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HENDERSON, KY – Betwithbothhands, Yes It’s Ginger, She’sonthewarpath, and Bluegrass Parkway came home champions of their respective stakes Sunday during Ellis Park’s annual Kentucky Downs Preview Weekend.
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After sharing the lead with Tut’s Revenge throughout the race, Chicago-based Betwithbothhands ($13.20 to win) prevailed in the end to take the fourth running of the Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Mint Million. The 5-year-old gelding by Uncle Mo gave trainer Armando Hernandez his first win at Ellis Park and his first stakes win anywhere.
Hernandez was quick to credit jockey Rocco Bowen’s ride today.
“Rocco has been doing a tremendous job for us back at Arlington,” he said. “We’ve won the last 4 with him. We had this race in mind. Thankfully, it all came into place and it all worked out for Betwithbothhands.”
With the late scratch of favorite Hieronymus, a field of five remained to compete for the $100,000 purse and an automatic entry into the $1 million WinStar Mint Million at Kentucky Downs.
“That was my next race, depending on how well he ran here,” Hernandez said. “By the looks of it, I think that’s our next spot.”
Hernandez was confident in his horse’s chances, especially with a short field that scratched down to five.
“That was one of my main things when I nominated and entered the horse,” he said. “I said if it was a short field, I could be interested in racing here. I was pretty confident when I got here and saw the way the horse was acting. I felt really good about it.”
Jockey Rocco Bowen was quick to give full credit to Hernandez and his brother, owner Eder Hernandez.
“Armando has a two-man operation, and he brought the horse here today by himself, which shows what kind of a horseman he is,” said Bowen, who rode Saturday at Ellis for the first time for another trainer. “It’s a 6 1/2-hour drive (from Chicago) to come and take a shot. He begged me to stay one more day to ride and he twisted my arm enough that I stayed and I’m happy I did, but I want to give all the credit to Armand and his brother. They are hard-working guys that are trying to get their name out there. I can take very little credit.”
Bowen acknowledged that the late scratch of Hieronymus altered the way he approached the race.
“Honestly, it (the scratch) probably did, but we’ll take it as is. If that horse was in there, we already had a game plan and handicapped it. Maybe it would have been a little different. He was the favorite. He was coming from winning the Mystic Lake Mile Stakes. Sometimes, that’s what racing is all about, making quick adjustment and making decisions on the fly. Armando and my agent had a lot of confidence..”
For the Hernandez brothers, it’s a special win.
“We have eight horses back at home, and it’s a family-owned business,” said Armando Hernandez. “I just started training a couple of years ago, and I’m trying to get my name out there by doing well and showing my results. I worked for a veterinarian back in Chicago, Dr. James Gilman. I worked for him for 13 years. He retired and he put me in a place where I wanted to train horses, and I’ve been training my own ever since.”
So how big will racing in the Winstar Mint Million at Kentucky Downs be?
“It’s huge,” Hernandez said. “It’s a dream I’ve always dreamt about. I want to run in the big leagues. I want to have a horse for it. This is my first start at Ellis so that’s pretty exciting.”
This is the first stakes win for Betwithbothhands, whose record improves to eight wins in 21 starts and increases his lifetime earnings to $156,446. He also set the track record for 1 mile on the Ellis Park turf in 1:32.05. The previous record was set by Slewper Imp at 1:32.60 in 1995.
Mike Utley, who runs his family’s Edward Utley Jr. Inc. beer (including Budweiser) distributorship in Henderson, got his biggest thrill in horse racing as favored Yes It’s Ginger wore down the speedy Elle Z for a 1 1/4-length triumph in the $100,000 Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Ladies Sprint.
Ellis Park is where the 59-year-old Utley has been going to the races since he was 12, as well as the hometown track for his eight partners who collectively own 25% of the 5-year-old mare with majority owner Brilliant Racing and Tagg Team Racing.
“It’s great, in front of everybody,” Utley said. “I don’t know how you can describe it… There will be a lot of Bud. I was crossing my fingers, trust me.”
He said the victory ranks #1 in his racing career as owner and fan “and it doesn’t get any better.”
The Ladies Sprint was part of a turf stakes quartet Sunday that wrapped up the two-day Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Weekend at the RUNHAPPY meet at Ellis Park.
Marcelino Pedroza rode the Greg Foley-trained Yes It’s Ginger for the first time, pressing Elle Z through a stiff pace before edging clear late. The Foley-trained Skinny Dip finished another 2 1/4 lengths back in third in the full field of 12 fillies and mares.
