Plenty of Upside
As fate would have it, the glorious late fall weather was chased out of town closing day, Nov. 24, by a windy front that dumped heavy rain on Churchill by early afternoon. The track's umbrella giveaway couldn't have been better timed, but the sloppy track added a bit of intrigue to the day's featured events, the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) for 2-year-olds, and the Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) for 2-year-old fillies.
More than a few of the juveniles handled the off track very well. The performances by the winners have their connections thinking ahead to the first week in May 2002.
Select Stable's Repent, trained by Ken McPeek, endured a brutal trip to win the $217,000 Kentucky Jockey Club rather easily by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:44.42 for 11/16 miles over Request for Parole and High Star. In the $215,200 Golden Rod, a still-green Belterra romped by 4 1/2 lengths over Take Charge Lady and Lotta Rhythm for owner Robert Manfuso and trainer Carl Nafzger.
"How much trouble can you get into in a six-horse field?" said jockey Tony D'Amico of Repent, who was steadied or bottled up at several points in the race. "I was worried about finding a hole, but I knew I had a lot of horse. He's doing everything we ask of him."
Repent, a $230,000 buy at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale in 2000, finished second to Johannesburg in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) in his previous start. McPeek said the Louis Quatorze colt would get about a month and a half off and probably race next in March, though he didn't indicate which route he would take on the Triple Crown trail.
Belterra, bred by her owner, is now three-for-three. Jon Court, who has ridden her in all her starts, said the filly "is obviously still learning, but she looks really powerful when she launches her run. I reached down and tapped her one time, and she just got right to the business. She really enjoys what she's doing out there."
Belterra is by the late Unbridled, winner of the 1990 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) for Nafzger. Assistant trainer Ian Wilkes said the filly will take it "one step at a time," but he couldn't help but dream a little bit.
"It's a lot of fun, isn't it?" Wilkes said of Belterra's mini streak at the start of her career. "It's what you're always looking for--that one special one." Bet on the Stretch-Out
A non-stakes event at Churchill Downs usually doesn't draw too much interest, but when a 9-year-old gelding who's arguably the most popular horse on the grounds goes two turns for the first time in 43 career starts, it gets the juices flowing.
Could millionaire Bet On Sunshine, third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) on two occasions, handle a money-allowance field at 1 1/16 miles? The answer, much to the delight of his many fans, was a resounding yes.
With Calvin Borel aboard, Bet On Sunshine rated handily in fifth along the rail in the nine-horse field, and had moved to third about two lengths off the lead near the top of the stretch. In the blink of an eye, the veteran shot through an opening on the rail and was on top by a couple of lengths at the top the stretch. He widened to win under wraps by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:43.24 on a sloppy track.
Bet On Sunshine, owned by David P. Holloway Racing and trained by Paul McGee, was met with loud cheers upon his return to the winner's circle.
"He's a racehorse," Borel said. "I want to thank Paul and the owners for giving me the opportunity to ride him. I give Paul a 110% of the credit--this horse is like a 3-year-old. He'll run all day. He's just all class."
McGee entered Bet On Sunshine in the race when a sprint failed to fill. He had considered scratching him the day of the race, and in the paddock before the race said he believed the event came up rather tough. Bet On Sunshine, now 22 for 43 in his career, defeated a field of mostly two-turn specialists.
"If he had run him in the Breeders' Cup Classic five years ago, he would have won it," trainer Niall O'Callaghan said jokingly after the race.
Bet On Sunshine finished 13th in this year's Penske Auto Center Breeders' Cup Sprint in his first off-the-board finish since June 1999. Borel said the gelding just didn't care for the surface Oct. 27 at Belmont Park.
It seems absurd, but does McGee actually have options with the soon-to-be 10-year-old? "I'll have to get with Mr. Holloway, and we'll see what happens," he said.Curtain Call
Steve Asmussen took his first Churchill training title with 13 winners, while Pat Day notched 17th fall title, and 31st overall, with 32 riding victories. Ken and Sarah Ramsey won their fourth consecutive leading owner title with nine wins...Total purses paid for the fall meet were $9,719,015, up about 1% from last fall. The four graded stakes that topped off the meet accounted for $1,157,700, or more than 10% of the total purse outlay for the 24-day session.