(Tejano Twist at Churchill Downs is a top contender for the Gun Runner Stakes / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

From the Fair Grounds Media Team:

Although Christmas will be over, plenty of gifts for the horseplayer remain under the tree for Sunday’s “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day” card at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. There are six stakes to feast upon on the 13-race program, which gets underway at noon CT.

The wagering menu includes a trio of Pick Five wagers, starting in races 1, 7 and 9. The sequence that begins in race seven is an “All Stakes Pick Five” with a $100,000 guaranteed pool.

With no perfect tickets in either early or late Pick Five when last we raced on Monday, the combined carryover of $103,891 landed in Sunday’s late Pick Five, which begins in race 9.

Sunday’s card unveils the inaugural running of the $100,000 Gun Runner and its sister race, the $100,000 Untapable. Both 2-year-old races events are named for Winchell Thoroughbred stars who were trained by Steve Asmussen. Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks points will be awarded to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1).

““If nothing else it shows we are getting old,” Asmussen said with a chuckle. “It’s very exciting for Fair Grounds to have an Untapable and a Gun Runner Stakes. Those two (horses) are great examples of the Winchell program and how successful it has been. I’m just extremely fortunate to have been a part of it.”

With the game’s all-time leading trainer at the helm, it seems only fitting that Winchell Thoroughbreds would send out the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the 1 1/16 miles event in Epicenter.

“It would be very special to win the first running of the Gun Runner,” Asmussen admitted.

Sixth at odds of 13-1 after setting the pace in his career debut at Churchill on September 18, Epicenter looked like a completely different racehorse in his second career start 3 ½ weeks later. Stretched out from seven furlongs to a mile, he battled the lead from post ten, took command late on the backstretch, and drew off to a 3 ½ length win.

“Nice horse, lot of talent,” Asmussen said. “I do believe with Churchill closing (the backstretch) this summer and us training the majority of our fall 2-year-olds at Turfway on synthetic, I didn’t have a great read on him, or a lot of them, for their first runs. I thought his debut was a good race. He showed a little bit of ability and got a lot out of it, but he definitely got tired. He trained impressively off of it and his second race went exactly how we were hoping it and he looked well. That day Joel (rider Rosario) put him in the position to succeed and it will be a lot different going two turns at the Fair Grounds.”

By Not This Time, Epicenter is out of the Candy Ride mare Silent Candy, who was a stakes winning turf router during her career.

“I think two turns is his future,” Asmussen said of Epicenter. “He’s got a nice pace about him and a pretty and sustainable way of traveling. The way he galloped out in his last start. He’s been very consistent in his motion all along and I think two turns is what he wants to do moving forward.

With Brian Hernandez, Jr. calling the shots, Epicenter drew post one for the Gun Runner.

“I like the rail draw for the Fair Grounds,” Asmussen said. “Tight turns. Gun Runner himself had plenty of success from the one-hole at the Fair Grounds. The horse has been away from the gates in both of his races and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t again.”

With three wins and three seconds from eight starts, Tom Durant’s Tejano Twist (3-1 morning line) is the most experienced and accomplished 2-year-old in the Gun Runner field. The impressive, off-the pace winner of the Lively Shively Stakes last out at Churchill Downs, the son of first-crop stallion Practical Joke will test his merits around two turns for the first time on Saturday.

“The timing of this race and the chance to try two turns is perfect for us,” Calhoun said. “That’s absolutely why we are here. I could have gone to the Springboard Mile for four times the money and I think that he would have fit very, very well in there, but at the end of the day it’s time to find out how far this horse can run.”

Regular rider Joe Rocco, Jr. will invade to pilot Tejano Twist from post six.

“Do we need to start looking forward at the Road to the Kentucky Derby races or do we need to back off, freshen him, and make a sprinter out of him, that’s the question he has to answer,” Calhoun said. “Pedigree-wise, on the bottom side, I’m a little bit suspicious. He’s continued to move forward physically and mentally and has become a professional racehorse. With his style, he should be able to settle and relax, which should give him every opportunity to stretch out, if he can physically do it, if he’s got it in him. That’s what we are going to try and find out.”

A winner at first asking over seven furlongs at Churchill Downs on November 19, Frank Fletcher Racing Operations and Ten Strike Racing’s Rocket Dawg will also be asked the two-turn question for the first time by trainer Brad Cox.

