Millennium Farms’ Student Council will try the turf – a surface he’s never won over – for the first time since December of 2006 when he tackles seven other starters in the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Sam Houston April 5, but trainer Donnie von Hemel expects Going Ballistic to put up a fight.
Student Council, a 6-year-old son of Kingmambo bred in Kentucky by William S. Farish out of the Kris S. mare Class Kris, is best known for his 2007 upset of the Pacific Classic (gr. I), which he won at odds of 23-1 before taking the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) for trainer Vladimir Cerin. But Student Council has not won in three starts since then, running eighth in the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I), fifth in the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II), and sixth in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).
In four turf attempts, the Kingmambo runner has finished seventh, fifth, third, and sixth, his only stakes attempt resulting in the seventh-place finish in the 2006 running of Fair Grounds’ Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap. He has also drawn the top weight of 120 in the field.
Those factors combined make the race an attractive one for Kindred Thoroughbreds’ Going Ballistic, a 4-year-old son of Lite the Fuse. Bred in Florida by Adena Springs out of the Holy Bull mare Holy Lightning, the Von Hemel trainee last ran third in the March 8 Razorback Handicap (gr. III) – and although he has not run over turf since a third-place finish in Arlington Park’s Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT), he has never finished worse than third on the surface and owns two turf victories – including his maiden win at Lone Star.
“He’s done real good since his last race, which was the Razorback at Oaklawn against older horses,” said Von Hemel. “I thought he put in a good effort; Jonesboro was on the lead by himself and kind of had things his own way, although he would have been tough to beat anyhow. I was pleased with my horse’s effort and it was good to get back and run well that day after our California debacle, where the track was so lightning fast he didn’t run a jump (in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita).”
Going Ballistic has a 6-2-4 record from 20 starts, and won the 2007 Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs. His most recent score came in the 2007 Oklahoma Derby, by 3 1/4 lengths over Reporting for Duty.
“As far as turf or dirt goes, I really think he’s good on either; he’s quality on either surface,” Von Hemel said. "We'll see how it goes."
A proven turf performer in his own rite is Gary Tanaka’s Embossed. Bred in Ireland by Harron Eakin Farms out of the Vision mare Way First, the 6-year-old son of Mark of Esteem was off the board in his last three starts but owns victories in the Dallas Turf Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT) and the Kentucky Cup Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT). He was also second in the 2007 running of the John B. Connally, closing with a rush to miss by just three-quarters of a length. Niall O’Callaghan trains.
Looking to take a step up in class is Tawana Cantrell’s Scrappy Roo, a 5-year-old Roo Art gelding bred in Texas by Dr. David S. Taylor out of the King Lyph mare Dance’s Lyph. Trained by John Locke, Scrappy Roo has been climbing the claiming ranks on a four-race winning streak and most recently took his first blacktype win in the Tomball Stakes at Sam Houston Feb. 23.
Also coming off a winning streak is the Bobby Barnett-trained Firerock Base, a 4-year-old son of Indian Charliebred in Kentucky by Hedgewood Farm, Hiram Nuckols, and Thomas Saafeld out of the Boundary mare Fun Bound. Firerock Base last won a March 9 allowance race at Fair Grounds by 1 ¾ lengths, which he won after taking his first turf attempt in February by three-quarters of a length.
Eighteenthofmarch, Wise River, and Mr. Unstoppable complete the field.
$200,000 John B. Connally Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT, Race 7, approximate post 9:36 p.m.), 1 1/8 miles for older horses, turf
PP, Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Eighteenthofmarch, 114, Rodney Prescott
2. Wise River, 114, Willie Martinez
3. Scrappy Roo, 113, Paul Nolan
4. Student Council, 120, Quincy Hamilton
5. Embossed, 116, Larry Melancon
6. Going Ballistic, 116, M. Clifton Berry
7. Mr. Unstoppable, 110, Bobby Walker, Jr.
8. Firerock Base, 114, Curt Bourque