“I watched the replays on her and she’s quick out of the gate,” said Pedroza, who earlier this meet won the Good Lord Stakes on the Foley-trained Bango. “She was quick out of the gate when she ran (finishing second June 3 at Churchill Downs) against Elle Z. We didn’t want to be in the lead. We just wanted to sit there and make sure Elle Z felt the pressure. Turning for home, I asked her to go and she responded like a Quarter Horse. She was running in the end and was very impressive.”
Yes It’s Ginger was the only Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Weekend stakes winner Sunday who didn’t set a course record over the very firm turf, but she came close, powering 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:00.71, just off Totally Boss’ mark of 1:00.26 set in 2019. Yes It’s Ginger, a son of Yes It’s True out of Ginger Light, paid $7 to win.
The mare now is 3 for 3 at Ellis Park. Brilliant Racing approached Foley about buying half-interest in Yes It’s Ginger when she was a 4-year-old maiden who’d had arthroscopic surgery for a bone chip. Foley liked what he saw and brought in Utley’s group, which had been looking for a horse and wanted to be part of the Foley family’s Tagg Team Racing.
Yes It’s Ginger promptly won a maiden and allowance race last summer at Ellis Park off a 13-month layoff. She came into this race off a victory in Lone Star Park’s $75,000 Chicken Fried Stakes in her last start. That made her the first stakes winner for Utley, as well as for Louisville-based Brilliant Racing and Tagg Team, the partnership headed by trainer Greg Foley, wife Sheree, and their sons Travis and Alex.
It was no sure thing that Yes It’s Ginger would run at Ellis Park. She also was entered for a turf stakes Wednesday at Indiana Grand. While Foley thought the Indiana race’s 5-furlong distance would be even better, and the competition softer, the forecast for rain this coming week helped make the decision to stay put at Ellis.
“When we decided to run here, there were a lot of happy people, the boys from Henderson,” Foley said. “They’re a great group, along with Brilliant, and then our own little group, our family.
“She’s just a gutsy little filly. She gives you all every time you run her. From this time last year, when she broke her maiden over here at Ellis, she’s just done nothing but gotten better all the time. She ran very impressive in Texas last time and again today. She’s just a nice filly.”
Foley also was happy with Skinny Dip, who was making her stakes debut. The goal was to get at least a stakes placing for the well-bred Into Mischief filly, a mission accomplished.
Yes It’s Ginger now is 6-5-0 in 18 starts, earning $295,511. The $40,000 Ocala 2-year-old purchase in 2018 — the first horse bought by Brilliant Racing— was picked out by Brilliant founding members Natalie Gils and Brandon Stauble.
“She’s been incredibly special to us — being the first one we bought, giving her all that time not knowing if she was going to come back,” Gils said. “… When it came to the point where we had to sell (part of) her, having the Foleys step in, it’s just been a great relationship with them. It was really a blessing in disguise.”
Coming off a win in the July 4 Ellis Park Turf Stakes, She’sonthewarpath chalked up her second stakes win of the RUNHAPPY Meet at Ellis Park with a 1/2-length victory over 8/5 favorite Dominga in the $100,000 Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Ladies Mile. Dominga was second by a neck in the Ellis Park Turf.
She’sonthewarpath, a 5-year-old daughter of Declaration of War, set a track record at a mile on the turf of 1:31.98, breaking the short-lived mark set 2 races prior by Betwithbothhands in the Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Mint Million.
“She’s really confident in herself,” said winning trainer Steve Margolis. “She’s a cool mare, and she always gives it her all. She always has that swagger about her anyway. She’s confident, she knows how to win and she fights when you ask her to go.”
Jockey Adam Beschizza knew what his mount could do.
“She’s pretty universal,’ he said. “I can pretty much ask her whether she wants to be forward or days she asks for closing races, but she’s fully capable. I felt like they went super-fast up front and I was actually struggling around the home turn. But luckily, she has plenty of heart and dug deep. Thanks to Steve, who’s done a fantastic job with this filly. Kentucky Downs might be in the future. She has a good change of pace. She can sustain a gallop and quicken off it, which is usually a good sign of a nice one.”
The field of nine fillies and mares left the gate with the leaders setting a brisk pace. She’sonthewarpath was comfortable letting them forge ahead, laying back in sixth through much of the race. Once in the stretch, she had to close strong to best Dominga.