“He surprised a little bit with how well he ran [on debut], as easy as he won,” Cox admitted. “We did like him, but thought he might need a race. He did win first time going 7/8s, I thought he did it the right way. He did it with a wide trip. I thought it was a very impressive race. He received a big Rag number. He is going to be up against it a little bit in regards to experience, most of these colts have three or four runs underneath of him. There is one colt (Tejano Twist) that has 8 races underneath him. We’re hoping Dawg can make up in talent what he lacks in experience.”

At 3-1 in the morning line, Rocket Dawg will leave from gate three with Florent Geroux astride.

“In a perfect world I would like to run this horse in a first level allowance, get a foundation underneath him. He does things the right way. He acts like the further the better. We have always thought he was a horse that could stretch (out). He is going give us an opportunity on Sunday. I’m not necessarily thinking he has to win to have a race he can build off of.”

With a post time of 5:06 p.m. CT, the Gun Runner is scheduled as race 11 on the 13-race card. The remainder of the field with post position, jockey/trainer and morning line odds is as follows: Cypress Creek Equine’s Waita Minute Hayes (post 2, Ashley Broussard/Ricky Courville, 8-1 ML), recently disqualified from the win in the Jean Laffitte Stakes at Delta Downs; Mark Stanley and Nancy Stanley’s Surfer Dude (post 4, Reylu Gutierrez/Dallas Stewart, 5-1 ML), a game maiden winner over a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs last out; Michael McLaughlin’s Kevin’s Folly (post 5, James Graham/Tom Amoss, 8-1 ML), third in the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga in early September; and Rich Strike (post 7, Sonny Leon/Eric Reed), claimed for $30K out of a 17 ¼-length maiden breaking win two starts back at Churchill Downs. —  Kristufek

Additional quotes:

Bret Calhoun on Tejano Twist

“The first two times we started him, I was a little disappointed and a little frustrated,” Calhoun said. I thought he was the kind of horse who could win first time out at Keeneland. I was very confident the first time I led him over there. I think he was the best horse that day, he just made some mistakes ad didn’t win. When I led him back over at Churchill I thought pretty much the same thing, that he wouldn’t lose, but again he made some mistakes and got himself beat. Then we castrated him. I didn’t think so at the time, but I must have run him back a little too quick because he ran the worst race of his life the next time out. By this time, but confidence was dropping on him for sure.

“I think the stake at Remington really made me question who he was. He didn’t have any reason to get beat that day and I was kind of disappointed in him and thought well, he’s just not going to be what we had hoped early on. Then he turns around and runs these two monster races, and I think we might have learned a little something about his style that’s helped him a little bit. He chased that day, the horse that was on the front end went on and won and there’s nothing we could have done about it but we chased and I thought we would just inhale him off the turn but he kept running and won. In the next race he got shuffled back, not intentionally, but he got away ok and got in a little bit of trouble and got shuffled back and had to sit and wait and then he just exploded over at Keeneland that day. I think we learned a little something that day. He came back and did the same thing the next time. Some of it has been his mental maturity, learning how to race, and some of it’s been maybe us adjusting his style of racing a little bit. The last race at Churchill to me was maybe even more impressive than a lot of people may think because he settled back off a slow pace and that’s what scared me, that he was so far off that moderate pace and those horses were still running at the end and he ran by them. To do what he did last time made me even more confident in him.”

(Cocktail Moments / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Cocktail Moments Looks to Prove Her Debut Was No Fluke in Untapable

McPeek charge invades from Kentucky to take on experienced route foes

Dixiana Farms and trainer Ken McPeek enjoyed a memorable moment, and perhaps a cocktail or two, after their promising filly ran off the screen on debut during the “Stars of Tomorrow” card at Churchill Downs. Now they can only hope that Cocktail Moments can take the next logical step in the inaugural running of the $100,000 Untapable Stakes over a 1 1/16 miles distance that is foreign to her. Restricted to 2-year-old fillies, the Untapable offers 10-4-2-1 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.

Dismissed at odds of 26-1 on November 27, the 2-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo was an unhurried tenth of 12 in the early stages of her debut. Nearing the turn of the seven furlong contest, she made a bold move while still in hand and was hung six-wide before engulfing her foes in the stretch and drawing off to win by 9 ¼ lengths, leaving the betting public stunned.

