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Tom’s Ready Rallies to Win G3 Ack Ack, Runhappy Fades in Season Debut

Tom's Ready - Ack Ack - 10-01-16-r09-cd-fin-2 - Credit: Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016)Gayle and Tom Benson’s 3-year-old Tom’s Ready rallied from off the pace to beat Iron Fist by half-length in Saturday’s 24th running of the $100,000 Ack Ack Presented by TwinSpires.com (Grade III) at Churchill Downs and spoil the comeback of champion sprinter Runhappy.

Jim McIngvale’s Runhappy, North America’s champion sprinter, was sent off as the heavy 1-5 favorite for his first start of the year against five rivals in the one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up. The champ broke well under jockey Edgar Prado and alternated leads early with come-backing Mr. Z through fractions of :23.08 for the first quarter mile and :45.95 for the half. Schivarelli and Iron Fist were in close pursuit just behind the top two with Tom’s Ready seven lengths off the pace after the initial four furlongs.

Runhappy had the lead at the top of the stretch but was overtaken by Schivarelli as Tom’s Ready, ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., made his winning bid from the outside. The winner took command at the eighth pole, as Schivarelli and Runhappy weakened nearing the finish, and cleared those rivals before holding off a late bid from the grinding Iron Fist. Schivarelli finished third and Runhappy was off-the-board in fourth, 2 ½ lengths back of Tom’s Ready, who carried 118 pounds – three pounds less than the rest of the field. The Truth or Else and Mr. Z completed the order of finish.

Trained by Dallas Stewart, Tom’s Ready ran one mile over a “good” main track in 1:34.86. The first prize was $61,380 and hiked his bankroll to $640,267 with a record of 13-3-4-0.

The victory by Tom’s Ready was no fluke. This summer, the 3-year-old son of More Than Ready was the 1 ¼-length winner of Belmont Park’s $500,000 Woody Stephens (GII) over seven furlongs, and was runner-up in the Lecomte (GIII) and Louisiana Derby (GII) before finishing 12th in this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).

“We thought that if we could beat Runhappy, today was the day and our horse ran his race,” Hernandez said. “They didn’t go all that fast up front and he ran after them and ran them down his own way and proved to be the best horse today. I was pretty confident the whole way. I was sitting back behind them and I know they didn’t feel like they weren’t going all that fast but knowing my little horse and watching him run in the race he did at Belmont, I thought when I called on him that he would be able to give me that kind of run and he did.”

The Bensons, who own the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, were on hand to witness the stakes triumph.

“I knew he could do it,” Tom Benson said. “I tell you, that’s a great horse. You saw him come up, he was dead last and he shook off.”

Dallas Stewart wasn’t present, however, because he was busy saddling Charles Fipke’s 4-year-old filly Forever Unbridled to a 2 ¼-length triumph in the $400,000 Beldame (GI) at Belmont Park. He did manage to watch the Ack Ack on TV at the barn.

“We can’t win no football games, but we can win a horse race,” Stewart quipped in regards to his beloved Saints, who’ve started the season 0-3. “He ran big. It couldn’t have worked out any better. Everybody was worried about Runhappy and some other real tough horses in here but I said, ‘Hey listen, the horse is focused up.’”

Stewart says the $1 million Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 4 is Tom’s Ready’s next target. Two of the last three Ack Ack winners – Pants On Fire (2013) and Tapiture (2015) – used the race as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, as well.

As for Runhappy, it’s unclear what’s next. He, too, was hoping to run in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

“We’ll talk about it and see,” trainer Laura Wohlers said. “Hopefully, but we’ll stop and see. I’m disappointed he didn’t win the race, especially when he’s such a favorite but it’s alright, he’ll do okay. As long as he comes out of the race okay, we’ll be fine. We’ll live to race another day.”

Tom’s Ready, a Pennsylvania-bred out of the Broad Brush mare Goodbye Stranger, returned $11.80, $5.20 and $6.40 to his backers as the 9-2 second betting choice. Iron Fist, with Robby Albarado up paid $6.40 and $12.40. Schivarelli, ridden by Corey Lanerie, paid $18.

The Ack Ack Handicap honors the 1971 Horse of the Year Ack Ack, who won the 1969 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs in 1:34.40 which was a track record for one mile that has since been eclipsed.

ACK ACK QUOTES

TOM BENSON, co-owner of TOM’S READY (winner): “I knew he could do it. I tell you, that’s a great horse. You saw him come up, he was dead last and he shook off.”

DALLAS STEWART, trainer of TOM’S READY (winner): “We (New Orleans Saints) can’t win no football games, but we can win a horse race! He ran big. It couldn’t have worked out any better. Hopefully it’s a nice stepping stone to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He’s been solid all year. He hadn’t had too many bad races. The race at Saratoga just didn’t set up for him but he’s trained well coming out of it. We told Mr. Benson no need to be afraid. Everybody was worried about Runhappy and some other real tough horses in here but I said, ‘Hey listen, the horse is focused up,’ We thought about bringing him to New York but I crossed it off after the work at Churchill. I had never seen him work any better so I said, ‘We need to run him right here.’”

BRIAN HERNANDEZ, JR., jockey of TOM’S READY (winner): “We thought that if we could beat Runhappy, today was the day and our horse ran his race. They didn’t go all that fast up front and he ran after them and ran them down his own way and proved to be the best horse today. I was pretty confident the whole way. I was sitting back behind them and I know they didn’t feel like they weren’t going all that fast but knowing my little horse and watching him run in the race he did at Belmont, I thought when I called on him that he would be able to give me that kind of run and he did.”

EDGAR PRADO, jockey of RUNHAPPY (fourth as 1-5 beaten favorite): “He was going nice and easy on the lead and was sitting very comfortable. He was able to rate in the Breeders’ Cup last year so we did a little of that. He was comfortable but we just couldn’t get it done in that last part.”

LAURA WOHLERS, trainer of RUNHAPPY (fourth as 1-5 beaten favorite): “I’m disappointed he didn’t win the race, especially when he’s such a favorite but it’s alright, he’ll do okay. As long as he comes out of the race okay, we’ll be fine. We’ll live to race another day.”

Q: Is the Breeders’ Cup still an option? “We’ll talk about it and see. Hopefully, but we’ll stop and see.”

Churchill Downs

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