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HENDERSON, KY – Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s Super Stock took home the $200,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby Sunday, capping the racing action that saw 5 stakes held between the dirt and turf courses.
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The Ellis Park Derby appeared to be heavily-favored Super Stock’s race to lose, given that he was the winner of the Arkansas Derby (G1). But that was if he ran to his Arkansas Derby, rather than his pair of fourth-place finishes in the Texas Derby and Iowa Derby in his last 2 starts.
For Asmussen, the key was riding Super Stock like Ricardo Santana Jr. did in the Arkansas Derby: getting into the race as part of the pace. That happened, and Super Stock hounded the early pace before taking command and drawing off to a 3 3/4-length victory over There Goes Harvard.
Asmussen got be North America’s all-time winningest trainer by caring about every race. But Super Stock also holds a special attachment to the trainer. His parents, Keith and Marilyn, own the son of Florida Derby winner Dialed In in partnership with Nashville talent mogul Erv Woolsey, a long-time client.
“He ran a very good race, and it’s great to see him back in the winner’s circle,” Asmussen said by phone following Super Stock’s first victory since the Arkansas Derby, after which he finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby. “Obviously he’s a very special horse for the whole family. He makes a lot of people happy when he wins.
“The Lone Star race, the racetrack was absolute sea of water, drawn 13, just was never in the right spot,” he said of the Texas Derby. “And I did not like his trip in Iowa at all, and that was the change in tactics.”
Which was: “To ride him like he did in the Arkansas Derby.”
Ellis Park allowance winner Colonel Bowman broke for the early lead, setting legitimate fractions into the stretch. Super Stock stalked in second place throughout before taking over the lead and pulling away for the clear win over runner-up There Goes Harvard. The final time over the mile and 1/16 was 1:48.89.
“He broke good, and I was happy when he was in the place I wanted him to be,” said Santana, in from Saratoga to ride Sunday at Ellis Park for Asmussen. “When I was sitting second to that other horse, I knew he would be running hard at the end.”
Jockey Joe Talamo was pleased with runner-up There Goes Harvard’s effort.
“We had a really good trip,” he said. “I really thought I had the winner turning for home. Hats off to them (Super Stock and Ricardo Santana). They kept running. But my horse ran a really good race.”
It was another two lengths back to Indiana Derby runner-up Sermononthemount and jockey James Graham. Colonel Bowman tired to fourth in the field of six 3-year-olds.
“He ran good, I thought,” said Graham. “They were just quicker than him early. I was trying to be aggressive. I just wasn’t quick enough to hold my spot. He tried to run them down. They went fast the first 1/4, backed it up, and then went again. I just couldn’t get back on terms.”
Super Stock went off as the even-money favorite and paid $4 to win. The colt now has 3 wins in 12 starts, with 2 seconds and 2 thirds, while increasing his career earnings to $957,677.
“He’s trying, he’s trying,” Asmussen said of Super Stock nearing millionaire status.
Since Matera moved to trainer Brad Cox’s barn earlier this year, the 4-year-old has done very little wrong, and that included a rallying victory in Sunday’s 40th running of the Groupie Doll Stakes at Ellis Park.
Lady Rocket, one of a trio of fillies that trainer Brad Cox entered in the $125,000, 1-mile test, was scratched, which moved Matera in from the also-eligible list. It was the ideal setup for the 8/1 shot racing in the colors of Don Alberto Stable, despite starting from the outside post in the field of 12.
Lady Kate, a 7/1 shot with Adam Beschizza aboard who was attempting to become the Groupie Doll’s first 2-time winner, led the field into the stretch, but Florent Geroux had Matera within a few lengths of the leader all the way. Geroux was comfortable waiting to make his move with Matera, a $1.4 million Tapit yearling, and at the wire she collared her challenger by a neck.
Matera shipped in from Cox’s Indiana Grand division, where she won the Mari Hulman George Memorial for her first stakes win. With Cox calling the shots, Matera has won 3 in a row – all with Geroux aboard.
“It was a lucky 13 for us,” Geroux said of the filly’s saddle number. “We got lucky with the scratch, and she broke really well and put me in a good spot.
“I was worried about the post position and my choices were very limited: You can send pretty hard, very aggressive, or you take back and go inside. When she broke pretty good, I just took it from there.”
