HENDERSON, Ky.— Plus Que Parfait will make his first start on grass since his debut last summer at Ellis Park when the UAE Derby winner competes in Saturday’s $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational at New York’s Belmont Park. Trained by Brendan Walsh, Plus Que Parfait started his career with a third at Ellis Park in a mile maiden race on turf. The winner that day was Henley’s Joy, who in his next start captured the $400,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile. Henley’s Joy also is in the Belmont Derby.
“It is his first start on grass since his first start,” Walsh said of Plus Que Parfait. “I can’t see why he wouldn’t like it. He’s been working good on it. Sometimes I start my horses on grass if they need to go two turns. It’s a nice experience for them. Unless they’re super sharp on the dirt going long, they get that kick back and get beat 20 lengths, and I don’t think that’s good for them. But him, I think we just decided we’d start him on grass.
“We always liked his dirt works, and then I ran him here (at Churchill in his second start) in a one-turn mile maiden on dirt and he ran well. We said we’d stick to it for Keeneland, for obvious reasons with a 2-year-old going into their 3-year-old year. Then he broke his maiden at Keeneland. If you break your maiden at Keeneland, then you’re starting to think that you might be Derby trail. We ran him in Churchill’s Kentucky Jockey Club and he ran well there (second by a neck) and there was no reason to take him off the dirt then.”
Plus Que Parfait’s Derby trail took a detour when the Point of Entry colt was fifth and then 13th in two 3-year-old stakes at the Fair Grounds. Instead of going back in the Louisiana Derby, Plus Que Parfait headed to Dubai for the $2.5 million UAE Derby, winning by three-quarters of a length over Gray Magician to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Plus Que Parfait checked in ninth in the Kentucky Derby but lost by only a total of 5 1/4 lengths behind first-place finisher Maximum Security and 3 1/2 lengths behind Country House, who crossed under the wire in second but was moved up to the victory on Maximum Security’s disqualification.
The Belmont Derby is Plus Que Parfait’s first start since the May 4 Derby.
“The turf has always been in the back of our minds, given his sire,” Walsh said. “You watch him gallop in the morning and you’d think, ‘That’s a turf horse.’ He’s got that high-knee action. So we’ll give it try. And if it works, it will open a lot of doors for him. If it doesn’t, we can always go back to the dirt. The distance probably really is what attracted the race to us. The mile and a quarter should be perfect for him. He’s kind of a wind-up horse. He’ll wind himself up through the race and hopefully he’ll still be winding at the end.
“If he runs to his dirt form, or maybe a little better, that should put him right there.”
Should either Plus Que Parfait or Henley’s Joy take the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby, he would become the fourth Grade 1 winner to have raced at Ellis Park as a 2-year-old in 2018. The first three are Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress, Belmont’s Woody Stephens upset winner Hog Creek Hustle and Knicks Go, who won Keeneland’s Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall.
Asked if he has any more Plus Que Parfaits to debut this summer at Ellis, Walsh said, “I’m hoping. I mean, this time last year, we didn’t think we was going to do what he turned around and did. We have some nice 2-year-olds and they should be due to run the second half of July, the beginning of August. This time last year, we never dreamt of the Derby. We thought he was a nice horse, but this game will make you a pessimist.”
Walsh called Ellis “a great experience for a 2-year-old.”
“You go down there and it’s almost like a country fair,” he said. “It’s very easy on their minds. The track is excellent. As long as we’ve been running horses down there, I’ve never had a horse come back bad off of Ellis — turf or dirt. And I’ve never seen a horse come back bad mentally from the race. So it’s a good place.”
Factor This keys Cox exacta in allowance feature
Gaining Ground Racing’s 4-year-old colt Factor This won his second straight allowance race, taking Ellis Park’s $52,000 feature by 1 1/4 lengths over stablemate Take That For Data. Both horses are trained by 2018 Ellis Park meet leader Brad Cox.
The 4-5 favorite in the field of seven, Factor This covered 1 1/16 miles over firm turf in 1:40.41, the last sixteenth in 6.13 seconds.
Factor This, a son of The Factor, was claimed by Gaining Ground Racing for $62,500 last August at Saratoga. In his first start for his new connections, he was third in a $200,000 grass stakes at Indiana Grand. After a failed experiment on dirt at Oaklawn Park, Factor This returned to the grass at Keeneland to win an entry-level allowance.
“They just gave him a little time off, and he just didn’t run a jump on dirt,” said winning jockey Florent Geroux. “They put him back on the turf, and he did great at Keeneland. He didn’t run back (until today), not because of any issues but his races were taken off the turf twice. But the horse has been doing great.”
Said Tessa Bisha, who oversees Cox's Ellis Park operation: “They’re both older horses. Factor This, since we switched him to turf these past two races, he’s just been stronger than ever. He loves getting on the lead — once he feels those weeds, he’s really been pretty unstoppable for us.
“And Data, you put him in the right spot and he’s usually right there. He trains really well, but we haven’t found that magic that makes him tick. He was trying to run that one down, though. He was trying.”
Cox said in a text that Factor This will be pointed toward the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile at Ellis on Aug. 4.
Milli Starr 'showed who she is today' in taking 2-year-old filly race
Two-year-old maiden fillies were showcased in the sixth race, with Milli Starr returning a surprising $19.80 win mutuel as a second-time starter trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen. Owned by Susan Moulton, the daughter of Street Boss took command in mid-stretch and held off the oncoming Greg’s Diva by a length as Asmussen teamed with jockey Tyler Baze for their second win on the July 4 card.
Milli Starr was fourth in her June 7 debut at Churchill Downs, albeit beaten 20 lengths after taking the early lead.
“She’s a very nice filly,” Asmussen said. “She got pretty wound up the first time we ran her. Tyler did right by her and I think she came back and showed who she is today. We’ll look at our options and see how she comes out of it, but she’s a nice filly.”
Chuan again wins first start - this time on American do-over
Martin Chuan didn’t waste any time getting into the winner’s circle upon his return to Ellis Park, winning on his first U.S. mount of 2019 when Frank L. Jones Jr.’s Tizpure captured Thursday’s second race for $7,500 claimers.
Chuan, the leading rider in Peru, also won his U.S. debut at Ellis Park on July 8, 2018. But he became homesick for his wife and baby daughter and returned to South America after less than two weeks.
The 24-year-old Chuan texted jockey agent Jake Romans recently and said he wanted to come back. Coincidentally, the timing was right after Robby Albarado, for whom Romans lined up mounts, suffered a fractured wrist in a spill at Churchill Downs.
Chuan had quickly built business with top stables when he left abruptly last summer, which made it even more important to get off to a fast start on his American do-over. He did just that on Tizpure, who was dropping down from $16,000 claimers and is trained by Dale Romans, the agent’s dad.
“He got homesick, but he’s back now. He brought his wife and daughter with him,” Jake Romans said. “He’s 24 years old, and he’s already won like 1,100 races for his career. This year alone, he’s won like 115 and they only race like two or three days week in Peru.
“I believe he’s got Ortiz-quality talent,” Romans continued, referring to the New York-based Eclipse Award-winning brothers Jose and Irad Ortiz. “For anybody, it’s important to get off to a good start, but especially someone like him that people don’t know the name. But he’s a celebrity in South America.”
Romans said Chuan plans to stay in Kentucky, though he has to go back to Peru in September for a few days to ride in some major races for the prominent owner who let the jockey out of his contract so Chuan could come back to America.
Courtesy: Ellis Park Racing