Union Rags – The undefeated Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile favorite continued to get acquainted with Churchill Downs Wednesday, galloping 1 ½m after the renovation break with assistant trainer Peter Brette aboard.
The Dixie Union colt, along with Juvenile Fillies Turf contender Somali Lemonade, will be the first Breeders’ Cup starters for trainer Michael Matz since 2006 when he won the Distaff (now Ladies’ Classic) with Round Pond.
“It is unusual that I’m back at the Breeders’ Cup with two juveniles, but I’ll take it,” said Matz. “This year, the 2-year-olds were just ready to run and we’re fortunate that they’ve done so well. They’ve done it all themselves. Sometimes you just get precocious 2-year-olds. Each case is different, but these two horses in particular have handled everything. At this same point (his 2006 Kentucky Derby winner) Barbaro had only made one start.”
Alpha – The 2yo son of Bernardini made his first trip to the Churchill Downs track Wednesday morning and galloped 1 1/4m under exercise rider Rob Massey.
Alpha debuted at Saratoga with an off-the-pace, six-length score in a 7f maiden special weight race. The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt came on late to finish second in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont, beaten 5 1/2 lengths by Union Rags, the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the Juvenile.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to make up five lengths on Union Rags,” McLaughlin said. “We’re coming into the race great. We were the only 2yo in the last race in the Champagne making our second start, so this is our third start. Hopefully we improve each start.”
McLaughlin expects Alpha to move up going two turns in the Juvenile.
“It should be (a benefit), but it won’t be a negative for Union Rags,” said McLaughlin with a smile.
Garrett Gomez will ride Alpha for the first time.
Creative Cause – The three-time winner from California got his first test of the Churchill Downs dirt surface Wednesday morning, as did his trainer Mike Harrington after both arrived from California.
“He seemed to like the track,” Harrington said at the end of the colt’s 1m gallop. “He got over it really well.”
The gray/roan 2yo son of Giant’s Causeway continues his debut day in Louisville by schooling in the paddock during the day’s first race.
Crusade/Daddy Long Legs – Crusade and Daddy Long Legs were part of the final contingent of eight colts from the stable of Aidan O’Brien that arrived at Churchill Downs Tuesday at 8:22 p.m. and are housed in the second quarantine barn.
Drill – The Juvenile contender jogged 1m with exercise rider Dana Barnes in the saddle Wednesday morning after arriving from California on Tuesday. Hall of Fame and two-time Juvenile winning trainer Bob Baffert (Vindication, 2002; Midshipman, 2008) will send Drill for a gallop about the same distance Thursday morning.
“He still has a little bit to prove,” Baffert said of the 2yo son of Lawyer Ron. “In his last race, he got tired turning for home. I took the blinkers off of him and was hoping that would help because he likes a target to run at, but I think he was too far back last time. We’ll let him get into the race here. He’s still young.”
Drill comes off a runner-up finish in the Oct. 1 Norfolk Stakes and won the Del Mar Futurity in September. He drew post 4 in the Juvenile. Martin Garcia has the mount.
Dullahan – The Breeders’ Futurity winner galloped 1 ½ m on Wednesday as he prepares for the toughest test of his career.
“Like my other two Breeders’ Cup horses (Shackleford and Court Vision), I couldn’t be happier with how he’s doing,” said trainer Dale Romans. “Union Rags is obviously the one to beat and the horse that seems to be training really well is Take Charge Indy, but we’re very happy with our horse.”
Fort Loudon – A return trip to the Breeders’ Cup has come as a bit of a surprise for trainer Stanley Gold, who starts Fort Loudon in the Juvenile and Awesome Belle in the Juvenile Fillies, but the overall success achieved by his Florida-bred 2yo’s has come as no shock to the Calder-based conditioner.
“Other than Kentucky-breds, Florida-bred horses are right up there when it comes to winning classic races,” Gold said. “And while the best of those horses don’t always go to Calder, we’ve got some good ones down there that maybe slip through the cracks because they don’t have a glamorous pedigree. But they’re Florida-breds, and they can run.
“And just being up here again (for the Breeders’ Cup) is good for the Florida Stallion Stakes and the whole Florida breeding program.”
Over the past three years, Gold has swept a three-race division of the Florida Stallion Stakes an unprecedented three straight times, accomplishing the feat with Jackson Bend in 2009, Awesome Feather in 2010, and Fort Loudon this season.
And while Gold passed on a start in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup with Jackson Bend, he shipped Awesome Feather to last year’s event and was rewarded with an Eclipse Award-clinching victory in the Juvenile Fillies.
“I’m fortunate to have an owner (Fred Brei of Jacks or Better Farm) that not only believes in, and wants to improve his breeding program, but is willing to spend the money and go out of town to go after these big races.”
Hansen – Less than two months ago, the 2yo son of Tapit was an unraced maiden. Now he’s a 10-1 morning-line shot in the Juvenile.
“This horse showed us a lot in the mornings before he ever ran in a race,” trainer Mike Maker said. “We had high aspirations for the horse, and the Turfway races just fell into our timeline. We broke his maiden and then came back in two weeks for the Kentucky Cup in order to accelerate his progress.”
Hansen’s two wins have come by 25 ½ combined lengths.
Optimizer – Trainer D. Wayne Lukas gave his 2yo son of English Channel almost a day off Wednesday, asking him only to walk his shedrow.
Prospective – Trainer Mark Casse’s two Breeders’ Cup hopefuls were to be schooled in the paddock on Wednesday afternoon, with Juvenile contender Prospective taking a look around during the fourth race and Juvenile Fillies runner Northern Passion having her visit during the first race. But Casse wouldn’t be there to supervise because he was headed to the hospital to meet his new grandson.
“My daughter, Cheryl, had a baby yesterday. His name is Landon,” he said before both horses headed out to the track in the morning. “As soon as we’re done with training, I’m going to Baptist East Hospital here in Louisville to be with my daughter, son-in-law, and the baby. This is exciting and it was good timing. The baby was born while I was in town.”
Casse, a three-time Sovereign Award winner as Outstanding Trainer who is based at Woodbine in Canada, knows his way around the maternity ward. He is the father of seven children, including his top assistant Norman who is here with him, and Landon is his third grandchild.
On Wednesday, Prospective galloped 1 ½ m and stood in the gate. Casse indicated that he is very pleased with the way the son of Malibu Moon is coming up to the race.