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Aaron previews the 2022 Mint Million Stakes (G3) at Kentucky Downs, then gives his top picks and longshots. Last year’s race winner Pixelate appears set to defend his title, but did Aaron go elsewhere with his best bet? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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The track press release:
Godolphin’s Pixelate heads a field of nine older horses as the 5-year-old horse returns to Kentucky Downs Saturday to defend his victory in last year’s $1 million, Grade 3 WinStar Mint Million.
Entries for Saturday’s 11-race card were drawn Monday. The all-turf FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs begins Thursday and runs Saturday, Sunday and Sept. 8, 10, 11 and 14. First post is 12:25 p.m. Central, except for 11:30 a.m. CT on Sept. 10.
Pixelate, who is based at trainer Michael Stidham’s stable at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, has raced once this year, finishing third by a total of a neck in a stakes at Laurel. He ended his 4-year-old season with two close seconds in New Orleans.
“He had the one comeback race and ran very well,” Stidham said. “We’re hoping that sets him up for a really big effort Saturday.”
Pixelate drew post 3 for the Mint Million. Two-time Kentucky Downs riding champion Florent Geroux picks up the mount on Pixelate with Joel Rosario, who was aboard for last year’s triumph, staying in Saratoga for Labor Day weekend. “We like Florent,” Stidham said. “We’ve been very successful with him, and we’ll see if we can’t continue that Saturday.”
The top three finishers out of Ellis Park’s $100,000 Henderson Turf Mile come back in the Mint Million: victorious Gray’s Fable, Mr Dumas and Tut’s Revenge – with a total of a neck separating the horses.
Gray’s Fable went wire to wire to win Churchill Downs’ Opening Verse Stakes before being sent to trainer Brian Lynch, for whom the 7-year-old gelding started out with a pair of well-beaten sixths before winning at Ellis. Gray’s Fable worked five-eighths of a mile in a slow 1:03.20 on Saturday at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Mint Million.
“By design,” Lynch said of the time. “Because he puts plenty into his gallops. He’s a horse that is an overachiever in the morning. To get him to slow down in a work was an accomplishment.
“He’d run two clunkers, and he came in with such good form when Roger handed him over,” Lynch said of Canadian-based Roger Attfield. “So it was nice to see him turn it around – and to do it from off the pace. The day Roger won with him, I thought he was this big, front-end speed horse and we tried to ride him like that in his next two efforts. It didn’t work for us, but it was nice to see him come from off the other day, run such a quick time and finish so strong. You’ve got the confidence to take a shot in a race like this.
“Whenever they hang up a million dollars, they don’t give it away. It isn’t going to be easy. But I think off his last race, if he takes to Kentucky Downs, he could be competitive.”
Cavalry Charge, winner of the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Stakes in February, most recently was fifth in the Arlington Million (G) run at Churchill Downs.
Kentucky Ghost finished seventh in the Grade 1 United Nations after winning Monmouth Park’s Cliff Hanger. The Ghostzapper gelding finished second the last two years at Kentucky Downs: in a division of the TVG (now the FanDuel Tapit) Stakes last year and in an allowance race in 2020.
The consistent Atone, who has placed in multiple graded stakes and won four allowance races, seeks a signature victory in the Mint Million. Tyler Gaffalione, Kentucky Downs’ 2020 leading rider, is reunited with the 5-year-old gelding for the first time since they finished fourth by a total of a length in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile.
Injunction, winner of Ellis Park’s R.A. “Cowboy” Jones Overnight Stakes on dirt, tries grass for only the second time and the first since his racing debut at Santa Anita.
Betwithbothhands ships in from Southern Illinois’ FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing (formerly Fairmount Park). He’s likely the one to catch as he seeks to win for the first time since taking Ellis Park’s prep race for the 2021 Mint Million, a race in which the Uncle Mo gelding finished ninth.
Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest trainer, sends out the duo of Saratoga debut winner Really Good and Indiana maiden-winner Bourbon Therapy in the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile. Peter Miller ships Del Mar winner Castleknock from California for the stakes.
An interesting horse is Laver, a troubled second at Ellis Park in his debut behind fellow stakes-entrant Mayfield Strong. The Rusty Arnold-trained Laver is out of Centre Court, who also produced the stakes-winning Navratilova, who is expected to run at the meet. Laver was supplemented into the stakes for $12,500 when he didn’t get in an overfilled maiden race.
Others: Anglophile, Bramble Blaze, Deer District and Steele Money.
The Mark Casse-trained Janis Joplin is 0 for 3 but the class of the $500,000 Aristocrat Juvenile Fillies if she takes to the turf, having finished third in Saratoga’s Grade 3 Schuylerville and second in the Grade 3 Adirondack following a third in her first start at Churchill Downs, all on dirt.
The Maker-trained Towhead finished first in her first race on grass at Saratoga, only to have it declared a no contest. She subsequently was third in another maiden race but might appreciate cutting back to a mile from the 1 1/16 miles.
Brad Cox sends out Ellis debut winner Chop Chop. Others: C C Cruise Control, Callie’s Grit, Chiquita Mosca, Knockyoursocksoff, Mustang Lady and Up to Something.
While the trio of stakes drew nine entrants each, the other eight races on the program each were carded with the capacity 12 runners in the body of the race and four others on the also-eligible list.
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