Caleb's Posse – Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel has several Graded stakes wins on his resume, but his Breeders’ Cup experience is limited to just two starters (Evansville Slew, ninth in the 1994 Juvenile; and Bien Nicole, ninth in the 2003 Filly & Mare Turf). He is excited to run his 3yo son of Posse in Saturday’s Dirt Mile.
“Having the opportunity to compete in the Breeders’ Cup says a lot about your operation,” Von Hemel explained. “It shows that you’re capable of getting them there. It keeps all of your owners interested and exited. This is a game of dreams. If an owner isn’t dreaming about running a horse on a day like this, they’ll be out of the game pretty quick. Whether they own the horse themselves or not, when they’re in the same barn, they feel a connection to that individual.”
Irrefutable – Trainer Bob Baffert’s “other” Dirt Mile contender, longshot Irrefutable, gave exercise rider Dana Barnes a run for her money during a 1m gallop Thursday morning.
“He was sort of a handful out there today,” Baffert said.
The 5yo son of Unbridled’s Song breaks from post 6 in the Dirt Mile under jockey Rafael Bejarano. A runner-up finish in the Ancient Title Stakes last time out on Oct. 8 did not earn him much respect on the morning line as he has been assigned odds of 12-1.
Shackleford – The 2011 Preakness Stakes winner was impressive Thursday morning as he galloped 1 1/2m shortly after the renovation break. Although winless since talking the middle leg of the Triple Crown, trainer Dale Romans has been saying all week that he believes that the Forestry colt is doing as good, if not better than he was this spring.
Tapizar –Winchell Thoroughbred LLC’s 3yo son of Tapit was thought to be a legitimate Triple Crown contender following a 10 ½-length maiden victory at Churchill Downs last November and a 4 ¼ length win in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in January,
Following a disappointing fifth-place run as the favorite in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, he was found to have had a knee chip. He returned to action nearly eight months later, scoring an impressive Belmont allowance victory over Uptowncharleybrown and Boys At Tosconova, and is now ready to contest Saturday’s Dirt Mile.
“We were very pleased with his comeback win,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “The race unfolded very nicely for us. The pace scenario went our way. He ran a nice race and ran fast, and it was something he can move forward off of. I don’t think it was a gut-wrenching race. We know he likes Churchill. You’re counting on his talent. How the race unfolds is out of your control.”
The Factor – Exercise rider George Alvarez was aboard Dirt Mile contender The Factor for the first time Thursday morning for a 1m gallop.
“Going great, boss!” Alvarez reported to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
“He looked great out there, he galloped around just fine,” Baffert said. “He can be tough to gallop, but he didn’t get rank on George or anything.”
The Factor is one of three horses out of Baffert’s nine Breeders’ Cup starters that will break from the rail in their respective races (the others are Sprint contender Euroears and Filly & Mare Sprint runner Irish Gypsy).
According to Equibase, the industry’s stats keeper, Baffert horses have drawn the rail 29 times in 184 Grade 1 races since Jan. 1, 2006. He has won eight of them.
Jockey Martin Garcia has the assignment aboard the 3yo son of War Front.
“I would have preferred an outside post with him, but the way he’s training right now, he’s doing really well,” Baffert said. “You’ve got some nice speed horses in there and it depends on who goes with him early. The pace is going to be so important. It’s something that’s out of my control, out of my hands, but Martin knows what he needs to do. At least he won’t be going 21 flat.”
Trappe Shot – The 4yo son of Tapit galloped 1 1/4m under Rob Massey after the renovation break Thursday morning at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s main goal is to get a Grade 1 victory for Trappe Shot, and he determined that the Dirt Mile was a better race than the Sprint to make it happen.
“We were afraid we would draw the 1 hole in the Sprint,” said McLaughlin, explaining why he opted for the Dirt Mile, noting the challenge that the rail post places on a sprinter.
Trappe Shot came within a nose of his trainer’s goal for him in the 7f Vanderbilt at Saratoga in August.
“He’s a serious racehorse, and he’s been a little unlucky,” McLaughlin said. “The race track at Saratoga was sealed, open, sealed, open, sealed. It was a funny racetrack, the guy was doing the best he could. (Trappe Shot) was giving weight and was five wide, and we just got beat. The jump before the wire he was ahead and the jump after the wire he was ahead. He’s very unlucky not to be a Grade 1 winner.”
Wilburn – Stonestreet Stables’ Dirt Mile contender created plenty of buzz back in March at Santa Anita, breaking his maiden at first asking in a sizzling 6 ½f final time of 1:13.95. He’s had some ups and downs since then, but now enters Saturday’s event on a three-race win streak.
“With a couple of conservative spots, he has stepped forward,” trainer Steve Asmussen said of the 3yo son of Bernardini. “That being said, this is another step upward. He had a less than ideal trip in the Long Branch, and got a little off kilter with him there, whereas if you have success, you move to the Haskell with him. He had a rough trip, and it didn’t work out his way, so we used the conditioned race (Optional claiming allowance at Monmouth) next. Off that win, he stepped up into a very nice pot, but an ungraded race at Philly (Smarty Jones), which then put us in position to beat the Preakness winner (Shackleford) in the Indiana Derby. You bridged those races together, and we’re very fortunate that he’s continued to thrive and move forward.”