“They (the public) never bet me first time out, it’s ok,” McPeek said. “I typically allow a horse to take some dirt in the face. In a way the debut is kind of a schooling race for me.  I’ve had a list of horses in my career that we sent first time out and it blew their mind, so I just don’t like doing that, gunning them away from there. For what, my ego? My win percentage?”

“Some of them win,” McPeek continued. “We’ve had a nice list of first timers this year that won from a little bit off the pace. That helps in their development. It’s worth getting beat on occasion for their long-term development. That’s always been my approach.”

Installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite, she’ll join forces with jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. for her first route try from post 5 of 8 on Sunday.

“I think she’ll handle the route without any trouble,” McPeek said. “She’s still got some learning to do. She acts like she’s got the turn of foot where if she gets in a nice rhythm and kicks on, that should be fine. Eric Heitzmann, my former assistant, is going to saddle him for me. She had a nice maintenance breeze at Fair Grounds on Wednesday. Four weeks after her maiden win, it’s perfect timing for us to be there.”

The unquestioned class of the field is Chris Walsh’s California Angel. Purchased for just $5,500 as an Ocala OPN 2-year-old in training, this daughter of California Chrome has already far exceeded expectations, upsetting the Jessamine (G3) on the Keeneland turf on October 13 at odds of nearly 18-1. She would follow-up finishing 11th of 14 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) at Del Mar, but she was only beaten four lengths by the winner. In her lone dirt start in career start number two of four, California Angel finished a late closing third of 11.

“I’m not worried about the dirt,” trainer Leonard said. “She’ll handle the dirt just fine. I just put her on the grass and it happened she liked the grass but we’re confident she will run well on the dirt.”

Having worn blinkers in all of her previous starts, California Angel will not wear the hood on Sunday. With Marcelino Pedroza, Jr. piloting her for the first time, the 4-1 second choice will leave from post position two.

“She didn’t need them,” Leonard explained. “I think with the blinkers, she was looking around and couldn’t see enough. She’s ready for that. Hopefully she’ll lay closer not as far behind with the blinkers off. She’s maturing and growing a little bit. Nothing I haven’t seen before. She’s still the same. Doing very well. I think she will run really well.”

With a post time of 4:35 p.m. CT, the Untapable is scheduled as race 10 on the 13-race card. The remainder of the field with post position, jockey/trainer and morning line odds is as follows: Columbine Stables’ Fannie and Freddie (post 1, Colby Hernandez/Al Stall, Jr., 9-2 ML), a dominant local maiden winner in her first try last out; Mike Dini’s (owned & trained) Alittleloveandluck (post 3, Jereth Loveberry/Dini, 12-1 ML), a last out maiden winner against Florida-bred company on the Gulfstream Park Tapeta; Elements Racing’s Implosion (post 4, Mitchell Murrill/Steve Margolis, 10-1 ML), the winner of a sales restricted maiden special weight event two starts back at Churchill Downs; Miacomet Farm’s Feeling Happy (post 5, James Graham/James Baker, 8-1 ML), who is 3 for 3 in the money with her lone win coming in a sales restricted maiden special weight sprint at first asking at Churchill Downs in late September; Jeff Ganje and Omar Aldabbagh’s Shotgun Hottie (post 7, Florent Geroux/Tom Amoss, 6-1 ML), a maiden of a sales restricted race in her first try around two turns last out at Churchill Downs; and Rebecca Hillen, Stonecrest Farms and Bruno De Julio’s North County (post 8, Adam Beschizza/Brendan Walsh, 9-2 ML, who is perfect from two starts, both routes, over turf and Indiana and then slop at Keeneland. — Kristufek

(Shared Sense / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

 Shared Sense Eyes Fourth Stakes Win in Tenacious

 Cox charge installed as 5-2 morning line favorite in contentious route event

Somewhat of an afterthought when the top horses in the Brad Cox barn are discussed, the Godolphin homebred Shared Sense has already put together a career that includes a pair of graded stakes scores and nearly $540K in earnings. He’ll look to build on that resume as the 5-2 morning line favorite for Sunday’s $75,000 Tenacious Stakes to be run over 1 1/16 miles.