Jorje Abrego, assistant trainer to Cox, saddled the winner, who has scored all her career wins this year.
“Thanks to the owners,” Abrego said, “Florent did a very good job. He caught the break with this filly good and put her in very good position. The filly is nice, and she got the job done. This is even better for the filly. She’s an expensive horse with a good pedigree.”
Geroux knew he had a lot of horse left heading into the stretch. “At the beginning, she was very aggressive, but she was able to finish up late,” he said. “Lady Kate put up a good fight, but in the end, she got a little short and my horse was able to get it done.”
“(Lady Kate) is tough,” Cox said from Saratoga, noting that Lady Kate finished second to his 2-time champion mare Monomoy Girl in Churchill Downs’ La Troienne (G1) last fall. “She ran against Monomoy last fall and is a very good filly who is Grade 1 stakes-placed. Watching, we were coming to the 1/4 pole, we were coming under a ride a little bit. But she showed last time at Indiana that she’s got some grit and determination, and she showed it again today and was able to get in front and this was a good race.”
Finishing third in the stakes was 26/1 High Regard, who nosed out 34/1 Jungle Juice. The favorite, 8/5 Dreamalildreamofu, also trained by Cox, started from the 1 post. She bumped the inner rail in tight quarters near the 7-furlong marker and was never a factor.
“Down inside, it looked like there was some speed in the race,” Cox said. “(Dreamalildreamofu) had an extremely rough trip. If you watch the head-on, she was basically eliminated 1/8 of a mile into the race. We’ll just mark that off. Hopefully she comes out of it in good order and we’ll march forward.”
Cox made the decision to scratch Lady Rocket, whose races have been 7 furlongs or less. “We wanted to look at the race for Lady Rocket,” he said. “We’ve had some trouble getting her in … so we thought we would enter her in the Groupie Doll and take a look; and we opted out.”
Winning time for the mile was 1:36.41 on a fast track under cloudy skies. Matera paid $18.40, $8 and $5.40, while Lady Kate returned $8 and $7. High Regard paid $12.20 to show.
“Brad Cox is a hard man to beat,” said Beschizza. “I thought this was a much tougher renewal than last year. There were plenty of fillies here who were coming in form.”
Matera delivered a third Groupie Doll to Cox, who also won in 2015 with Call Pat and in 2017 with Tiger Moth when the stakes was a Grade 3.
“She trains well … we’ve liked her since we picked her up last winter,” Cox said. “She had a little bit of a setback after she won the first race at Oaklawn. She suffered a cut and we had to give her a little bit of time. But she rebounded well, and she was able to become a stakes winner at Indiana and she’s built off that and was obviously able to win this race.
“Unfortunately, it’s not graded anymore. But hopefully with her winning it, it can be graded soon.”
Trainer Eddie Kenneally had given Lady Kate a break after an April race at Aqueduct. Overall, he was pleased with her effort.
“Good race off the layoff,” he said. “She tried hard, got beaten a neck and she hadn’t run in a while. Final time is decent. I was happy with that. Good comeback. Very happy.”
“She seems a very tough mare,” Beschizza said of Lady Kate. “I’d never even sat on her, never seen her in the flesh. She’s absolutely a beautiful specimen. It was quite a thrill to ride her. She’s Grade 1-placed. Done nothing wrong throughout her career.”
And Cox sees a bright future ahead for Matera. “I was very proud of her performance and happy for the Don Alberto Group,” he said. “They have a big-time breeding operation and she’s going to be a big-time mare for them hopefully.”
Winning a listed stakes like the Groupie Doll helped enhance her value, he said. “After she won at Indiana, we thought it would be nice to get maybe some graded black type on her. I think that’s in the future; we’re going to try to attempt that at some point.
“But we were glad to win this race today. That adds to her value, and at some point give her a shot in some graded stakes.”
In the battle of the Hernandez brothers, the younger Colby Hernandez and the unbeaten filly Carribean Caper ran down his meet-leading sibling Brian and the gritty pacesetter Magic Quest to take the $100,000 Audubon Oaks by a length.
“We had a good break today and I was able to hop outside my brother there,” Colby Hernandez said after winning his first stakes at Ellis Park. “From the 1/4 pole home, I said, ‘If we have enough pony, we can win it from here.’ When I called on her, she gave me all she had. I asked her a little bit more today than normally, but I think she still had a good bit left in the tank.”
