in graded stakes competition in the Golden Rod. Recent Golden Rod winners include Rachel Alexandra (2008) and Silverbulletday, whose Golden Rod victory concluded a 1998 campaign for which she earned the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old filly.
Stageplay will break from post three under Ricardo Santana Jr. as Asmussen’s filly attempts to provide her trainer with his first victory in the Fall Meet’s premier race for 2-year-old fillies.
Others promising Golden Rod contenders include Stoneway Farm’s Dream Dance, Michael Bruder’s unbeaten Susies Yankee Girl and G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and St. George Farm Racing LLC’s Sugar Cone.
Dream Dance, an Afleet Alex filly who was runner-up to Stageplay in the Rags to Riches and second via disqualification in Dothraki Queen’s Pocahontas, will break from post seven for trainer Neil Howard. Susies Yankee Girl, unbeaten after two Churchill Downs races for trainer Dale Romans, makes her stakes debut in the Golden Rod. Sugar Cone, a daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense trained by Rusty Arnold, scored her first victory in a Keeneland maiden race in October.
The field for the Golden Rod (with jockey and morning line odds): Susies Yankee Girl (Robby Albarado, 10-1), Sugar Cone (Joe Rocco Jr., 12-1), Stageplay (Santana, 5-1), Thump (Sophie Doyle, 50-1), Cold Dish (Calvin Borel, 20-1) Charlotte Marie (Jack Gilligan, 50-1), Dream Dance (Brian Hernandez Jr., 6-1), Carina Mia (Leparoux, 2-1) and Dothraki Queen (Lanerie, 5-2).