The winner of both the Indiana Derby (G3) and the Oklahoma Derby (G3) during his sophomore campaign, the 4-year-old ridgling by Street Sense has raced only three times this year. He finished a disappointing fifth in the Shaefer Memorial at Indiana Grand in his seasonal debut this summer, but bounced back with a game win the Tri State at Ellis Park. In his most recent run, he finished a hard-fought third behind his highly decorated stablemate Knicks Go in the Lukas Classic (G3) at Churchill Downs.

“He is a very, very hard trying horse,” Cox said. “I feel like he’s moved forward from age three to four. We’ve always liked him, but to pick up two Grade 3’s at age three, I thought that was a nice achievement.  He’s somewhat lightly raced. It took us a little while to get him back in the swing of things, but once we did, he started running well. The Schaeffer I don’t have an answer for you there on him that day. We loved him that day but he didn’t show up and we kind of hit the reset button with him.”

“We found the right spot for him (in the Tri State) and then I thought he ran a really good race in the Lukas Classic,” Cox continued. “He had a little bit of a setback after that race and we lost a little bit of time, but he has been training well. On a good day he can be a good grade three horse.”

A deep closer earlier in his career, Shared Sense has shown the ability to sit much closer early on in his recent starts.

“He has been able to put himself into the race a little bit more now,” Cox said.  I don’t know if that is him maturing a little bit or what but he definitely doesn’t make it as tough on himself as he used to. He is a pretty basic work horse. His work last week was a really good work and that gives me confidence in him going into this race.”

A maiden winner at Fair Grounds on New Year’s Day 2020, Lloyd Madison Farms IV’s Major Fed would go on to finish second in a division of the Risen Star (G2) and then a better than it looks fourth in the Louisiana Derby (G1). Second behind Shared Sense in the Indiana Derby that year, he would later finish 10th of 15 in the Kentucky Derby, which was run in September. He has two allowance wins from four tries this year, and the long Fair Grounds stretch should work in his favor. At 9-2 in the morning line, trainer Greg Foley will give a leg up to Mitchell Murrill aboard the the 4-year-old son of Ghostzapper who will leave from post two of 10.

With a post time of 3:33 p.m. CT, the Tenacious is scheduled as race 8 on the 13-race card. The remainder of the field with post position, jockey/trainer and morning line odds is as follows: Pravin Patel’s Ebben (post 1, Adam Beschizza/Juan Cano, 12-1 ML), a participant in both the 2018 Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) who was last seen winning a third-level optional claiming allowance over seven furlongs at Churchill; Floyd Sagely Properties and Keith Johnston’s Trident Hit (post 3, David Cabrera/Ron Moquett, 6-1 ML), a four-time winner who finished fourth in the JA Hawk Memorial at Remington Park last out; Gulliver Racing, Craig Drager and Dan Legan’s Pirate’s Punch (post four, Corey Lanerie/Grant Forster, 10-1 ML), a two-time graded stakes winner who finished third in the 2020 edition of the locally run Mineshaft (G3); LTB and Miles Childers’ Warrior in Chief (post six, Marcelino Pedroza, Jr./Bernie Flint, 20-1 ML), a four-time winner who earned black type by finishing a distant third in the mud two starts back in the Salute the Hero at Indiana Grand; Fly P Stable’s Little Menace (post 7, Colby Hernandez/Tom Morley, 10-1 ML), who was claimed for $40,000 out of an authoritative victory over 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs last out; Lothenbach Stables’ Happy American (post nine, James Graham/Neil Pessin, 10-1 ML), the winner of consecutive allowance races in scintillating, off the pace fashion at Churchill Downs; and the Estate of Jim Coleman, Jr.’s Chess Chief (post ten, Reylu Gutierrez/Dallas Stewart, 10-1 ML), the winner of the New Orleans Classic (G2) on March 21.

Frank Calabrese’s Big Dreaming is cross-entered, but he is more likely to run in the Buddy Diliberto Memorial on turf (race nine) for trainer Wayne Catalano. Refer to that advance for quotes and more information. Should he run in the Tenacious, he will leave from post eight with Jereth Loveberry aboard (5-1 ML). — Kristufek

(Summer in Saratoga / Coady Photography & Courtesy of Keeneland)

Summer In Saratoga Fresh Off G3 Win Lures Lanerie for Blushing K. D.

