The Miller Lite Cradle Stakes has long been known as the first major two-turn test for 2-year-olds. And though it will be run as usual at 1 1/16 miles Sept. 3, there’s a major change that reflects expansion of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
The $200,000 Cradle at River Downs will be run for the first time on the turf. Officials at the Ohio racetrack were among the first in the industry to respond to Breeders’ Cup changes, one of which is the addition of a $1-million turf race for 2-year-olds this year.
Spend a Buck won the 1984 Cradle and went on to capture the 1985 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and be named Horse of the Year. The shift to the grass doesn’t mean the Cradle won’t produce a Derby prospect, but the makeup of the 11-colt field seems to indicate the connections are thinking grass.
Take Lawrence Carroll’s Old Man Buck, for instance. The son of Hold That Tiger out of Victorian Woman, by Jeblar, debuted in May at Churchill Downs and finished sixth in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight event behind victorious Kodiak Kowboy, a leader of the juvenile division. Old Man Buck resurfaced in early August, going one mile on the turf at Ellis Park, and flew home for third. He then shipped to River Downs, where he easily won the Cradle prep at one mile on the grass.
Old Man Buck is trained by Ken McPeek, who has had success in the Cradle in the past. The colt was purchased for $13,000 at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale and already has cleared that figure in earnings.
John Metcalf’s Caberneigh is another colt who made his debut sprinting on the dirt at Churchill and didn’t fire. In early August, he stretched out to a mile on the grass at Ellis Park and improved dramatically to finish second, then came back to break his maiden under the same conditions at Ellis Park for trainer Dale Romans.
Caberneigh, by E Dubai out of the Halo mare Smashing Halo, was purchased for $70,000 at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale.
The most expensive sale purchase in the field is Bakster Farm’s Ari N Julius, trained by Greg Foley. Yet another colt to have made his debut in tough maiden company during the Churchill spring meet, Ari N Julius made his two-turn debut on the turf in the Cradle prep and rallied to finish second, five lengths behind Old Man Buck.
The son of Johannesburg out of the Take Me Out mare Hello Josephine sold for $250,000 at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale. Kentucky-based jockey Larry Melancon, who traveled to River Downs Sept. 1 and won the $100,000 Bassinet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies with Kadira, is named aboard Ari N Julius.
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, for colts and fillies, is part of the Oct. 26. program that will feature three new $1-million championship races.