Frac Daddy makes his second start of 2015 in the Firecracker Stakes.

Frac Daddy makes his second start of 2015 in the Firecracker Stakes.

Michael Burns

Frac Daddy, Departing in Firecracker Rematch

Recently moved to turf, Al Stall runner takes on foe who defeated him last out.

Three who hit the board in the May 30 Opening Verse Stakes will come back to face off again, except for the victorious The Pizza Man, in the $200,000 Firecracker Stakes (gr. IIT) June 27 at Churchill Downs.

The one-mile turf test, carded as race 11 on a "Downs After Dark" card with an approximate post time of 9:39 p.m. EDT, drew a field of nine older horses all assigned 121 pounds, including the intriguing duo of Departing and Medal Count  from the barn of trainer Al Stall Jr. The Pizza Man was not under Firecracker consideration and instead is expected to target Arlington's $100,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap (gr. IIIT) over 1 1/2 miles on turf on July 11.

Runner-up in the Opening Verse was Magic City Thoroughbred Partners' Frac Daddy , who has taken to turf with positive results. Trainer Ken McPeek sent the 5-year-old son of Scat Daddy into the Opening Verse for his season debut; he had not run since a fourth-place finish in the July 26 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) on the synthetic surface at Del Mar off a good first part of the year that saw him win both the Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) on the old Polytrack at Keeneland and the Eclipse Stakes (Can-II) on Polytrack at Woodbine with a fourth-place finish in the Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) in between.

Frac Daddy set the pace in the 1 1/16-mile Opening Verse before yielding late to The Pizza Man, who won by 2 1/2 lengths.

Rating behind Frac Daddy's pace before ultimately finishing third was Departing, the 2013 Illinois Derby (gr. III) winner who also was making his first start of the year off a seventh in the Nov. 28 Clark Handicap (gr. I). The Opening Verse marked his turf debut for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider in which he made a bid but hung in the final stages.

Miguel Mena gets the mount from post 7 on the 5-year-old War Front  gelding.

Stall considered a return to dirt and cut back in distance for Departing next start in Saturday's $70,000-added Kelly's Landing overnight stakes at seven furlongs, but called an audible Wednesday morning.

"Departing had a great 3-year-old year (in 2013)," Stall said. "Whether he did or did not take a step forward as an older horse, his form doesn't show it. Maybe he just caught the right fields as a 3-year-old. 

"Being by War Front, we always had grass in the back of our mind. He's trained well. He ran about the same type of race on the grass that we'd seen on the dirt as a 4-year-old. So we didn't learn a whole lot. (The Opening Verse) wasn't a bad race, it wasn't a great race. It was okay; he handled the course properly which is more important than anything else. 

"You would think he'd move forward off that race. We had 183 days off. I just hope he's fitter and little more mentally dialed in. He'll have a chance if that happens."

Stall will also send out Medal Count in his second start and first stakes try since switching from the barn of Dale Romans. The 4-year-old Dynaformer runner was fifth and last of all June 20 in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claimer that came off the turf. That outing on the Churchill dirt was his first start since a seventh in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT) last September, and he wheels back to this spot on the turf just seven days later.

James Graham rides Medal Count from post 8.

"He's given us an indication—the way he's eating and his brightness—that he can turn right around and do it again," Stall said. "We're just looking to see some effort out of him because a lot of times when you give those stud horses time away from the racetrack they don't come back as true blue as they left. You can't identify anything that's bugging him so we're just looking for a little effort out of him. He's got the potential to fit right in there so it's just a fact-finding mission.

"The race came up just like the racing office had advertised. That's how this game works. We'll take a win any way we can get it. But as far as the horses go, both of them look wonderful, they're sound and happy. Now it's up to them. Rain or shine, Departing will go. Medal Count will be turf only. But we're going to go over there and see what happens."

Another familiar entrant is Calumet Farm's hard-knocking Skyring, who comes off a seventh in the May 15 Longines Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) at Pimlico Race Course. The 6-year-old son of English Channel  seeks his first win for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas since taking the Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap (gr. IIT) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots last March, six starts ago. Joe Rocco Jr. rides from the outside post.

John Oxley's Sky Flight, winner of the 2014 Tropical Park Derby, returns in this spot off a layup, having not raced for trainer Mark Casse since a third-place finish after pressing the pace in the Jan. 24 Tampa Bay Stakes (gr. IIIT). The 4-year-old son of Sky Mesa  gets Julien Leparoux in the irons from post 2.

Allowance winners R. Great Adventure (fourth in the Opening Verse), Knights Nation, Hammers Terror, and Slip By complete the field. Slip By will run without Lasix for trainer Michael Matz.

Entries: Firecracker S. (G2T)

Churchill Downs, Saturday, June 27, 2015, Race 8

  • Grade IIT
  • 1m
  • Turf
  • $200,000
  • 3 yo's & up
  • 9:39 PM (local)
11Frac Daddy (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateCorey J. Lanerie121Kenneth G. McPeek-
22Sky Flight (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJulien R. Leparoux121Mark E. Casse-
33Slip By (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateRafael Manuel Hernandez121Michael R. Matz-
44R. Great Adventure (KY)Jamie Theriot121Brian Williamson-
55Hammers Terror (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateRobby Albarado121Michael J. Maker-
66Knights Nation (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateBrian Joseph Hernandez, Jr.121Dallas Stewart-
77Departing (KY)Miguel Mena121Albert M. Stall, Jr.-
88Medal Count (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJames Graham121Albert M. Stall, Jr.-
99Skyring (KY)Joseph Rocco, Jr.121D. Wayne Lukas-