Much of Peluso field returns with new riders, new tactics 

The connections and backers of Bellagamba, Catch a Bid, Curly Ruth, and More Than Unusual exited the Peluso Memorial with more questions than answers. Entering Saturday’s $75,000 Blushing K. D. going 1 1/16 miles over the turf for fillies and mares, the what ifs are written across the past performances.

After letting jockey E.T. Baird walk the dog on Peluso-winner Breeze Rider, what if previous flashers of early speed, Catch a Bid and More Than Unusual, had pressed the issue and sat off the lead? What if late-kickers Curly Ruth and Bellagamba had pace to run into?  What if regular riders for Curly Ruth and More Than Unusual were riding that day?

All fair questions, but with Summer in Saratoga entering, it is likely that they will not find the resolution they had in mind. Winner of the Dowager (G3) last out at Keeneland, Joe Sharp sends out 9-5 morning line favorite Summer in Saratoga for new owners Narola LLC and Anderson Farms Ontario. Six-time winner on the turf, this 5-year-old mare by Hard Spun outmatches her foes in the win column, best recent speed figure, and she exits the classiest race.

“She’s doing great,” trainer Joe Sharp said. “We are going to try to get a little more black type before going to the breeding shed, but as long she stays in good form the new connections are content to race her. She ran the best race of her career last time out.”

On board for all six victories, Corey Lanerie comes in looking to score lucky number seven on a turf course she is proven over, winning the Tom Benson Memorial last March. Summer in Saratoga will break from the rail.

“Corey Lanerie has always fit her like a glove so we’re excited to have him in town to ride her,” Sharp said. “Corey is no stranger to inside success, and she has shown affinity for the turf course here when she won with Irad off the layoff last year [in the Tom Benson Memorial]. She is a filly that always runs well fresh. She’s training forward and I expect a big race out of her.”

Sharp ran cross-entrant Apple Dapple this last Sunday, so she will be scratched.

After finishing a dull 9th last out in the Peluso, Sharp also sends out stakes-winner Catch a Bid (post 7, 10-1 morning line). Switching riders from Deshawn Parker to Brian Hernandez Jr, Sharp also has different tactics in mind for this four-time winner owned by Highlander Training Center.

“Last time she was in a great position. Deshawn worked out a great tip on her from the outside post. Turning for home she kind of just emptied out on us,” Sharp said. “There’s not a ton of speed in the race and she has shown the affinity to run well close to the pace so we might try to be a little more forward with her this time.”

Catch a Bid is not the only horse with a new rider. Ridden by Declan Carroll last out, 9-2 morning line shot Curly Ruth gets regular rider Adam Beschizza back up, who was still riding at Churchill Downs when she ran here last. Heavily compromised by the slow pace Breeze Rider got away with out front in the Peluso, this Curlin 4-year old, trained by Eddie Kenneally and owned by Green Lantern Stables LLC, should appreciate the pace set-up early runners Lady Fatima (post 5, 30-1 morning line, jockey Declan Carroll) and Advocating (post 6, 8-1 morning line, jockey Mitchell Murrill) will likely set up for her.

So too, More Than Unusual (post 3, 4-1 morning line). Brad Cox’s 4-year old owned by Martin S Schwartz usually employs her gate speed to break sharp, stay close, and weather the homestretch, but in the Peluso, jockey Marcelino Pedroza Jr misjudged the fractions and left her with too much to do at the end. Back in New Orleans for the December 26 and 27 cards, regular rider Florent Geroux will take the mount.

Trainer Ignacio Correas has gotten the Argetinian-bread Bellagamba in great form since transferring into his barn at the beginning of 2021. Second favorite at 7/2 morning line, this Merriebelle Stable LLC owned 4-year old filly was third in the Peluso by one length last out and second to More Than Unusual by ½ a length in a Keeneland second-level allowance the time before on October 27. James Graham keeps the mount after overcoming the slow fractions last time to still close with a fury. If given pace to run into, Graham will only need to work out the trip to give Bellagamba’s late kick her first stateside victory.