Carribean Caper, owned by Andrea Pollack’s Columbine Stable and trained by Al Stall Jr., now is 4 for 4 after her first stakes attempt. Her streak includes a July 10 allowance victory at Ellis Park.
“Brian wasn’t too nice to us coming out of the gate and a little bit down the backside,” Stall joked from Saratoga in a phone interview. “But that’s brotherly love, I guess. You watch the head-on, Brian broke out to the right. Then he was thinking about going to the inside and said, ‘Ahh, I don’t want that pressure on me.’ Brian kept coming over a little bit. So he went and jumped the heels and went to the outside, and then we were in good shape.”
Carribean Caper completed seven-eighths of a mile in 1:22.09 after Magic Quest set fractions of 23.43, 46.26 and 1:09.85. It was another 3 1/4 lengths back to Minute Waltz.
“It looked like we were on the two best horses,” Brian Hernandez said. “So you kind of had to ride it that way. My filly broke well, put herself into position and just got run down late today. You got to be proud of my filly. She ran her race.”
Stall is an admirer of the runner-up as well. “Very nice filly, beautiful-looking horse on the TV screen,” he said. “They were well ahead of the third-place horse. It was perfect. No complaints. We’re very happy.”
Stall said Churchill Downs’ Dogwood (G3) at 7 furlongs will be considered, with an eye on Keeneland’s Raven Run (G2), both still keeping Carribean Caper against 3-year-old fillies.
“It seems like she might go a little farther to me,” Stall said. “It seems like she does what you want and finishes up.”
Stall also had praise for Colby Hernandez, who moved last year from his long-time Louisiana circuit to joining his older brother in Kentucky.
“He made the switch and he’s working extremely hard,” Stall said. “Going to Colonial Downs, Indiana, Ellis – keeping his clients happy and riding good races, too.”
Said Colby Hernandez: “Business is picking up and I couldn’t be any happier.”
Brian Hernandez, whose 20 victories easily lead the meet, said Colby talked about Carribean Caper before she ever ran. “He called it before she ran first time out,” he said. “He was really, really high on her. For her to keep improving like she is, that’s a big plus for him.”
To those who wonder why Stall didn’t run such a talented filly in Saratoga’s Test (G1) for 3-year-old fillies, here’s his answer: “I just didn’t think she was ready for that. There are no airplanes, and I didn’t want to ship her 13 hours each way. I just didn’t think we’d have anything left. And her (speed) figures were a notch below most of those horses.
“The most important thing for a filly is black type,” he said of stakes wins and placings. “She was even-money in this race, and she would have been 12/1 in the Test.”
Trainer Tommy Drury, who gets some young horses and layups ready for Stall at his Skylight training center operation in Oldham County, including having Carribean Caper as a 2-year-old, saddled the filly.
“She ran well,” Drury said. “I know Al has been high on this filly all along, and I know he felt good about her today. She sure ran like a good one. She’s got nothing but upside to her.”
Roger McQueen, sent off at 9/2 with Adam Beschizza aboard, held off a late challenge by Lucky Boss and Brian Hernandez Jr. to capture Sunday’s sixth running of the $125,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Juvenile, a 7-furlong test for 2-year-olds.
Trained by Larry Rivelli for owner Carolyn Wilson, the Kentucky-bred won for the second time on the Ellis Park dirt, finishing a 1/2-length in front of 8/1 Lucky Boss, and covering the 7 furlongs in 1:23.67. Roger McQueen broke his maiden with a 5-length victory at Ellis on July 17 in a 5-furlong race.
Taking control just after the field of seven left the gate, Roger McQueen shot out for the lead from the 2 post and never gave up on the fast surface. The winner cut fractions of :23.38, :46.99 and 1:11.14, before coming home in a final 1/8 of :12.53.
“He ran great and was relaxed on the front end,” Beschizza said after winning his fourth stakes of the meet. “There was that one horse (Lucky Boss) that snuck up on me on the inside, but he didn’t bother me too much. Thanks to Mr. Rivelli, he has been pretty good to me the last couple of years.
“My horse ran good there,” said Hernandez. “He cruised to the winner like we were going to get by him, but then the winner just kind of dug in. Turning for home, we were just cruising, but the winner never gave up. At least he’s improving; it was a good race.”
