HENDERSON, KY. (WFIE) - Kentucky Downs’ record opener Saturday also proved a big day for Ellis Park.
Three of the four stakes winners on the first day of the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs made their previous start at Ellis Park, including both 2-year-old winners.
Stonestreet Racing’s Hanalei Moon, who finished ninth in the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf at Ellis Park in her last start, kicked off the parade by winning the $250,000 One Dreamer Stakes.
The top four finishers of the $500,000 Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies all ran at Ellis Park in their prior start, with Jezebel’s Kitten keying a $294 50-cent trifecta and $542 10-cent superfecta, which was filled out by Ellis maiden winners Ask Bailey, Battleofwinterfell and Lemon Scat.
“Ellis Park is a great place to start horses,” said Brad Cox, trainer of Jezebel’s Kitten. “Year in and year out, those horses come out of there and run well everywhere.”
Peace Achieved, who in his second start while adding blinkers won at Ellis Park, dominated the $500,000 Gainesway Farm Juvenile. Peace Achieved and Hanalei Moon both are trained by Mark Casse.
Both Jezebel’s Kitten and Peace Achieved now will pursue the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on Nov. 1 at California’s Santa Anita Park.
“It just shows you the quality of horses that are now staying at Ellis Park, given the bigger and stronger purses,” said Casse, who had horses stabled at Ellis Park as well as Churchill Downs this summer. “I think as those purses continue to climb, you’re going to see less and less horses leaving Kentucky. Right now we have absolutely A-class, top-rated purses in North America from April now until December, which is great. I can’t speak for all trainers, but I know we enjoy being there, the horses enjoy being there. Kentucky is a great place to race.”
Casse thinks he might have stabled at Ellis Park 38 years ago, not returning until this summer.
“I was impressed with the barn area, the racetrack; we couldn’t be happier,” he said. “And I said that before (Saturday). So I’m not loving Ellis Park just because of that. But we love the program and just hope it can continue. The better Ellis Park is, the better the entire racing circuit is.
“We ran in a 2-year-old maiden special-weight race one day and I think the field cost $1.5 million or something. The quality of racing has gotten just so much better, and you saw the results of that at Kentucky Downs. We brought a horse from Saratoga for the 2-year-old filly race and I know the favorite and a couple of horses came from Saratoga for the colt race and were nowhere…. And it’s not like anybody has a home-field advantage at Kentucky Downs. Everybody is running there for the first time. I think that says a lot.”
Casse said Peace Achieved will be pointed for Keeneland’s $250,000 Bourbon on Oct. 6. That Grade 3 stakes is a “Win and You’re In” Breeders' Cup Challenge Series race, meaning the winner gets an entry fees-paid spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and a travel stipend.
“We definitely have the Breeders’ Cup on our mind,” Casse said.
Jezebel’s Kitten ran an unusual race, being up close, then dropping back before coming back on to win by 4 3/4 lengths under Florent Geroux (who won on 11 of 47 mounts at Ellis Park riding semi-regularly at the track for the first time while frequently shipping out for stakes).
“I was proud of her,” Cox said. “It was kind of an odd race to watch. She broke and put herself in position like she did first time out. I told Florent, if he could, to get her to settle behind a horse or two if possible. He did, and he said she just kind of shut off around the turn and almost lost interest. He nudged on her and tried to keep her into it, keep her involved. And once he got her out, she just took off. She was impressive. Very nice race. For a 2-year-old filly to do what she did, off her first race, it was a big step forward.
“She’s a small filly but she’s a racehorse, 2 for 2 now. To be able to beat these fillies the way she did means a lot. We’ll look at Keeneland, Belmont, hopefully some type of ‘Win and You’re In’. We’ll definitely turn our attention toward the Breeders’ Cup.”
--Cowboy Jones back in winner’s circle -- as a horse owner--
R.A. “Cowboy” Jones for many years was a fixture in the Ellis Park winner’s circle. He’s still a fixture at the track, but until Sunday his last time in the winner’s circle was aboard Awtair on Aug. 24, 2004, according to Equibase.
But that was Cowboy front and center in the winner’s circle — however, as an owner — after jockey Edgar Morales won the sixth race with Matt’s Honey, who paid $21 to win in the $5,000 claiming race. Jones co-owned Matt’s Honey with Dennis O’Keefe’s O’Keefe Circus, with Bryan Cole training the 3-year-old filly.
