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Ahh Chocolate Gets First Graded Stakes Win in Grade II Falls City ‘Cap on Thanksgiving Day

Reed Palmer Photography

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015) – Stoneway Farm’s homebred 3-year-old filly Ahh Chocolate rated patiently in second before taking command in the stretch and drew away to win the 100th running of the $200,000 Falls City Handicap Presented by TwinSpires.com (Grade II) on Thanksgiving Day at Churchill Downs by 1 ½ lengths over Theogony.

Ahh Chocolate, trained by Neil Howard and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., ran 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in 1:49.68 – the fastest Falls City renewal since Allamerican Bertie clocked 1:49.60 in 2002. It was the first graded stakes win of Ahh Chocolate’s career.

“She’s been a nice filly,” said Howard, who won the 1998 Falls City Handicap with Tomisue’s Delight. “She may have not won every time but she’s always given us 100 percent. …  We’ve always thought highly of her and … she’s going to be a lot better with age.”

Ahh Chocolate, a runner-up in the Grade II Chilukki on Nov. 1, and Theogony tracked pacesetter Gambles Rose, who led the field of nine fillies and mares through early fractions of :24.12, :48.31 and 1:12.77. Hernandez moved Ahh Chocolate wide on the final turn, took the lead at the head of the lane and never looked back as the runner-up chased the winner.

“We got a great spot around the backside and from there we were on the best horse,” Hernandez said.

Third in the Black-Eyed Susan (GII) on the day before the Preakness at Pimlico, Ahh Chocolate was subsequently fourth in the Indiana Oaks (GII) and 10th in the Arlington Park’s Pucker Up (GIII) on turf. Howard gave the filly a brief freshening and she returned in September with a trio of one-turn races, including a 4 ½-length defeat but runner-up effort in the Chilukki.

“She always looked like she was going to get the two turns but Neil did the right thing by going back to a one-turn mile last time,” Hernandez said. “It sharpened her up for this race today.”

Ahh Chocolate, who carried 115 pounds during the victory, is a Kentucky-bred 3-year-old daughter of Candy Rode (ARG) out of the Saint Liam mare Ahh. The victory was worth $119,040 to her owner/breeder Jim Stone and brought Ahh Chocolate’s career earnings to $119,040 from four wins, one second and one third in nine career starts.

Ahh Chocolate returned $14.20, $7 and $4.20 as the 6-1 third betting choice. Thegony, who carried 117 pounds under Julien Leparoux in her first race on dirt, returned $12 and $7 in finishing one length in front of Call Pat, who paid $4 to show under Joe Rocco Jr. while carrying 117 pounds.

Birdatthewire, the 2-1 favorite and 118-pound starting high weight, was another three lengths back in fourth and was followed by Pretty Fancy, No Fault of Mine, Salama, Gamblers Rose and Montana Native.

The race was marred by a fatal fracture to 3-year-old filly Chide’s left front leg just before the field hit the top of the stretch. Her jockey Miguel Mena was unseated but was reported to be “okay” and returned to the jockey’s room.

Two of the top choices on the morning line – Frivolous (tendon) and Tiz So Sweet (fever) were scratched Thursday afternoon. Needmore Flattery was scratched early Thursday morning.

The Falls City is the traditional main dish on the Thanksgiving Day menu at Churchill Downs – a Louisville tradition since 1969 where more than 7,000 turkey dinners are served with all the trimmings, making it the largest number anywhere in the region.

This year’s holiday program also included the 38th running of the $100,000 River City Handicap (GIII), a 1 1/8-mile test for older horses over the Matt Winn Turf Course, which was won by Terry Hamilton’s Heart to Heart.

Racing resumes on “Black Friday” with a 12-race program that begins at 12:40 p.m. (all times Eastern). The 142nd running of the $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) highlights a program that also includes the $100,000 Commonwealth Turf (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course and the $80,000-added Dream Supreme Overnight Stakes for fillies and mares at six furlongs. Also, there’s a 13-day Single 6 Jackpot carryover of $172,006 that covers Races 7-12.

HEART TO HEART LEADS EVERY STEP OF THE WAY IN GRADE III RIVER CITY HANDICAP FOR THIRD STAKES WIN AT CHURCHILL DOWNS

Terry Hamilton’s Heart to Heart led every step of the way in Saturday’s 38th running of the $100,000 River City Handicap (Grade III) at Churchill Downs and beat Thatcher Street by two lengths.

Trained by Brian Lynch and ridden by Julien Leparoux, Heart to Heart covered the 1 1/8 miles over a Matt Winn Turf Course rated as “good” in 1:52.16 – the slowest of 26 runnings of the race at the distance on grass.

Heart to Heart, who sports distinctive heart-shaped star on his forehead, broke alertly from post three and rattled off comfortable fractions of :24.43, :48.86, 1:13.55 and 1:38.76 without pressure at any stage of the race. He drew clear in the stretch and held Thatcher Street at bay after the runner-up chased the pacesetter from fourth down the backstretch before making a brief bid in the stretch.

“That’s how he likes to run – free and on the lead,” said Leparoux, who also rode last year’s River City winner, Villandry. “I knew that I was the only speed … I was just hoping he would keep his lead the whole way through and he did.”

The victory was worth $60,140 to the 4-year-old Canadian-bred son of English Channel and increased his earnings to $516,780 with his seventh win in 18 starts.

It was his third stakes win over as many starts at Churchill Downs. He was victorious 2014 renewals of the Jefferson Cup (GIII) and Commonwealth Turf (GIII), which were restricted to 3-year-olds.

