|Sunday’s Grade 3 West Virginia Derby winner Red Route One is expected to make his next start in the $1 million National Thoroughbred League Dueling Grounds Derby on Sept. 3 at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.
In this case, the dirt-to-turf makes a lot of sense and cents — more accurately, big bucks. The Steve Asmussen-trained Red Route One actually began his career with a victory over the Kentucky Downs grass last year, after which he headed to the dirt to pursue the spring classics for 3-year-olds. The other thing: Red Route One is owned by Ron Winchell, co-managing partner with Marc Falcone in Kentucky Downs and its sister The Mint Gaming Hall properties.
“I think since he had been successful there last year, we have always had our eye on Kentucky Downs to bring him back and run him this year,” said David Fiske, the longtime racing and bloodstock manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds. “Because he was successful and because the purses are what they are. We were hoping to get him into the richest race that made sense, and after winning (the $500,000 West Virginia Derby), the Dueling Grounds Derby looks like a real possibility.”
There’s also the idea that 1 5/16 miles might be right up Red Route One’s alley.
“It seems like all year long, he’s been dropping out the back and the makes a big run, which is kind of like how a lot of turf races are run,” Fiske said. “Slow early and fast late. Sometimes if there is enough pace in front of you and you can get there and sometimes you don’t.”
Red Route One is a son of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, co-owned by Winchell with Three Chimneys Farm, where he’s a record-setting stallion. Red Route One also comes from a long and highly successful female family of Winchell-bred horses that includes 2014 Kentucky Oaks, Breeders’ Cup Distaff and champion 3-year-old filly winner Untapable. There’s a fair amount of turf in that family. RR1’s second dam, Fun House, was a Grade 2 winner on grass who was sired by 1989 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Prized. (She also is the dam of Untapable.) Also in the pedigree is Grade 1 turf winner Paddy O’ Prado. Gun Runner himself is out of a mare sired by six-time Group 1 turf winner Giants Causeway.
“I think he was just ready to run, and $150,000 maiden race, why not?” Fiske said of starting Red Route One out on grass. “And there is some grass form in the family, so let’s go see.”
With his West Virginia Derby victory, Red Route One became a millionaire. Now a graded-stakes winner, he also was second in Oaklawn Park’s Grade 2 Rebel and Grade 3 Southwest, as well as fourth in the Preakness Stakes after winning Oaklawn’s listed Bath House Row Stakes. Off his Kentucky Downs victory last year, RR1 was third in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity won by champion Forte.
Cogburn expected to point to $1M Ainsworth Turf Sprint
Another Asmussen-trained graded-stakes winner from last weekend also is likely headed to Kentucky Downs. That’s Saratoga’s Grade 3, $300,000 Troy Stakes winner Cogburn, ridden to victory by Ricardo Santana for owners Clark Brewster and Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt. The Kentucky Downs race would be the $1 million, Grade 2 Ainsworth Turf Sprint, a six-furlong race on Sept. 9 whose winner earns a fees-paid spot in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) Nov. 4 at Santa Anita Park.
While graded-stakes placed on dirt, Cogburn is unbeaten since Asmussen put him on turf three races ago, a streak that started with a pair of stakes at Lone Star Park. He now has won over very firm and soft turf. Finishing fourth at 1-2 odds was 2022 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Caravel.
“I think obviously he has excelled on the turf, being undefeated, and gave me a great feel today,” Asmussen told Saratoga’s publicity team after the race. “We put him on the turf, honestly, because he wasn’t performing as well as he trained on the dirt. He would run solid, but not as special as he seemed training.
“… I feel great to beat the field that we did and now we can think big. We hopefully have a Breeders’ Cup horse. We have had one Turf Sprint winner in the past (2011 winner Regally Ready, who won Kentucky Downs’ mile turf stakes three years later), so hopefully we have another one. We had planned on running here and then Kentucky Downs, but we’ll see how we come out of this and figure out what we should do.”