Jones and O’Keefe had Matt’s Honey only three races, with Cowboy now out of the ownership business as the filly was claimed.
“First time I’ve been in the winner’s circle on foot,” said Jones, who last rode in a race in 2014 and who is pushing 80 years old. “I told that jock, ‘I’ve never thrown a jock up on a horse before. I hope I don’t throw you over.’ It was fun. My riding days are probably pretty much being over. I enjoyed talking to the jock before the race. We agreed on everything. I said, ‘She can run, but she hasn’t put forth any effort.’ He rode perfect to instructions. He couldn’t have rode any better if it had been me on it.”
Jones is an Ellis Park icon as much for being a character as his riding and has been immortalized with an Ellis Park bobblehead. Jones won races during six different decades and fell just short of becoming the first jockey to win in seven different decades. He remains a popular fixture with the public, attending the races every day and constantly asked by fans to get a photo with him.
--Three-way chase for leading jockey heading into closing day--
Corey Lanerie, the three-time defending meet leader and five-time riding titlist overall, swept Sunday’s late double to take a 25-24 lead over Tyler Baze and James Graham heading into Monday’s closing card of the Ellis Park meet. But if Lanerie wins the 2019 crown, it will be in absentia.
The reigning champ will be at Parx Racing near Philadelphia, where he rides Ellis Park Derby winner Gray Magician in the $300,000, Grade 3 Smarty Jones and Ellis Park shippers Texas Wedge in the Grade 3 Turf Monster, Grandaria in the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia and Whereshetoldmetogo in the $100,000 Bensalem.
Graham and Baze figure to duke it out Monday, with Graham having seven mounts and Baze six.
Echoing what Graham has said in recent days, Baze said of the title, “I don’t worry about it. I go out there and do my job. As long as we make it around there and get to go home safe, that’s all that matters.”
Lanerie is thinking about the title — and he thinks his rivals are, too.
“I have to hope for some help,” he said of securing the title, adding of Baze and Graham, “Oh, yeah, they’re thinking about it, for sure. They’re trying to say they don’t think about it, but I know Graham does for sure. He knows exactly how many it is. And Tyler has won a bunch of titles in California, but I think it would be his first one in Kentucky. So that would be something special.
“This is a tough riding colony. I’m very thankful to be where I’m at and in the position I’m in and for the owners and trainers who give me the opportunity. Hopefully I can hang on. Because once you get to the top of the pedestal you hate to have to step off. But it’s been a great meet. I can’t complain one bit. My percentage is great. My agent, Corey Prewitt, has done a wonderful job. We hooked up after the Kentucky Derby. I think we can just keep getting better, I hope.”
Lanerie missed several Saturdays to ride out of state stakes. He also spotted the competition three days while he served a suspension to start the Ellis meet. But even that was representative of how Lanerie is trying to win titles while also working to expand his business in graded stakes. The suspension that he served in the meet’s opening days was out of New York, when the Belmont Park stewards let stand his victory in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes card with 2018 Ellis Park maiden winner Hog Creek Hustle but gave Lanerie “days” for careless riding.
With a 22-percent win rate, Lanerie finished this meet with 115 mounts, 46 fewer than Baze and 34 fewer than Graham had through Sunday.
“If you look, my percentage is really, really good,” Lanerie said. “I’m thrilled the way the meet went — and we got some good stakes horses to look forward to. Hopefully we’ll get the title. It would be fun.”
Baze, in his time riding most of the year in Kentucky, rode most of the horses trained by Steve Asmussen, who has clinched his third Ellis Park training title in four years. Asmussen has 23 wins and is in six races Monday as he is assured of regaining the crown from 2018 winner Brad Cox, who has 16 wins and is in three races on the closing card.
Asmussen clinched his latest title by winning four of five starts on Friday, when he was in attendance at Ellis Park. Saturday he was Kentucky Downs. Sunday morning, he watched training at Churchill Downs before leaving for Saratoga, where Asmussen has three horses in that track’s closing-day Grade 1 Hopeful.
Asmussen also has clinched a tie for leading owner, with five victories. G. Watts Humphrey has four wins and is in one race Monday.
The holiday closer also is Fan Appreciation Day, with $1 hot dogs and $2 16-ounce Bud and Bud Light draft beer, as well as giveaways.