“He’s a tough little bugger when they leave him alone on the lead,” Lynch said via telephone. “This was a nice little win coming back against older horses this time. The big question mark was could he get the mile-and-an-eighth and he did. We’ve been patient with him all year; he seems to like running fresh. He seems to like the track at Churchill so we’ll point to some of the races there in the summer. For the winter, we’ll take him down to Palm Meadows and more or less target races like the Woodford Reserve [Turf Classic].”

Heart to Heart, who carried the 121-pound, returned mutuels of $5.20, $3.60 and $3.60 as the 8-5 second betting choice in the field of eight older horses. Thatcher Street, ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr. at 115 pounds, returned $6.20 and $4.40. Perfect Title was another three lengths back in third under Ricardo Santana Jr. and 115 pounds, and paid $6.80 to show.

Dac, 4-5 favorite Messi (GER), Kalamos, Gabriel’s Cat and Knights Nation completed the order of finish. Are You Kidding Me was scratched.

Favored Messi (GER) was unhurried in the early stages of the race and never challenged the winner.

“He did not get his feet out of the ground all right,” jockey John Velazquez said. “He could not get them out of it, for whatever reason. It was a little too soft for him.”

FALLS CITY QUOTES

NEIL HOWARD, trainer of AHH CHOCOLATE (winner): “She’s been a nice filly; you can ask Brian [Hernandez Jr.]. As far as he’s concerned, she may have not won every time but she’s always given us 100 percent and going off the premise of what Brian has been telling me all season long. We’ve always thought highly of her and are thinking that she’s going to be a lot better with age and as she gets older. We’ll target the Fair Grounds races in the winter, but we’re going to give her a little bit of a break right now.”

BRAIN HERNANDEZ JR. jockey of AHH CHOCOLATE (winner): “She ran big. We got a great spot around the backside and from there we were on the best horse. She had a couple of tough races going two turns. She wasn’t the quickest filly going away from there and, like in the Black Eyed Susan, we stuck down in behind horses and they went slow in front of us and instead of us being able to get in stride, we were stuck getting in a tug and war with her. Today, I was able to get outside and she turned off out there but she got in a nice rhythm and finished it off for us. She always looked like she was going to get the two turns but Neil [Howard] did the right thing by going back to a one-turn mile last time. It sharpened her up for this race today.”

NORMAN CASSE, assistant to MARK CASSE, trainer of THEOGONY (runner-up): “I thought Julien rode her perfectly. I really had my reservations as it was her first start on dirt, but we knew she had been training well on it and we look forward to seeing her running on it again.”

Q: Your father has said that horses like this one that move from the synthetic Polytack at Woodbine tend to run well at Churchill Downs. Was that part of your stable’s thinking in running in the Falls City? “She had always trained well on the dirt, but circumstances never allowed us to do it. This was a perfect opportunity. We got her down here a few weeks early and she had really worked well. Her next start will be a better indicator of how good she is on dirt.”

JULIEN LEPAROUX, jockey on THEOGEONY (runner-up): “She ran good. It was her first time on the dirt and that was a question mark, you know? She put me in the race nice and easy and relaxed, and she kept on going at the end. She just got beat by a better filly, but she ran a big race. She had a very good trip – she was just second best.”

BRAD COX, trainer of CALL PAT (third): “She ran great. I was real pleased with it.She probably was up against it with the lack of pace in there, but she ran her race. The filly that won it had a great stalking trip and the filly that was second was right outside of her.  She ran a great race. I was very proud of her.”

JOE ROCCO JR., jockey on CALL PAT (third): “Call Pat ran great. She did her thing. She could always use more pace. When they go slower up front it’s detrimental to her. She settled and she came running. She’s an honest mare – she always tries.”

DALE ROMANS, trainer of BIRDATTHEWIRE (fourth): “I think ‘Bird’ is working her way back where she needs to be. We’ll get her down to Gulfstream – I know she likes that racetrack and she’s had some good races down there. Finishing fourth in this race is nothing to be ashamed of. She’s doing very well.”

RIVER CITY QUOTES

BRIAN LYNCH (via telephone), trainer of HEART TO HEART (winner): “He’s a tough little bugger when they leave him alone on the lead. This was a nice little win coming back against older horses this time. The big question mark was could he get the mile-and-an-eighth and he did. We’ve been patient with him all year; he seems to like running fresh. He seems to like the track at Churchill so we’ll point to some of the races there in the summer. For the winter, we’ll take him down to Palm Meadows and more or less target races like the Woodford Reserve [Turf Classic].”

JULIEN LEPAROUX, jockey of HEART TO HEART (winner): “I knew that I was the only speed and he likes to run alone on the lead anyway so we broke well and got him to relax on the lead and he did. I knew he’d run his race. I was just hoping he would keep his lead the whole way through and he did. He’s the same horse he was last year. If you look at him he’s very tiny but he has a big heart. His name is perfect for him. As long as you don’t fight with him and let him do his thing, he always runs his race.”

IAN WILKES, trainer of THATCHER STREET (runner-up): “He ran real good. He was just second-best today. The winner is a nice horse, so I’m proud of him.”

BRIAN HERNANDEZ JR., jockey on THATCHER STREET (runner-up): “He ran really well and got beat by a horse that’s proven. I thought we were running good to be second because the horse on the lead never had any pressure. He’s a class horse and kind of had everything go his way and we were second best today.”

JOHN VELAZQUEZ, jockey on MESSI (fifth as the 4-5 favorite): “He did not get his feet out of the ground all right. He could not get them out of it, for whatever reason. It was a little too soft for him.”

Source: Churchill Downs Incorporated

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