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FRANKLIN, KY – A considerable class drop and a change of scenery did wonders for trainer Richard Baltas’ Next Shares, who shipped to Kentucky Downs from his southern California home to win Thursday’s $250,000 Old Friends Stakes.
Breaking as the 3/1 favorite under fellow west coast traveler Drayden Van Dyke, Next Shares sat off early while Siem Riep and Shut the Box set the pace through the opening 1/2-mile. Tipped into the middle of the track heading through the far turn, Next Shares made his bid in the stretch and continued strongly late to extend his lead to 1 3/4 lengths. The Richard Baltas trainee completed the 1 mile and 70 yard turf jaunt in 1:41.79.
“I loved where I was early on,” said Van Dyke, who has now won at least once at the annual Kentucky Downs in each of the past five years. “I loved where I was early on, got where the horse was comfortable. I had a few setting the pace in front of me and was just being patient to let him run. He was on cruise control, nice and relaxed, just loping around there. He was there for me the whole time. Richard did a great job with him.”
After sitting on or near the lead for most of the race, Siem Riep couldn’t keep up with the eventual winner and weakened late, but he did manage to hold on long enough to nose out Parlor for second. Flatlined was 3/4 of a length past Master Merion, while Zapperini was just another 1/2 length back in sixth. Completing the order of finish came Doctor Mounty, Siding Spring, Cowboy Culture, Bondurant, and a spent Shut the Box.
Next Shares’ win was his first since an allowance event at Aqueduct last November and improved his career record to 19-4-4-2. Since that allowance score, Baltas had run him in three Grade 1s, two Grade 2s, and a Grade 3. The 5-year-old gelded son of Archarcharch has now earned $467,697 for owners Michael Iavarone, Jules Iavarone, Jerry McClanahan, Christopher T. Dunn, William Marasa, Ritchie Robershaw, and Mark Taylor.
“He’s just a beautiful horse,” Baltas said. “He always feels good. He’s a dark bay and he has a little white stripe down the middle of his back. He’s just a gorgeous horse. I said in the paddock before the race, if it was a beauty contest, we’d be in the winner’s circle. He’s just a really lovely horse.”
Baltas told Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends equine retirement farms for which the stakes is named, that he shipped the 5-year-old gelding to Kentucky Downs because he wanted to win the stakes so Next Shares could retire to Old Friends after his racing career ends. That’s a perk for the stakes’ winners.
“That’s what he told me,” Blowen said cheerfully. “I don’t even care if he’s lying; it’s such a good story. He’s a really, really nice horse.”
Next Shares returned $7.80 to win, $4.80 to place, and $3.80 to show. Siem Riep brought back $6.80 to place and $4.60 to show, while Parlor paid $4.80 to show.
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