Even-money favorite Costa Terra, ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr. for trainer Steve Asmussen, finished a head behind the runner-up.
Roger McQueen, a son of Unified out of the D’Wildcat mare Promise Me a Cat, paid $11.60, $6.40 and $3.20. Lucky Boss paid $8 and $3.40, with Costa Terra returning $2.20 to show.
Roger McQueen showed why Wilson paid $530,000 for Roger McQueen at an Ocala 2-year-old auction.
“At the sale, he was like a man among boys,” Rivelli said by phone from Chicago. “We out-bid a bunch of people for the horse. His first race (a third at Churchill Downs) was major-league disappointing to me. He broke bad, kind of acted up in the gate, and we had a little bit of an excuse. From then on, we schooled him pretty good in the gate. His last 2 races (were big), thank God, because a big ticket puts a little bit of pressure on you.”
Rivelli said he’ll point Roger McQueen toward Churchill Downs’ Iroquois Stakes (G3), a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile automatic qualifier race that the trainer won previously with Cocked and Loaded in 2015 and The Tabulator in 2017.
Rivelli said he ran Roger McQueen at Ellis Park in his last start rather than staying home at Arlington Park because he wanted the colt on true dirt instead of Arlington’s synthetic surface.
“I figured that the races down the line of any significance are going to be on the dirt,” he said. “I figured if we were going to make some kind of move with this horse and try to give him a shot to be what we thought he was going to be when we bought him, those would be the races we’d have to be in.
“What you pay for them doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Some of the cheaper horses are better than the ones you pay a lot of money for. But I think this one, the price was justified.”
The Iroquois also is the first points race toward the 2022 Kentucky Derby.
Front-running Verylittlecents notched her second win in a row in the fifth running of the $125,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Debutante as she beat Golden Sights by 2 1/2 lengths to best the field of six 2-year-old fillies.
The filly, by Goldencents out of the Arch mare Pinch Me, covered the 7-furlong distance in 1:23.32. Her record improves to 2 wins in 3 starts and increases her career earnings to $111,980.
“Luckily, she ran very well,” said trainer Randy Morse. “I loved it when she made the lead that easy up the backside because she’s got a lot of fight to her. I didn’t think (Golden Sights) would run past her very easily. The filly (One Step Ahead) that was second to me last time, when (Verylittlecents) broke her maiden, she won a $100,000 stakes at Prairie Meadows (Saturday) night. That’s a pretty good sign.”
When asked how good this filly might be, Morse was more cautious. “It’s hard to say,” he said. “They’ve got to prove it. It’s easy to talk about them, but there are still a lot of good horses out there right now.”
Breaking alertly, Verylittlecents held the lead throughout, maintaining a reasonable pace and drawing clear of Golden Sights, also a daughter of the Spendthrift Farm stallion Goldencents. Objections were lodged against Golden Sights and third-place Manasota Sunset for interference in the stretch. Following the stewards’ review, no change was made to the order of finish.
“They didn’t let it come easy,” said Morse. “I was getting a little worried about that objection. You never know until they hang that official sign.”
Owner Randy Patterson was relieved to get the win after some tense moments during the steward’s review.
“She ran a good race and we got really lucky,” he said. “I didn’t really see that she caused much trouble.”
Winning rider Joe Talamo sees potential for improvement going forward.
“We had a good trip and got into a real good rhythm,” he said. “She was racing a little green coming off the turn. She wanted to lean out a little down the lane, but she really ran a tenacious race.”
Rodolphe Brisset, Golden Sights’ trainer, also is confident about the future of his filly, who was ridden by Chris Landeros.
“We’ve loved the filly from the time we bought her out of OBS,” he said of the 2-year-old sale in Ocala. “Her first race was a little tough: 5 1/2, sloppy, the rail was dead that day at Indiana. She ran a good race, got the lead and got tired. The way she was breezing in the morning, we thought we’d take a shot here. I think with more seasoning today she maybe would have won. She might have been able to go in the inside. But she got a little shy when she was asked. I think the winner is nice; we think our filly is nice.”
The morning line favorite, Verylittlecents went off at odds just of 6/5 and paid $4.60 to win.
Manasota Sunset finished another 2 1/2 lengths back in third.
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