“Dominga was the only real stand-out pace,” Beschizza pointed out. “Today we obviously had a handful of them that wanted to be in the same position. I’m happy enough to follow a decent gallop. It’s when something goes to the front and makes it a test and a sprint. It worked out great today. She’s gained a lot out of that last win and moving forward I think she’ll love Kentucky Downs and I’m looking forward to her running there.”
Margolis shared Beschizza’s optimism about Kentucky Downs’ miles stakes for fillies and mares.
“That’s a little quirky track, but the Grade 3 for $750,000 is really exciting,” he said. “We’re stabled here. Ellis has really done well for us, the filly has really trained great over the track, handled everything great. So, I’m excited. She’s an easy horse to train, gets a lot of her training. Just thanks to Robert and Lawana Low for keeping her in training.”
Jorje Abrego, assistant trainer to Brad Cox, was pleased with Dominga, who was ridden by Florent Geroux.
“Margolis’ filly has gotten really good,” Abrego said. “We ran very well. We got beat by a better horse. I’m not happy every time with a second, but I’m happy with this.”
Princess Causeway was another neck back in third. “She ran hard today,” said jockey Chris Landeros. “She isn’t the easiest of horses to ride, but I was happy with my trip and her effort today.”
She’sonthewarpath paid $5.40 to win as the second choice. The daughter of Declaration of War now is 8-2-3 in 19 starts, earning $492,460.
Mike Ryan’s Bluegrass Parkway rallied from last of eight to take the $125,000 Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Turf Cup by a 1/2-length over Spooky Channel. The victory gives trainer Mike Maker a free roll in Kentucky Downs’ $1 million Calumet Turf Cup (G2) on September 11, a 1 1/2-mile turf race he’s won 4 times in the last 6 years.
Maker was sent the son of Quality Road after his 4-year-old campaign, when the gelding had a 1-for-13 record. Bluegrass Parkway won a Gulfstream Park 1 3/8-mile allowance race in his first start for Maker, then was fifth before being sidelined for 4 months. He returned to take fourth in a July 24 1 1/16-mile turf allowance race at Ellis.
The key to Bluegrass Parkway’s success?
“Just very patient owner,” Maker said by phone. “We kind of had an issue with him at Gulfstream, couldn’t really figure out what it was. He gave us plenty of time to get over it, and he rewarded him.
“It’s a horse we felt would appreciate the added distance the first time we ran him. His last out, he needed the race. And he showed up today. … The horse seemed to be doing better than any time we’ve had him, so we thought we’d take a chance.”
Bluegrass Parkway covered 1 1/4 miles in 1:57.94, obliterating the course record of 1:59.12 set by Factor This in 2019. The 5-year-old gelding now is 3-1-6 in 17 starts, earning $215,875. He paid $28.20 to win.
“It’s been a good weekend,” said winning jockey Julien Leparoux, who a day earlier took Saratoga’s Glens Falls (G2) with War Like Goddess. “It was fun at Saratoga, but I’m glad to be back here and able to win another stakes race.”
Leparoux, a 2-time Kentucky Downs riding champion, was impressed with Bluegrass Parkway, who was making his stakes debut.
“I was able to relax, and I waited as much as I could to make his one run and he finished very strong,” he said, adding that the race scenario proved ideal “when you come from behind and you see them coming back to you and you’re able to just wait a little more. By the 1/4 pole, I got him out and he finished up well. This was a nice group. The other Mike Maker was a nice horse, too. The race was set up perfect for me today, and I’m glad to get the win. Hopefully, we can ride him back.”
Maker also had the Preview Turf Cup favorite in Tide of the Sea, who set a swift pace for 1 1/4 miles before tiring to fourth, losing by a total of 1 3/4 lengths. Finishing third was the filly Family Way, who had her head in front with 1/8 of a mile to go, when most of the field of eight remained in contention.
“Honestly, I thought Tide of the Sea would have an easier time getting the lead,” Maker said.
Spooky Channel, an $80,000 claim by Evansville product Jason Barkley for NBS Stable, closed well under James Graham but was out-finished by Bluegrass Parkway. Barkley said he hopes to run the gelding back at Kentucky Downs.
“He ran great, that’s all I can ask,” Barkley said. “He ran big. He shows up every race. Just keep trying.”
Said Graham: “I made the lead at the 1/16 pole, and that horse just went by us. He accelerated, that horse ran to him, and he accelerated again, but the other horse had momentum. He ran his heart out.”
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