Post Time is 2:00 pm CT. The Blushing KD is race 5 of a 13 race Road to the Kickoff Derby card. — Kilroy

 

Additional Quotes:

Joe Sharp on Summer in Saratoga

“We sold her at the November sale and the new owner Dave Andersen Andersen farms and partners purchased her and called and offered to send her back to us to train,” Sharp said. “We were very fortunate to have the run with her at the Highlander and then to get her back for the new owner was icing on the cake so we would like to be able to do some good for them. We had her entered in the Grade 2 at Aqueduct and she acted up a little bit in the paddock, got scratched in the paddock but was fine. We went ahead and shipped her down here after that. She’s had a couple nice works here.”

(Just Might / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Just Might Returns to Turf to Take on Comebacking Manny Wah in Richie Scherer Memorial

Plenty of speed signed on in turf dash

If you saw the race, there’s no way you’ve forgotten Manny Wah’s first time on turf. Last with a half furlong to go in January’s Duncan F. Kenner Stakes, Miguel Mena sent Susan Moulton’s 12.80-1 Manny Wah flying by six foes, the last of which was hard-used dueler, Just Might. Visually stunning, the only questions in people’s minds were — why hadn’t this 2019 Triple Crown nominee tried turf before and when would he get back on this surface. Wait no longer, the 16th renewal of the Richard R. Scherer Memorial $75,000 Stakes turf sprint is here.

Just Might was there for Manny Wah’s next attempt in the Colonel Power last February but that day was rained off the turf, and Just Might held court again on the lead to win. Since then, 2-1 morning line favorite Just Might has won five out his last eight, including two stakes on the turf.

“He’s won a lot of stakes on the turf and he likes this turf course,” Lovell said. “He’s doing awesome so I thought we ought to give it a try. Hopefully he shows up like he has been, you know he’s been so honest, and it’s a nice race. He’s been super. My horse is doing super. I pray for a great race and a safe one.”

Thanksgiving Classic romper Just Might’s last four races have been on dirt. He won three of those, and was severely compromised in the Phoenix (G2) at Keeneland when he suffered a severe quarter crack. Back on turf where he has 4 wins out of 21 turf sprint tries, Just Might breaks from post 5 with Colby Hernandez back aboard. This 5-year old gelding owned by Michelle Lovell and Griffon Farms seems at the top of his game.

Manny Wah (post 8, 9/2 morning line, jockey Core Lanerie) has been on the shelf. But he’s back, and this feisty bay 5-year old looks to come with the late kick to win again.

“That was a very explosive move he made when we ran him on the turf here the last time,” Manny Wah’s trainer Wayne Catalno said. “He’s everybody’s favorite horse. It’s nice having him back. We’re really happy with him being back in action. He had a few minor things going on, some bone bruising, he just needed plenty of time. Our goal now is to get him ready for the Breeders’ Cup this year. He could have won it last year.”

Finishing third in the Thanksgiving Classic to Just Might, Al Stall Jr’s Pyron (8-1 morning line) earned a 96 Bris speed figure last out–only 4 points shy of Just Might’s 100. Declan Carroll keeps the mount on this versatile runner who has 0 wins out of 3 starts on the grass but is making his first start on turf as a much improved 5-year old. Pyron will be coming late.

Mark Casse sends Lucky Curlin (8-1 morning line) out from post number 3. He scored his best Bris speed figure in his one win on the turf, where came running from behind at 7 furlongs against first-level optional claimers at Woodbine. Florent Geroux takes the mount on this 4-year old who has finished second twice against graded stakes company.

The rest of the field has early speed.

Steve Asmussen’s Grinning Tiger (8-1 morning line, jockey Adam Bescizza) is another horse that shocked-and-awed when trying something new. In the $100k Crystal Waters on June 6, 2020 at Santa Anita, this seven-time dirt winner wired the field going 1 mile on the turf at odds of 92.00-1, holding off graded stakes star Lieutenant Dan. Breaking from the rail, front-runner Grinning Tiger is in deep against this field but seems to be in form after scoring his first turf sprint win while being put up for a $40k tag against first-level optional claimers at Remington Park.

Breaking from the 4-hole, The Connecter (6-1 morning line) will attempt to win his fourth turf sprint with Angel Suarez up. He will be making his second start for trainer Darien Rodriguez after finishing third in the $90k Metzen Memorial on December 4th at Gulfstream.

