When Gray’s Fable, Toby’s Heart, Take Charge Ro and Static Fire run at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs, it’s not just the huge stakes purses trainer Brian Lynch covets.
There’s also the guitars.
Playing to its close proximity to Nashville, Kentucky Downs in 2020 started a tradition by giving the winner of the $500,000 Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey Music City Stakes a guitar signed by country music icon George Strait as the trophy. Last year the guitar trophies – autographed by Reba McEntire – were expanded to all graded stakes races and the Music City for 3-year-old fillies. This year, Trace Adkins is the Official Music Ambassador signing the trophies.
Lynch is a guitar kind of guy. He thought he had a shot last year when Toby’s Heart, whom he co-owns, won the Music City. But his partner, Terry Hamilton, was on hand and claimed the trophy.
“What a great collectors item,” Lynch said recently at his Churchill Downs barn. “I’m a bit of guitar guy myself. I have one at each house. I can’t play them, but I like to see them. I’d certainly like to have one of them hanging on the wall in my man cave. Absolutely a classic collector’s item if you’re lucky enough to win one.”
Lynch has several chances this year, including Toby’s Heart in the $600,000 The Mint Ladies Sprint on Sept. 10. That purse will balloon to $1 million for registered Kentucky-breds – as is Toby’s Heart – if a Grade 1 winner runs. Trainer Wesley Ward has announced that two-time European Group 1 winner Campanelle will run, triggering the increase.
“I’m looking forward to running her back because she really seemed to like the track last year,” Lynch said. “It’s horses for courses. (Campanelle) has never run down there, but obviously she’d be the class of the field. Look, if you would beat her, it would be wonderful.
“But if you’d run second to her for $1 million, that’s not bad either.”
Gray’s Fable, winner of Ellis Park’s Henderson Turf Mile, was to run in Saturday’s $1 million WinStar Mint Million (G3), Admission Office in the $1 million Kentucky Turf Cup (G2) at 1 1/2 miles on Sept. 10, Take Charge Ro in the $750,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3) or the restricted $400,000 One Dreamer and Static Fire in the Sept. 11 Music City. Lynch also will saddle Ellis maiden winner Anglophile in Saturday’s $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile.
“I think we’re taking a live batch of horses down there,” Lynch said. “If the sun were to shine on this ol’ Aussie one more time, we’d win one or two of them. I think our horses going down there, on their day at their best distances, they’ll be very competitive.”
Admission Office won Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Arlington Stakes and most recently was sixth in the Arlington Million (G1) run at Churchill.
“There was a lot of kickback, very speed favoring,” Lynch said of the Churchill course. “I’m looking forward to running him. He’s definitely a horse who will get the mile and a half. He’s definitely a marathon sort of stayer.”
Lynch believes Take Charge Ro was the best horse when fourth in Ellis Park’s Centennial Distaff Turf Mile, which she lost by a total of a length.
“On the day I thought she was way the best,” he said. “Just had a troubled trip and never got out until late and then came flying. She seems like she’s in good order, too.”
Static Fire won her debut at Saratoga on turf last year, was off until winning a Churchill Downs allowance race on dirt in May and then finished fourth in Saratoga’s Coronation Cup on turf on July 15.
“She got a bad break and a troubled trip and finished fourth,” Lynch said. “She’ll be in the race Toby won last year.”
While Lynch says he can’t really play the guitar, he vowed he’ll be strumming away should one of his horses win one.
“I will be,” he said, jokingly alluding to Kentucky Downs giving the winners of select races a decorated bottle of the bourbon or whiskey of the day, “drinking a bottle of that bourbon.”
Kentucky Downs: Call it the Mike and Mike show
As far as the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs, it’s still Mike and Mike in the afternoon.
Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time leading trainer, recorded a triple Thursday, the first of seven scheduled 2022 racing dates over the undulating, non-symmetrical 1 5/16-mile European-style grass venue that opened in 1990 as Dueling Grounds.
