Ellis Park’s 2-year old program continuing to produce winners

Ellis Park’s 2-year old program continuing to produce winners
(Source: WFIE)

HENDERSON, KY. (WFIE) - Ellis Park’s 2-year-old program has gone from being one of racing’s best-kept secrets to becoming common knowledge as a launching pad for stakes horses. Less heralded, but extremely productive, is the Riverside Downs training center right across the Ohio River in Henderson.

The latest poster child: Stonestreet Stable’s Hopeful Princess, winner of the first 2-year-old race in Kentucky this year and in her next start third in Saratoga’s opening-day feature Thursday, the Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes.

Ellis Park mainstay John Hancock partnered with breeder Jackie Huckaby to race Hopeful Princess after the $27,000 high bid on the filly at Keeneland’s September yearling sale last year failed to reach Huckaby’s minimum sales price. Hancock then brought in Imaginary Stable’s John Guarnere as another owner in January.

Hopeful Princess was named by Hancock’s wife, Donna. The filly got her earliest training - learning how to wear a saddle and bridle and how to gallop on a racetrack — at Ellis Park last fall before moving over to Riverside. Plans to run her at Keeneland went by the wayside with the COVID cancelation of that spring meet. Instead she debuted May 21 at Churchill Downs in the first 2-year-old race of 2020 offered in Kentucky, beating well-fancied horses trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen (runner-up Mad Maddy) and 2-year-old kingpin Wesley Ward (third-place Tequila Queen).

Not long afterward, Stonestreet purchased Hopeful Princess and sent her Asmussen.”We were all rooting for her at Saratoga,” Hancock said. “You haven’t seen the best of her, when Steve gets to fooling with her and gets to keep her a little longer. She’s very, very talented.”Part of John Hancock’s business is getting young horses acquired at inexpensive prices to the races early, uncorking a splashy win and selling them at substantial profit. Hopeful Princess came at an especially fortuitous time, with the COVID-19 delays to the reopening of Kentucky racing particularly devastating to a stable that stays at Riverside over the winter. “The COVID-19 just about got us,” Hancock said. “We penny-pinched and worked and worked and worked. We counted on her, and she came through. It was a big load off our back, even though I almost didn’t sell. I almost wanted to keep her and run her again. But then the numbers got really big, and I said, ‘I don’t want the pressure. I’m going to have to hire a night guard and everything. Let’s just sell and move on.’”Besides Keeneland canceling the day after he shipped horses there to prepare for the meet, Hancock said he lost a couple of promising 2-year-olds through freak accidents as he waited to run them.”

If Keeneland would have started on time, this would have been the best year I’d have,” he said. “All my 2-year-olds were ready to run. We moved in with Hopeful Princess on a Sunday, and they canceled the meet on Monday. I left her and six or seven there, and she was just special. We really, really were high on her.”

I was talking to Steve Asmussen about a week before we took entries for that 2-year-old race…. I told him, ‘Don’t go in that first 2-year-old filly race.’ He kind of chuckled and laughed. I said, ‘You’re not going to like it.’ He just said, ‘we’ll see,’ he never really brags. And I knew Wesley had an American Pharoah filly going in there that he really liked. So we were matched up tough. But I told everybody for a month that this filly would beat anybody who came first time she ran. She was that precocious, mentally ready, great gate horse, ton of speed but would sit in behind horses. She checked every box — and she came through.”Hancock said he promptly got 14 phone calls from people interested in buying Hopeful Princess.”I was waiting on Steve,” he said. “I knew he would call because I knew how much he liked his horse. His horse and my horse were six lengths in front of the rest of the field, and Wesley ended up third. I almost didn’t sell. That’s how much I liked her. I’ve always wanted to win the 2-year-old filly stakes at Ellis Park, and I thought this filly is cut out to do it.”I got a text message from Steve the second morning after her race:

‘When they get done kicking the tires, call me,’” Hancock recalled. “I said, ‘OK, here we go.’ The people who represent Stonestreet came out to Riverside and watched her gallop. They liked her. We came to an agreement, and three days later she shipped.”Hancock got confirmation of his high opinion of Hopeful Princess when his 3-year-old grandson, Westin Hillyard, was out at Riverside one morning when the filly worked. Westin, who with brother Matt figure to be the fifth generation of the Henderson family to be in racing, had learned how to snap the stopwatch to start and stop. Westin might not yet know the different track poles to say how far a horse has worked, but said his granddad, ‘He was watching her work. He looked up and said, ‘Papaw, she’s fast!’”

Don Campbell gets off to good start with first two starters

Another Ellis Park and Riverside regular, Don Campbell, had a big day Saturday with his first two starters of the meet. Campbell took the second race with Orleans, a $15.40 winner after drawing off from 1-5 favorite Ebony Bay, and then was placed second in the third race for 2-year-old fillies with his first-time starter Aunt Joie at 9-1 odds. Winning that tough maiden race was tepid favorite Lady Edith. Saturday Night finished 2 1/4 lengths back in second, but was disqualified to third for veering in sharply at the sixteenth pole to impede Aunt Joie.

