Ellis Park’s Best Card Ever? Wait To See Today

(Bigger Picture winning at the Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

From the Ellis Park Media Team:

A total of 52 horses were entered Thursday for the five $100,000 turf stakes that make up Sunday’s Kentucky Downs Preview Day at Ellis Park. An all-turf stakes Pick 5, which is a 50-cent wager, will be held on races 6 through 10.

“I don’t think I’m overstating it to say this is the best card in the history of Ellis Park,” said Ellis Park general manager Jeff Hall, who has worked for every track owner dating back to the estate of James C. Ellis. “I can’t praise enough our horsemen and racing office for putting this phenomenal card together. Making it possible is our relationship with Kentucky Downs, and the vision of our horsemen and the racing commission to see what we can accomplish by working together. The weather should be spectacular and we look forward to one of our best days ever.”

Sunday’s first race is at 12:50 p.m. Central, with the sixth race kicking off the stakes at 3:10 p.m. Admission and parking are free.

Kentucky Downs Preview Day is funded with purse money and Kentucky-bred purse supplements generated at Kentucky Downs and transferred to Ellis Park in an agreement with the tracks’ owners and trainers association, the Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association. Each stakes includes $25,000 from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund that augments purses for horses born in the state and sired by Kentucky stallions. That transfer was approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission upon the recommendation of its KTDF advisory committee.

“All the parts came together the past two years to put together Kentucky Downs Preview Day,” Bork said. “We are so thankful to the Kentucky horsemen for stepping up to the plate to support Ellis Park and the efforts being made by a lot of people to find new ways to further push the Kentucky circuit upward. Sunday is one of the results.”

Here’s a quick look at the five grass stakes:

Race 6 (3:10 p.m. CT) — $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Sprint, fillies & mares, 5 1/2 furlongs: Stakes-winning Surrender Now, part of California trainer Peter Miller’s Kentucky division as he expands his operation, is the 8-5 favorite in Jimmy McNerney’s morning line and the one to catch in the field of nine and comes into the stakes off a front-running allowance victory at Ellis Park. The Joe Sharp-trained Coexistence has won three of her last four starts. May Lily always runs well at Ellis Park for trainer Greg Foley.

Mr. Misunderstood winning last year's Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile. Coady Photography
Mr. Misunderstood winning last year’s Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile. Coady Photography

Race 7 (3:40 p.m. CT) — $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile, 3-year-olds & up, mile: Mr. Misunderstood, last year’s winner at 4-5 odds, is back and the 2-1 favorite in the morning line. Whereas he came into the 2018 race off victory in Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Wise Dan, this go-round he was third in an allowance race in his only start since winning Churchill’s Grade 3 River City last Nov. 17. He’s clearly the class of the 11-horse field, with an 11-for-17 record and more than $750,000 in earnings since being put on turf by trainer Brad Cox and owner Staton Flurry. Hot Springs tries to regain the form that saw him sweep Churchill Downs’ Jefferson Cup and Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf last fall. Cullum Road was second by a head in last year’s Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs, dropping the photo to Saratoga’s recent Grade 2 Bowling Green winner Channel Cat. Trainer Kenny McPeek entered the Brazilian-bred Flight Time, who is 5 for 5, including a Grade 1 in his homeland. He makes both his U.S. debut and his first start since March, 2018.

Jazzy Times (#5) winning last year's Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint. Coady Photography
Jazzy Times (#5) winning last year’s Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint. Coady Photography

Race 8 (4:10 p.m. CT) — $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint, 3-year-olds and up, 5 1/2 furlongs: This field of 11 is very deep, including the Grade 1-placed Mr. Crow and Kentucky Downs’ 2018 Franklin-Simpson winner Angaston. Jazzy Times returns to try to repeat last year’s victory in the race, after which he sustained a setback preparing for the Kentucky Downs stakes and was sidelined for eight months. He’s 0 for 4 this year but adds blinkers, in which he had a sensational work at Churchill Downs. The fast-closing Totally Boss, a nose from bringing in a three-race win streak, can stamp himself among the Midwest’s top turf sprinters if the Rusty Arnold-trained 4-year-old gelding earns his first stakes victory here. The tepid 3-1 favorite in a terrific betting race, Totally Boss will be running at the end under Florent Geroux. The Peter Miller-trained Conquest Tsunami, whose five stakes victories include Santa Anita’s Grade 3 Daytona last year, will try to regain the form that has seen him win nine races, with another nine seconds and thirds. Florida invader Mr French could become the latest stakes-winner to come out of a $16,000 claiming race at Gulfstream Park, joining Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security and Ohio Derby runner-up Math Wizard. He’s 8 for 20 and in good form.

Race 9 (4:40 p.m. CT) — $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, fillies & mares, mile: Stave and Valentine Wish are back after finishing second and third in the three-horse photo for the Ellis Park Turf, as is Kallio, who was another half-length back in fourth. The graded stakes-placed Classy Act returns to grass for the first time since she impressively won a maiden race in her only prior turf attempt. Smart Shot, fifth in the EP Turf while trying to close into a dawdling pace, was unlucky not to win the Grade 3 Mint Julep at Churchill the race before. The lukewarm favorite at 3-1 is the stakes-placed and consistent Hanalei Moon, who will be flying at the end in the field of 10 for trainer Mark Casse. Smart Emma appreciated the return to turf in her last start, a four-length victory in a third-level allowance race in which Stave was second.

Race 10 (5:10 p.m. CT) — $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Kentucky Turf Cup, 3-year-olds & up, 1 1/4 miles: The field of 11 older horses is headlined by Three Diamonds Farm’s Mike Maker-trained Bigger Picture, winner of the Grade 1 United Nations in 2017 and a close fourth in that race this year after taking Keeneland’s Grade 2 Sycamore. The 8-year-old gelding has won 13 races and earned $1.6 million, including finishing a close second in last year’s Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup. He was scratched out of last week’s Grade 2 Bowling Green at Saratoga for this spot, for which he is the 2-1 morning-line favorite. Others include 2018 San Juan Capistrano winner Nessy, a close third in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Louisville Stakes in his last start; 2018 Louisville winner Vettori Kin; Manitoulin, winner of Del Mar’s Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup in 2017; My Boy Jack, last year’s Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington winner on dirt and fifth in the 2018 Kentucky Derby; multiple stakes-winner Hello Don Julio; Arrocha, making his first start for trainer Brad Cox and a multiple Grade 1 winner in his native Brazil; and the Cox-trained Factor This, a front-running turf second-level allowance winner at Ellis in his last start.

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds

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