Maker’s saddled favored Hawk of War ($7.48) to win the second race, Mendel’s Secret ($16.06) to win the fourth race and Wicked Genius ($7.74) to win the sixth race. The triple pushed Maker’s career total at Kentucky Downs to 70 – Wesley Ward is a distant second with 43 victories – and helped boost his career purse earnings to $9,548,332, another runaway track record.
“Races, best in the country,” Maker said during training hours Friday morning at Kentucky Downs. “Have a lot of turf horses. Fits us well and gives clients a chance to turn a profit.”
Hawk of War won for the fourth time since Maker, on behalf of Little Rock, Ark., owner Michael Hui, claimed the then-4-year-old Declaration of War gelding for $50,000 out of sixth-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile dirt race Nov. 17, 2021, at Churchill Downs.
Maker and Hui have been a formidable team since uniting in early 2015, particularly at Kentucky Downs. They sent out Hogy to win the $400,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint Stakes (G3) at 6 1/2 furlongs in 2017 and Zulu Alpha to win the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes (G3) at 1 1/2 miles in 2019.
“Michael Hui’s a great guy, great client,” Maker said. “Can’t say enough good things about him. Just fortunate that he picked me.”
Hui started his first horse in 2010 and began to make waves nationally after a cold call to Maker, eventually tapping the trainer because of his ability to move up high-end claims, especially in turf routes.
Zula Alpha, taken for $80,000 in September 2018 at Churchill Downs, gave Hui his first career $1 million victory in the Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup and first career Grade 1 victory a few months later in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes in January 2020 at Gulfstream Park.
The tenacious Hawk of War made his first three starts on a synthetic surface after being claimed. Moved to the turf, the gelding strung together three consecutive victories this summer for Hui and co-owner John H. Yocum in starter allowance, allowance and allowance/optional claiming company. The margin of victory in those two-turn races at Churchill Downs, Horseshoe Indianapolis and Ellis Park was a head, neck and a nose, respectively. Hawk of War won Thursday’s race, a $50,000 mile claiming race with a $70,000 purse, by a head under Tyler Gaffalione.
Hawk of War marked the first horse Hui, who co-founded Transportation Insight, a Hickory, N.C.-based logistics cost management consulting firm in January 2000, and Yocum owned together. Yocum is a Little Rock orthopedic surgeon. Hui (partially torn Achilles tendon) is one of Yocum’s patients.
“We’ve been blessed,” Hui said outside the Kentucky Downs paddock late Thursday afternoon. “You know, it’s the classic Mike Maker story. Claim for ($50,000). I think he’s won four times and only missed the board twice. He got claimed today for ($50,000), so he (Yocum) had a good experience. Any time you can stay in the black is good.”
Hui said he plans to return to Kentucky Downs this week to watch his Maker-trained homebred, Fadethenoise, run in the $500,000 Global Tote Juvenile Sprint Stakes. The 6 1/2-furlong race is for 2-year-olds.
Fadethenoise became the first North American winner sired by Mendelssohn in his turf debut July 16 at Ellis Park. Fadethenoise, in his last start finished sixth, beaten 4 1/4 lengths, in the $150,000 Skidmore Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf Aug. 19 at Saratoga.
“The Skidmore was a deep race,” Maker said. “Looking forward to stretching him out a little bit.”
Hui, who ranks among Kentucky Downs’ biggest cheerleaders, is looking forward to it, also.
“Came up last night and wanted to watch ‘Hawk’ run here,” Hui said before returning to Arkansas. “This is kind of a special place. It’s very unique, laid back – shorts, T-shirt. And I’ll be back Thursday. That race, it’s a half-million dollars. Why not?”
Breaking the Law: Law Professor has dirt, turf options
Law Professor was scheduled to return to his New York base Friday, a day after his half-length victory under Julien Leparoux in the $400,000 FanDuel Tapit Stakes at Kentucky Downs. The mile and 70-yard event was restricted to horses that hadn’t won a stakes race in 2022.