Turf sprint stakes winner Firecrow (post 7, 5-1 morning line, jockey Reylu Gutierrez,) has proven he can win on the lead or just off it for trainer Ronald Moquett.

And just outside of Manny Wah, turf sprint specialist Field Day makes his first start since finishing third in the Dade Park Dash at Ellis Park on July 4th, 2021. Breaking from post 9, Brian Hernandez Jr will likely send this 10-1 morning line front runner.

After a game defeat to Midnight Tea Time in last Saturday’s third-level optional claimer at Fair Grounds, Juan Cano’s Mr. Hustle will scratch.

Post Time is 3:02 pm CT. The Richard R. Scherer Memorial is race 7 of a 13 race Road to the Derby Kickoff Day card. — Kilroy

 

Additional quotes:

Wayne Catalano on Manny Wah

“I’m going to let the horse talk to me. We are going to run the horse. We are going to see how he runs. How he comes out of it. Then we are going to make the move from there. Going into the 2020 Breeders’ Cup, we didn’t know if we were going to run him on the turf or the dirt. The owner Susan (Moulton) and I decided on the dirt, and with the right trip, he would have won. The way the race unfolded, if the kid didn’t move off the rail, the way the race set up, he wins. The way I look at it, I could have won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint two years in a row, but the best horse don’t always win.”

 

Another Mystery Eyes Another Stakes Score Against Similar Company in Diliberto Memorial

Spooky Channel & Hierarchy likely scratches, Big Dreaming on the fence, but Midnight Tea Time returns on short rest

Like a running back following the fullback through the traffic until he can get around him for the score, Jareth Loveberry rode Another Mystery behind Pixelate until angling out and passing at the finish line of the Bob F. Wright Memorial here at Fair Grounds on November 27th. It was a brilliant ride, one that left Pixelate’s jockey Angel Suarez wondering what he did wrong. Nothing, and he gets the mount again in the 16th running of $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Stakes. Going 1 1/16 miles on the turf, the same as the Wright, Suarez will surely be wondering who is behind him, but J-Love surely has another trick up his sleeve to guide Team Block bred, owned, and trained Another Mystery in for the win.

“[In the Wright Memorial] we found ourselves tracking behind Pixelate,” trainer Chris Block said. “Sometimes a rider can get caught when they try to track a horse that doesn’t go on and they get stuck, but most cases when a horse like Pixelate hits the top of the stretch it’s gonna be carrying on forward. So that was a good move by Jareth to select that spot and save some grounds through the far turn. There’s more than Pixelate in there this time around.  I don’t know if there is just one horse you can pick out and track him behind.”

Consistently knocking on the door of a G3 victory, 5-year old horse Another Mystery (post 6, 8-1 morning line) has two stakes victories under his belt. A bay closer with a magnificent stride, the key to winning is building the rhythm and momentum down the homestretch.

“The thing with Another Mystery is you can’t get him stopped,” Block said. “He’s one of the horses that you build up his steam and get him going and you need to keep that going because even just a steady will cause him to have to stop and restart again. That’s not good for him, his style. So I think if Jareth can find a good trip through there and then point him to an open spot when they come off that quarter pole that will hopefully give him his best shot to run his race.”

Considered more possible for the Diliberto at the time of publishing, trainer Wayne Catalano is undecided about his big chestnut, Big Dreaming (post 5, 8-1 morning line, jockey Colby Hernandez) who is cross-entered for Sunday’s Tenacious which is run on the dirt. Winner of a second level optional claimer at Turfway Park last out, that makes the trifecta for a win on all surfaces for this 4-year old colt by Declaration of War and out of Dreaming of Anna.

“This is the last baby by Dreaming of Anna,” Catalano said. “I asked Mr. Frank [owner Calabrese] when this horse was a little bitty baby getting ready to get broke if he would let me train him. At the end of the day, he let me have the horse. It brings back a lot of memories and the connection with Dreaming of Anna, who was my first Breeders’ Cup winner. It’s just beautiful.”

Jason Barkley reports that morning line second-favorite Spooky Channel suffered a setback after working out last week and will scratch.

