Magna Graduate, a multiple graded stakes winner who has amassed nearly $2.2 million in career earnings, will look to snap a losing streak as he faces five rivals in the $100,000-added Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III), the featured event on the opening day of Churchill Downs Oct. 26-Nov. 29 Fall Meet.
The Ack Ack is scheduled as the 10th event on an 11-race program that kicks off the 26-day meet, which includes five more racing days than the 2007 Fall Meet. Post time for the first race is 12:40 p.m. (EDT).
Now trained by Steve Asmussen, Elisabeth Alexander’s Magna Graduate comes into the one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up off a runner-up finish to Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) contender Fairbanks in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. The 6-year-old son of Honor Grades notched one of the most important victories of his career at Churchill Downs when he took the 2005 running of the Clark Handicap (gr. II) for trainer Todd Pletcher. He just missed notching a grade I win the following year when he finished a nose short of catching Flashy Bull in the Stephen Foster Handicap.
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan will be aboard Magna Graduate as the veteran bids to snap an 11-race losing streak. His last victory came in the Excelsior Breeders’ Cup (gr. III) at Aqueduct in April 2007. Magna Graduate finished a disappointing seventh in his only previous bid for the Ack Ack in 2006, but brings a career record of 9-6-6 in 33 races into this year’s renewal. He has been assigned high weight of 120 pounds and is the co-second choice in oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line at odds of 3-1.
The biggest obstacle to success for the veteran Magna Graduate could be John C. Oxley’s Forest Command, a 3-year-old son of 2001 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Monarchos who is the 5-2 morning line favorite although he will take on his elders for the first time. Trained by John Ward Jr., Forest Command saw a two-race winning streak snapped when he finished third to My Pal Charlie in his stakes debut in the Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs.
Robby Albarado, who collected his first Churchill Downs riding title in the 2008 Spring Meet, was aboard Forest Command in the Super Derby and will be back in the saddle for Saturday’s race. The colt has career record of 2-1-1 in four races that include a pair of starts at Churchill Downs. He was narrowly beaten in his career debut under the Twin Spires in June, but rebounded to notch his first career victory when he won a maiden race over a “sloppy” track on July 4. He followed that effort with an easy allowance win at Saratoga. Forest Command will carry 113 pounds in the Ack Ack.
Zayat Stable’s Forefathers, the 10th place finisher in last year’s TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Monmouth Park and a solid fourth on turf in the recent Kelso Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont, should also be a factor in the opening day stakes race. The 3-1 co-second choice is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the all-time leader in victories and stakes wins at Churchill Downs. Jockey Julien Leparoux has the mount on the 4-year-old son of Gone West, who will carry 115 pounds.
Other contenders in Sunday’s opening day headliner at Churchill Downs include the Millard Seldin Revocable Trust’s Greeley’s Conquest, who finished second at odds of 38-1 to Breeders’ Cup Sprint contender First Defence in the Forego (gr. I) at Saratoga in his most recent outing; James Tafel’s Chicago invader Coragil Cat, winner of the Hanshin Handicap (gr. III) at Arlington Park; and WinStar Farm and Gulf Coast Farm’s Cowtown Cat, who finished 20th in last year’s Kentucky Derby, but won the Illinois Derby (gr. II) and the Gotham (gr. II).
The field for the Ack Ack Handicap, from the rail out (with jockeys, assigned weights), includes:
1-- Greeley’s Conquest (Jamie Theriot, 118),
2-- Forefathers (Leparoux, 115),
3--Coragil Cat (Calvin Borel, 117),
4--Forest Command (Albarado, 113),
5--Cowtown Cat (Rene Douglas, 115),
6--Magna Graduate (Bridgmohan, 120)