“It was exciting, a good day,” Campbell said, saying later of the incident, “I knew she was getting slammed, but I didn’t know it was as bad as it was until I saw the head-on (replay). And this filly, she’s small and she’s beside the other and you couldn’t see for sure what was going on.”Campbell paid $11,000 for Aunt Joie at Fasig-Tipton’s October yearling sale. “She’s got a ‘cloudy’ eye, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to afford her,” he said.Campbell was told by the breeder that Aunt Joie’s eye was hurt as a baby. “It’s not going to get any worse; they had the vet work on it,” he said. “She can see a little, not near as good as the other eye. So I took a chance on her and hoped it work out. Looks like it’s going to.”Aunt Joie (pronounced Joey) is named for Campbell’s aunt.”

She took care of everybody; she never got married,” he said of his dad’s sister. “There were 13 of them in their family, and then all of her nieces and nephews. She helped my grandparents take care of everybody. She’s 94 years old, and I named this filly for her. I’m fixing to send her a picture when we win.”Campbell also was impacted by COVID when Turfway shut down. “Our plan was to go to Keeneland,” he said. “When they shut everything down, it was expensive to stay at Turfway and not do anything (as far as racing). So we went to my farm in western Kentucky (in Princeton); we shipped up pretty nearly every day to Riverside to get gate work and all that stuff. We’ve got a pretty good little deal going over there. It’s a good track to train on, a real good track. All the guys around here train over there.”

Ebben takes allowance feature for first consecutive wins in career

The 5-year-old Ebben, who was briefly on the Kentucky Derby trail in 2018, won consecutive races for the first time in his 22-race career, taking Ellis Park’s $39,000 second-level allowance race that also had a $40,000 claiming option.

Ebben, owned by prominent Louisville attorney Sam Aguilar, missed most of his 4-year-old season with a sequence of minor setbacks, trainer Steve Margolis said. The gelding started back in a couple of six-furlong races before running in two-turn mile allowance races at Oaklawn Park.

He found his best stride in a seven-furlong $50,000 claiming race at Churchill Downs, his first victory in 15 races dating to a Churchill allowance victory late in his 2-year-old season. Ebben followed that with his four-length victory under Corey Lanerie, reeling in pace-setting Street to Indy in mid-stretch and rolling on to cover Ellis’ 1 1/2-turn mile in 1:35.75. Ebben paid $5.40 to win as the favorite.”He won a ‘one other than’ as a 2-year-old, then we kind of threw him on the Derby trail in the Lecomte and Risen Star,” Margolis said of a couple of winter stakes in New Orleans. “Probably a little too much for him. We had to give him a bunch of time. But now he’s come back as a 5-year-old. We’ve always liked him. Knock wood, he’s staying healthy. We just have to manage him a little bit, but that was a big effort today. Now that he’s 5, I think he’s a little settled in what he’s doing. Like Corey said, he likes to make his move outside. When he gets between horses, he can get a little jammed up. And I took the blinkers off him a few starts back at Oaklawn and it seemed to work. “He had all these little things that just seemed to set him back. I think seven-eighths to a mile is his thing — a one-turn closing sprinter. You run him two turns and he’s no good. Six furlongs is too short.”

Kobiskie's two-win day gives him meet-best five victories

Lexington-based trainer Dane Kobiskie won Sunday’s fourth race with the 2-year-old Medicine Tail and the ninth with Tynan to take the meet lead with five victories overall. Both horses were ridden by Joe Rocco Jr.

Kobiskie now is 5 for 16, with two seconds and two thirds. Tied for second in the standings are Ron Moquett and Jason Barkley at three apiece. (Rafael Bejarano has a 9-6 lead over Miguel Mena in the jockey standings.)

Medicine Tail, a $230,000 Saratoga yearling purchase by owner Thomas Haughey’s PTK LLC, is a son of Kantharos and out of the same Pulpit-sired mare (Leh She Run) as Grade 2 Remsen Stakes winner O’Prado Again. His female family includes $1.7 million-earner Fear the Cowboy and graded-stakes winners First Samurai, Sky Blue Pink, My Impression and Jeranimo.

The chestnut colt had run twice at Churchill Downs, with a third and a close second. Ridden for the second time by Joe Rocco, favored Medicine Tail led all the way to beat second-choice Pico d’Oro by 3 1/4 lengths while covering six furlongs in 1:10.80. He paid $5 to win.”He’s a pretty nice horse,” Kobiskie said. “He’s just a big baby. To be honest, when I started training him, I wasn’t crazy about running him right now, even though his breeding is there for some speed. He’s just such a big horse, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just train him on and when he tells me to stop on him, I’ll stop and have a nice late 2-year-old, 3-year-old type horse.’ He just kept rocking on. He’s a man’s horse, just turned into a man. He was a little green his first couple of starts, lugged in pretty hard. He knew what was going on today.”Kobiskie said Medicine Tail could run back in the $100,000 RUNHAPPY Juvenile at Ellis Park on Aug. 9. “It’s possible,” he said. “We’ll just see how he comes back and go from there…. But this horse definitely fits those kind.” The 3-year-old filly Tynan ($9.20) held off Teenage Kicks to win an entry-level allowance race at a mile on turf.