Son of beloved, longtime New Orleans sportswriter Buddy Diliberto for whom the race is named, Morning line odds maker Mike Diliberto gives the edge to Pixelate at 7/2. Drawing outside in post 11, this colt by City Zip has earned over $1.1 million over 22 starts for owner Godolphin. Trained by one of our sports best, Michael Stidham, Pixelate is a multiple graded stakes winner with only one recent blemish due to a bad trip in the Keeneland Turf Mile (G1) two back on October 9, 2021.

That’s not the only returning foe from the Wright Memorial. The entire superfecta returns–third-place finisher Monarchs Glen and fourth-place finisher Forty Under–along with 6th-place finisher Logical Myth.

Winner of this race last year, Joe Sharp’s Logical Myth (8-1 morning line) is a horse for course who demands respect, winning five out of nine here at Fair Grounds. Breaking from post 3, Sharp returns to Adam Beschizza who has ridden this 5-year old gelding 7 times, always finishing in the money.

“We opted to give him a full 60 days turn out at my farm,” Sharp said. “Rosie [Sharp’s wife Napravnik] got him laid back up and then sent him in to us and he was doing great. He was in a good position last time, he didn’t stop trying he just ran out of gas. Visually it looked to me like he never got to take a deep breath and was probably a touch sharp coming off the layoff. I think all of that combined and he was just a little empty inside the ⅛ pole. But he has had 2 great works since. Adam [Beschizza] worked him the other day getting reacquainted with him and he worked super. I think we will see the old Logical Myth of last year on Sunday.”

Sharp also sends out Midnight Tea Time. After winning an $80k optional claimer at Fair Grounds on Saturday December 18, the ultra consistent 6-year old gelding by Midnight Lute will return on just eight days rest. Beshizza rode the victory that day but opts for Logical Myth. 10-1 on the morning line, Deshawn Parker will ride from post 9.

“He came out of it super and he is going to the January sale so this is probably going to be our last opportunity with him,” Sharp said. “He’s a happy horse right now so the owner wants to take a chance and put him back in there.”

Sharp’s third entry, Hierarchy, will scratch after running in third in the same race as Midnight Tea Time.

Michael Maker’s entries frame the field: Monarch’s Glen draws post 1 and Forty Under draws the far outside post 12. Maker’s deep closer, Monarch’s Glen (8-1 MORNING LINE) ran well for third last time out in the Wright Memorial. Stakes winner in Great Britain and stateside, first-time rider Marcelino Pedroza Jr will guide this 7-year-old gelding with 33 career starts. David Cabrera also rides his Maker-mount for the first time as front-runner Forty Under (15-1) will try to bounce out and cut across the likely 8 runners to his inside.

Filling out the field: (post 4, 12-1 morning line, jockey Reylu Gutierrez) Steve Asmussen-trained Halo Again tries turf for the first time; Dallas Stewart’s sharp 4-year old pacesetter Cavalry Charge returns off an eleven-week layoff (post 7, 12-1 morning line, jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.); and Tom Morley’s recent $40k claim Artie’s Rumor (post 8, 15-1 morning line, jockey Mitchell Murrill) goes for his second stakes victory and his 6th win at this distance on the turf out of 12 tries.

Post Time is 4:04 pm CT. The Buddy Diliberto Memorial Stakes is race 9 of a 13 race Road to the Kickoff Derby card. — Kilroy

 

Additional quotes:

Chris Block on Another Mystery

“I’ve always felt good with Jareth,” Trainer Chris Block said. “I think he is a good rider, a smart rider. He’s patient, he knows pace, and he seems to keep a horse out of trouble. If you give him enough horse he can get you some good results.”

Wayne Catalano on Big Dreaming

“That’s a very good question cause, I’m not sure (when asked Big Dreaming’s best surface and distance). He’s ran a big figure on the turf the other day, he kind of bounced between the numbers on the Poly when he looked good the other day. He’s also has a hell of a dirt number. I’ll see which race is the easiest. I’ll have him ready to run in one of them. I’d rather have him do well on the dirt but it ain’t like this is the last race. We still got dirt down the road. Right now, it’s about winning. Frank (owner Calabrese) is 93 years old. He wants to win, he doesn’t want to hear about next time. He (Big Dreaming) is going to make a great stallion with that pedigree. Just look at him, he’s a monster.”