Veteran campaigners Presious Passion and Cloudy's Knight each gained fans coast-to-coast with bravado runner-up finishes in Breeders’ Cup championship races at Santa Anita last month. The two grade I winners will meet Dec. 26 in the $150,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder Casino and Race Course.
The W.L. McKnight, at 1 1/2 miles on turf, is the highlight of a 12-race program that also will include renewals of the $100,000 Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap (gr. III) at seven furlongs and the $100,000 Stage Door Betty Handicap (gr. III) for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.
Jockey Elvis Trujillo will be back aboard Patricia Generazio’s 6-year-old Presious Passion in the McKnight, a race the chestnut gelding first captured in 2007 as a 67-1 chance and again last December at 7-1 for trainer Mary Hartmann. The front-running chestnut gelding by Royal Anthem will almost certainly go favored after his game runner-up finish last out in the $3 million Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT), beaten only a half-length by repeat winner Conduit.
Presious Passion’s career bankroll now stands at nearly $2.6 million and his record also includes back-to-back victories in the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park and another grade I victory in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes over the Santa Anita course prior to the Breeders’ Cup.
Jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr., a South Florida favorite throughout her career, has been the rider of S J Stable’s 9-year-old Cloudy’s Knight in all of his races this year for trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Sheppard brought the chestnut gelding by Lord Avie back from a one-year layoff to win three of four starts this season, all in long-distance stakes.
Cloudy’s Knight began his season winning the Kentucky Cup Turf (gr. IIIT) at Kentucky Downs in September and Sycamore Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland in October, both at 12 furlongs on turf. Then came his heart-breaking defeat when nosed by Irish-trained Man of Iron in the $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon at 1 3/4 miles on the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita.
Shipped out of Sheppard’s Pennsylvania farm to Canada, Cloudy’s Knight won the 13-furlong Valedictory Stakes at Woodbine on Dec. 6. His grade I credentials were established with a victory going 12 furlongs on turf in the Canadian International Championship (gr. IT) at Woodbine in 2007 and his bankroll now stands at more than $2.4 million.
While the two Breeders’ Cup veterans will be the center of attention in the race, they face several other highly-accomplished rivals in the field of 11. Mr. and Mrs. Bert Firestone’s 4-year-old Winchester, winner of the 2008 Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park, and Harlequin Ranches’ 5-year-old Spice Route, whose resume includes victories in the Elkhorn Stakes (gr. IIT) at Keeneland and Tropical Turf (gr. IIIT) at Calder, are among the leading contenders.
A Virginia homebred son of Theatrical, Winchester is trained by Christophe Clement and will be ridden by Alan Garcia. Jockey John R. Velazquez commences his South Florida winter campaign riding English-bred Spice Route for trainer and co-owner Roger Attfield
Completing the field are Butterfly Stable’s Memorial Maniac, JMJ Racing’s Warning Zone, Joseph Cornacchia’s New Fandan, Haras Old Friends Stable’s Mr.Universo, Charles White and Felisha Ray’s Silver Mountain, Lewis Pell and Michael Eigner’s Imawildandcrazyguy and Teresa and James Remez’ Livingston Street.
$150,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IT, Race 10, 4:17 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Winchester (VA), A Garcia, 117, C Clement, 4/1
2. Memorial Maniac (KY), C H Marquez, Jr., 112, L W Demeritte, 20/1
3. Warning Zone (VA), E Castro, 117, M D Wolfson, 6/1
4. Spice Route (GB), J R Velazquez, 118, R L Attfield, 6/1
5. New Fandan (BRZ), E S Prado, 114, D Fawkes, 15/1
6. Mr.Universo (BRZ), M R Cruz, 114, P H Lobo, 15/1
7. Silver Mountain (KY), J Lezcano, 116, T F Proctor, 10/1
8. Imawildandcrazyguy (FL), E O Nunez, 113, W A Kaplan, 20/1
9. Cloudy's Knight (KY), R B Homeister Jr., 122, J E Sheppard, 5/1
10. Presious Passion (FL), E Trujillo, 123, M Hartmann, 5/2
11. Livingston Street (FL), L Saez, 114, W A Kaplan, 15/1