Monomoy Girl’s full brother rolls at Ellis Park Saturday(Photo: Cowboy Diplomacy earning his first victory at age 4 under Shaun Bridgmohan. In between champion Monomoy Girl and Grade 2 stakes-winner Mr. Monomoy, the Henny Hughes mare Drumette gave birth to a colt who would be named Cowboy Diplomacy. Monomoy Girl became the 3-year-old filly champion in 2018 for the season in which she won the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Mr. Monomoy this year won a division of the Fair Grounds’ Grade 2 Risen Star before being knocked off the Kentucky Derby trail with an injury.

Cowboy Diplomacy? At age 4, he earned his first victory Saturday in Ellis Park’s seventh race, his first start in 15 months and first since being gelded. Unraced at 2, he raced well without a win in his three starts last year before going to the sidelines. When it all came together, Cowboy Diplomacy was impressive 4 1/2-length winner over All Eyes West under Shaun Bridgmohan, covering six furlongs in 1:09.47 and paying $13 to win in the field of eight. Both Monomoy Girl and Cowboy Diplomacy were sired by the young stallion Tapizar, while Mr. Monomoy is a son of Palace Malice, the 2013 Belmont Stakes and 2014 Metropolitan Mile winner. Brad Cox trains all three siblings. Tessa Bisha, who oversaw Cox’s Keeneland training operation in the spring and now is running the Ellis Park division, was around Monomoy Girl when the future champion spent the entire summer at Ellis getting ready to start her racing career.”

Shaun said he went to hit him a couple of times, and he said, ‘uh uh, I don’t like that.’ And that’s just like Monomoy,” Bisha said of Cowboy Diplomacy. “He does look pretty much just like her, except he’s smaller. They both like to stick their head up and stare into space, and he can be pretty opinionated about things. But neither of them are mean. I mean, she’s a lot feistier; she’s got that red-head girl thing going on. But they’re both pretty opinionated, confident horses.”I think they kind of thought that he’d do what he did today last year. He didn’t do poorly, but I think he showed a lot more grit and focus today than he did last year. He’s a nice horse.”

RUNHAPPY Summer Meet at Ellis Park at a glance

Dates: July 2-Aug. 30, Fridays through Sundays. Open seven days a week for Historical Horse Racing and simulcasting wagering on tracks around the country.First post: 12:50 p.m. Central. Nine races a day. Gates open 10 a.m. CT.

Covid precautions: Guests must wear masks except when eating, drinking, smoking or sitting at their reserved table and should socially distance at all times. Everyone entering the property will have touchless thermal screen.Average daily purses: $250,000

Reserved seating: The general public must have a reserved seat to be admitted to the track for racing. Tickets can be purchased through ellisparkracing.com. Admission is through the main entrance (between the Clubhouse and grandstand), where guests will have a thermal screening.Reserved seating the first week will be limited to the Sky Theatre (smoke-free), the Clubhouse second-floor (smoking permitted) and the Turf Club for groups of up to 25.

Horse owners: Racehorse owners with a valid Kentucky Horse Racing Commission license and their guests may watch their race from the track apron. Admission is through the Paddock Pavilion entrance, where a thermal screening will be performed and names and contact information recorded. Media may also access the track apron and should come in through the Paddock Pavilion entrance.

Signature days:

Aug. 2 - Kentucky Downs Preview Day (five turf stakes whose winners receive a fees-paid spot in the corresponding race at Kentucky Downs).

Aug. 9 — RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby Day (five stakes headlined by the $200,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby, whose winner receives 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby)

Stakes schedule:

July 26 — $50,000 Good Lord Stakes, 3-year-olds & up, 6 1/2 furlongs.

Aug. 2 (all on turf) —

$100,000* RUNHAPPY Preview Turf Sprint, 3-year-olds & up, 5 1/2 furlongs;

$100,000* Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Sprint, fillies & mares 3 years old & up, 5 1/2 furlongs;

$100,000* Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup, 3-year-olds & up, 1 1/4 miles;

$100,000* Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, fillies & mares 3 years old &up, mile);

$100,000* Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile, 3-year-olds & up, mile.

Aug. 9 —

$200,000* RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby (official Kentucky Derby qualifying race), 3-year-olds; 1 1/8 miles;

$100,000* RUNHAPPY Audubon Oaks (official Kentucky Oaks qualifying race), 3-year-old fillies, 7 furlongs;

$100,000 Groupie Doll, fillies & mares 3 years old & up, mile;

$100,000* RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Juvenile, 2-year-olds, 7 furlongs;

$100,000* RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Debutante, 7 furlongs.*-includes $25,000 from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund

Courtesy: Jennie Rees. Copyright 2020 WFIE. All rights reserved.