(Red Route One winning a Kentucky Downs maiden race last year. Grace Clark photo)
The horse Red Route One’s name is a reference to the Tom Clancy classic Soviet spy thriller Hunt for Red October. In the case of Red Route One, his path isn’t much of a mystery. He’s following the money.
Call it Hunt for Green September, as Red Route One returns to grass and Kentucky Downs – the site of his first victory – for Sunday’s $1 million, Grade 3 National Thoroughbred League Dueling Grounds Derby at 1 5/16 miles.
Red Route One comes into the Dueling Grounds Derby off the best race in his career, closing from far back to win the $500,000 West Virginia Derby by three lengths. Cristian Torres has the return mount as Red Route One seeks improve upon his record of 3-2-1 in 12 starts, along with $1,045,025.
How long has the Dueling Grounds Derby been in the works?
“Since he broke his maiden last year,” said Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, referencing a three-length victory last Sept. 5 in Red Route One’s second start. “He’s a very athletic horse. We liked him. He was a horse that obviously needed a distance of ground from the beginning, and our opportunities to run him two turns were on the turf. That was how it all started. He’s a very good horse, and that’s how he ended up here.”
Owned by Kentucky Downs and The Mint Gaming Hall co-managing partner Ron Winchell, Red Route One is in a field of a dozen 3-year-olds entered Tuesday for the Dueling Grounds Derby. A total of thirteen 3-year-old fillies entered the co-featured $1 million Dueling Grounds Oaks. Both the DG Derby and Oaks including $400,000 in Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund purse supplements for Kentucky-bred horses. The 12-race card also includes the $500,000 National Thoroughbred League Handicap, which includes $200,000 of KTDF money.
After his turf debut, Red Route One went back to the dirt and finished third in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity. If he didn’t do quite enough to get into the Kentucky Derby, his victory in Oaklawn Park’s ungraded Bath House Row Stakes got him a free spot in the Preakness, in which he was fourth. After being well-beaten in the Belmont Stakes, Red Route One took a path with less resistance and won the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park.
“His versatility has allowed both,” Asmussen said of running well on dirt and turf. “But his ability has made that money.”
Red Route One is a son of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, co-owned by Winchell and Three Chimneys Farm, and is part of the supporting cast on the stallion’s unprecedented start as a sire. Gun Runner had a huge day Saturday at Saratoga with his daughter and 2-year-old filly champion Echo Zulu taking the Grade 1 Ballerina, his son Gunite taking the Grade 1 Forego and Disarm finishing second by a length in the $1.25 million Travers (G1) to become a millionaire.
Since his first crop hit the track two years ago, Gun Runner already has sired six horses that have won $1 million races. Red Route One is gunning to be his first to win a $1 million race on turf.
Todd Pletcher entered Grade 1 Belmont Derby winner Far Bridge, who was most recently third in the Grade 1 Saratoga Derby, along with Clever Thought.
Brian Lynch sends out Highway Robber and Anglophile, who finished second and third in a tight three-way photo in Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs Preview Dueling Grounds Derby. Other entrants: Saratoga Derby fourth-place finisher Battle of Normandy, California stakes-winner Wizard of Westwood, Delaware Park’s Kent winner Really Good, Desert Duke, Lion of War, Just a Photo and Out of Deductions.
The Eddie Kenneally-trained Safeen heads the Dueling Grounds Oaks, coming into the 1 5/16-mile race off victory in the Grade 3 Pucker Up at Ellis Park.
Jonathan Thomas is running Santa Anita’s Grade 3 Honeymoon winner Selenaia. Prominent Canadian trainer Kevin Attard is bringing in Woodbine’s Grade 1 Natalma winner Last Call and maiden-winner MilagreDoSol. Joe Sharp entered Ohio stakes-winner Soft Talk, Saratoga maiden winner. Others: Pucker Up third-place finisher Freydis the Red, Grade 3-placed Mrs. Astor, Bourbonette Oaks runner-up Flashy Gem, Allamericanbeauty, Sabalenka and Sun Bee. Louisiana-based Dashyns Dream needs a scratch in order to run.
The $500,000 NTL Handicap at a mile attracted a field of 10 older horses, including millionaire Field Pass, multiple stakes-winner King Cause, 2022 Kentucky Downs allowance winner Time for Trouble, multiple stakes-winner Fuerteventura and 2021 Dueling Grounds Derby winner Accredit.
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