(Trainer J. Larry Jones will saddle Stave in Sunday’s KY Downs Preview Ladies Turf at Ellis Park / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

From the Ellis Park Media Team:

Trainer Larry Jones was disappointed when Hinkle Farms’ Stave came a head shy of winning her first career stakes in the $75,000 Ellis Park Turf on July 7. But the 4-year-old filly gets another crack at becoming a stakes-winner in Sunday’s $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf.

“It was close. It was a good race,”Jones said after Stave had to settle for second in a three-horse photo won by Sensitive. “We’re going to have to be happy, I guess. We had intended to win, but we didn’t make it.”

The mile Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf is one of five $100,000 grass races staged Sunday as Kentucky Downs Preview Day. The stakes are positioned as stepping stones to big-money races at Kentucky Downs’ lucrative five-date meet. Funding for the five stakes purses, along with another $4.5 million in purses and Kentucky-bred supplements, was generated at Kentucky Downs and transferred to Ellis Park in an agreement with the Kentucky HBPA, the horsemen’s association representing owners and trainers at both tracks.

Stave might not have to contend with Sensitive on Sunday, as trainer Brad Cox indicated after her Ellis Park Turf win that he might just wait for the $500,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf on Sept. 7. But Valentine Wish, third in the Ellis Park Turf’s mad dash to the wire, is considered probable for Sunday’s stakes.

Jones had taken a conservative approach with Stave, running in a pair of allowance races at Churchill Downs before getting serious about stakes competition.

“She’s doing well, and that was just her third race coming off the long winter layoff,” he said Monday morning at Ellis Park. “She’s about as good as we’re going to be able to get now, so she’s good to go. We’re looking forward to that, and hopefully that will serve as a prep for the Kentucky Downs race.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” Jones said of Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs Preview Day, which is in its second year. “It does get everybody ready for Kentucky Downs. I think they (the tracks) have worked together very well getting this program together. It’s really enticing.”

Entries for Sunday’s racing program will be taken and the fields drawn on Thursday.

(Angaston won the KY Downs’ Franklin-Simpson Stakes last year / Grace Clark Photo & Courtesy of Ellis Park)

Angaston returns to KD Preview Turf Sprint

Trainer Lon Wiggins used Ellis Park’s $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint last year as a means to get Twin Magnolia Farm’s Angaston to Kentucky Downs — but for the Franklin-Simpson for fellow 3-year-olds rather than the Grade 3, Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint against old horses.

Angaston finished sixth, albeit losing by only 2 1/2 lengths, at Ellis Park but accomplished the original objective by taking the $300,000 Franklin-Simpson. This year, Wiggins is using Sunday’s Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint not as a prep or steppingstone but a destination in its own right. Should Angaston win and earn an entry fees-paid spot in the $700,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint on Sept. 7, all the better. But with a pair of thirds in four starts this year, Wiggins’ objective is getting the 4-year-old gelding back in the winner’s circle.

The Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, meaning that winner gets a free roll into the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Kentucky Downs also is offering a $1 million bonus if a horse should win the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, Keeneland’s Woodford Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup.

“The Kentucky Downs race would be great, but he’s got to earn it,” Wiggins said. “Last year it was a straight 3-year-old stakes we were pointing to. This year it’s against older horses, and it’s going to be really, really tough. He’s the same horse, he’s just running against better company.”

Angaston was off from Oct. 6 until Keeneland’s Grade 2 Shakertown on April 6. He finished fifth in a stakes on Kentucky Oaks Day won by the formidable World of Trouble, then fourth in Churchill Downs’ $120,000 Mighty Beau. In his last start, Angaston found himself on the lead of an allowance race before yielding late to check in third.

“He just hasn’t quite been able to put it all together,” Wiggins said. “He did really good at Keeneland, just got a little tired. The next race on Oaks Day against World of Trouble, our only chance to beat him was to lay close to him, and it didn’t work out. He was just too fast. He got slammed real hard at the gate, pinched on both sides and shuffled back, in his next start, and they just kept going on the front end. I kind of drew a line through those races. And I think I’d been training him a little too hard, so I backed off. He ran a great race in the allowance. It was a real tough race. He drew the 1 hole, broke well and was on the lead. He just couldn’t hold them off, but he was like his old self.”

Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. has ridden Angaston in his previous 10 races, including starting off with pair of allowance victories in his first two starts on grass.

“Lon has kind of prepped him for this race,” he said. “I’ve worked him twice now, and he’s worked really well. We changed the bridle on him, so maybe that will help him out a little bit, a few little different things. We’re looking forward to it.”

(Bentley Combs / Coady Photography & Courtesy of Ellis Park)

Combs seeks first stakes victory with Botswana

Trainer Bentley Combs’ association with the gelding Botswana began horribly. He claimed the horse for $30,000 in Botswana’s first career start 10 races ago. When the race was over, Combs owned a horse who had never been in the hunt and struggled home 12th.

“It was probably the most sinking feeling of my life, to be honest,” said Combs, who has been training for 2 1/2 years and is stabled at Churchill Downs’ Trackside trainer center in Louisville. “I put up $30,000, and he finished dead last.”

Fast forward and on Sunday, Botswana could give Combs his first stakes victory in the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Kentucky Turf Cup at Ellis Park. He already has given the young trainer his first appearance in a stakes when, off a third-place finish in a second-level allowance race, Botswana was fourth in the Grade 3, 1 3/16-mile Arlington Handicap at 32-1 odds.

Combs hopes to improve on that effort in the 1 1/4-mile KD Preview Kentucky Turf Cup, where a win would give Botswana an entry fees-paid spot in Kentucky Downs’ $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles on Sept. 7.

After that mortifying beginning, Combs stretched out Botswana and put him on turf, starting with a good second in an Ellis maiden race last summer. Botswana has two wins, a second and two thirds in six grass starts, along with his fourth in the stakes.

“I think the turf course at Ellis plays to his style,” Combs said. “And we get Declan Cannon back. He doesn’t really have a great turf turn of foot, but he likes to be near the front. At Arlington, he missed the break, just kind of feel asleep in the gate. That’s the first time he’s missed the break, and it put us behind the 8-ball. I was really happy with the way he ran, because it wasn’t really his style. He was actually coming from behind and picking up horses

“…. He’s a really steady horse and I think the more distance does him well. He’s improving and eventually you’ve got to figure out how good he is.”

Combs, a graduate of the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program, began training at the end of 2017. He recently shipped Ten Strike Racing’s Lucky Move up to Saratoga, capturing an $80,000 allowance race to give the trainer 14 victories out of 72 career starts for purse earnings of more than $400.000.