Law Professor ($21.10) marked the first Kentucky Downs starter for trainer Rob Atras, who wasn’t present and left saddling duties to his traveling assistant, Jesse Sauder. Law Professor was already a Grade 2 winner on dirt, that coming in the $200,000 off-the-turf Santa Anita Mathis Mile for 3-year-olds Dec. 26 at Santa Anita when under the care of Southern California-based trainer Michael McCarthy.
Law Professor, a homebred for Twin Creeks Racing (Randy Gullatt), moved to Atras following a ninth-place finish in the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) for older horses April 2 at Oaklawn Park.
“We really don’t have any plan going forward,” Atras said moments after Thursday’s race. “We just wanted to get him started somewhere. Honestly, credit goes to Randy, the owner. He suggested the race. I’m pretty conservative. I was going to run him here in New York in a (three-other-than allowance on dirt) and it was his idea to go. I told him I need to be pushed to go because it was kind of a tough spot. Credit goes to him. We’ll kind of see how he comes out of the race and then we’ll probably come up with a game plan.”
The Tapit was the fourth victory in 11 lifetime starts for Law Professor and increased his earnings to $516,440. The winning time over a firm surface was 1:38.10. Law Professor, a gelded son of Constitution, now owns two victories on dirt and two on turf.
“He’s run great on both surfaces,” Atras said. “This might change our plans going forward, but it’s just great to win a race like that.”
Western River draws into Dueling Grounds Derby
Trainer Rodolphe Brisset will try to parlay a victory Friday morning into another Sunday afternoon when he sends out Western River in the $750,000 Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby (G3) for 3-year-olds at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.
The Dueling Grounds Derby goes as the 10th of 11 races, with probable post time 5:31 p.m.
A full brother to 2016 Belmont and Arkansas Derby winner Creator, Western River drew into the 1 5/16th-mile race after Russian Tank was scratched Friday morning. Western River was one of two horses on the also-eligible list for the Dueling Grounds Derby, which is limited to 12 starters.
“I was really looking forward to drawing in,” Brisset said. “We got the 12 post this morning and we were really happy about that. Is he a better horse on the turf or the dirt? I don’t know. I think he definitely wants to go long and I think the dirt is definitely something he really likes. Now, he’s going to have to show us if he likes the turf, too.”
Western River (15-1 on the morning line) hasn’t run on turf since finishing second, beaten a nose by fellow Dueling Grounds Derby entrant Ready to Purrform, in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race last September at Ellis Park. Ready to Purrform is the 3-1 program favorite for the Dueling Grounds Derby.
“Looking at the (past performances), I don’t think the race came up that tough,” said Brisset, who also co-owns Western River. “Obviously, you’ve got Ready to Purrform. Does he want to go that far? We don’t know.”
Western River broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles on the Arkansas Derby undercard April 2 at Oaklawn Park and cleared his first allowance condition at 1½ miles June 18 at Churchill Downs. The gray colt exits an even fifth in the $150,000 Curlin Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles July 29 at Saratoga. He also ran fourth to his more heralded stablemate, We the People, in the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles May 14 at Belmont Park.
Brisset said Western River, if he didn’t draw into the Dueling Grounds Derby, would have been re-routed to the $1 million Caesars Jockey Club Derby Invitational (G3) Sept. 17 at Aqueduct. The 1 1/2-mile turf race is for 3-year-olds.
“We’ve always kept it (turf) in the back of our mind,” Brisset said. “He got beat by Ready to Purrform on the wire last year. I think we were a nose in front before the wire and a nose in front after the wire. This race just feels like the right spot to try. What we’re looking at to close the year is maybe the marathon race on Breeders’ Cup weekend. Just feel like this race coming up, straight 3-year-olds, going that long could be the right spot to give it a try and go from there.”
Western River, by super sire Tapit out of Morena, has a 2-1-1 record from eight lifetime starts and earnings of $164,197.
The $350,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes (G2) on Nov. 4 at Keeneland is for 3-year-olds and up over 13 furlongs.