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|Arlington Park Barn Notes (7/22/05)
Contact: Graham Ross
In today's notes:
Trainer Helen Pitts left Churchill Downs late Friday morning for Ellis Park in Western Kentucky, but should be at Arlington Park late Saturday morning in plenty of time to saddle two horses on Arlington's "Million Preview Day" program.
It promises to be a whirlwind weekend for Pitts, who has Eliah & Lisa Kahn's Exceptional Ride going in Saturday's Grade II American Derby, presented by Jack Daniel's; and comes back two races later with Diane Perkins' B. A. Way in the Grade III Arlington Handicap. However, it's already been something of a whirlwind month for the daughter of internationally renowned steward Clinton Potts.
Pitts, the longtime assistant to trainer Ken McPeek, officially began her own career as a trainer on July 1, but McPeek, who is now a bloodstock agent, has been grooming her for her new title for the last five years.
"When Kenny told me last spring that I was going to be taking over for him I almost had a heart attack," said Pitts Friday morning, speaking from her car as she drove west on I-64 from Louisville to Ellis Park in Western Kentucky.
"First he told me he was giving up training, and in my head I was starting to think I wasn't going to have a job," Pitts said, "and then in the same breath he told me I'd be taking over for him. You could have knocked me over with a feather."
Although her newly elevated status has come quickly, Pitts' career as a horsewoman was destined from birth. She was born in Monkton, Maryland, 31 years ago and raised by her mother on a horse farm on the outskirts of Baltimore.
"I had no choice but to end up in this business," Pitts said. "I've had a pitchfork in my hand since I was a kid, and my mother is an absolutely incredible horsewoman. I owe her just about everything. I've learned everything I know from her and Kenny, and no one was happier than she was when I told her Kenny had asked me to take over his horses.
"I suppose eventually I might have wanted to branch out and go on my own," said Pitts of her new position, "but to be honest, I hadn't thought much about it. I was perfectly comfortable with the way things were working for Kenny. I'm in this business because I love it."
Consequently, Pitts is due at Arlington Park from Ellis in time to saddle both Exceptional Ride and B. A. Way, who are already on the grounds under the care of her assistant Hanne Jorgenson.
In the American Derby, Exceptional Ride, a winner here earlier this summer, is challenging for the middle leg of Arlington's Mid-America Triple, and must face E. J. Sukley's Purim, winner of the Grade III Arlington Classic, presented by Woodford Reserve, as the first leg of the Triple on July 2.
After Exceptional Ride won the Awad Stakes locally June 4 while still under the tutelage of McPeek, the son of 2000 Arlington Million winner Chester House journeyed to Virginia, where he finished second by three and a half lengths to James Scatuorchio's English Channel in the Colonial Cup June 25.
"He (Exceptional Ride) didn't have much room to run until late in that race," said Pitts. "I'm not saying we would have beat that other horse (English Channel), but we might have been closer. I'm not ashamed of the way our horse ran, I just wish we'd had somewhere to go earlier in the race. Even so, we finished closer to English Channel than anyone else lately.
"B. A. Way may have the tougher assignment in the Arlington Handicap," Pitts said, "but on the other hand, Hanne told me he has trained phenomenal at Arlington since he got there, so we'll wait and see what happens."
Trainer Toni Gabriel, who saddled "Make My Heart Sing" to a surprise $76.60 win payoff in the Possibly Perfect Stakes at Arlington July 4, returns with that Kentucky invader for Saturday's Grade III Modesty Handicap, final major local prep for the Grade I Beverly D. Stakes Aug. 13 as part of the International Festival of Racing on Arlington Million Day.
"She's kept her weight on very well since that last race, and she's been training very well," said Gabriel, "so we're going to try again. She shouldn't have been that big a price last time. She tries hard every time. The only thing about her is, she's a hard horse to ride, because once she gets going, she can't get stopped."
With two wins on Thursday's program, jockey James Graham moved into a tie with veteran Eddie Razo for third place in the current Arlington Park jockey standings.
The two riders each have 42 winners at the meeting, while leading rider Shaun Bridgmohan has 75 and current runner-up Chris Emigh has 54 through Thursday.
Horsin' Around TV, which airs at 1 a.m., 6 a.m. & 10:30 a.m. on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, has an extended hour-long broacast Saturday highlight Million Preview Day as well as the upcoming International Festival of Racing.
Host Joe Kristufek will be joined in studio by Daily Racing Form's Marcus Hersh, and handicapper Dave "The Thoroughbred Maven" Gutfreund to preview Arlington 's trio of graded stakes: the Grade II American Derby for 3-year-olds, the Grade III Arlington Handicap for older horses, and the Grade III Modesty for turf distaffers. DAK Racing's Michael Costanzo and Arlington Park notes writer Graham Ross break down the international turf scene, focusing on horses targeting Arlington's Festival.
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