Two-time grade I winner Champs Elysees, who just missed in last month’s Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), will make his Keeneland debut on April 24 in the $200,000 Fifth Third Elkhorn (gr. IIT), the spring meeting’s closing day feature.
Among those Champs Elysees will face are hard-knocking veterans Better Talk Now, Brass Hat and Always First— all multiple graded stakes winners. A full field of 12 and a pair of also-eligibles were entered for the 12-furlong turf contest.
Owned and bred by Juddmonte Farms, Champs Elysees made a huge, four-wide move into the lane in the March 7 Santa Anita Handicap while being sent off at 27-1, only to fall a length short of Einstein. The 6-year-old son of Danehill was making the second start of his season for trainer Bobby Frankel.
Bred in England, Champs Elysees has been based in California since 2007. Last year, he claimed victories in the San Marcos (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita, Northern Dancer (Can-IT) at Woodbine and Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. IT) — all of them on turf. In 23 career starts, 11 of which came in Europe, Champs Elysees has won five times and banked more than $1.5 million. The bay horse drew post 11 and was assigned top weight of 124 pounds. Jose Valdivia Jr. will have the mount.
At age 10, Brushwood Stables’ Better Talk Now is likely coming near the end of his outstanding career. The Talkin Man gelding will return to Keeneland for the first time since 2003 and will seek his first win in four tries in Lexington.
Among the notable wins in Better Talk Now’s career are the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) and John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) in 2004, and the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth the following year. Trained by Graham Motion, his last victory came in 2007 in the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at Belmont. The dark bay, who has earned more than $4.2 million from 48 lifetime starts, is winless in his last nine tries and will make his 2009 debut with regular rider Ramon Dominguez aboard.
Another gelding who may be coming close to the end of his racing career is Fred Bradley’s Brass Hat. Like Better Talk Now, he is winless in his last nine starts. The 8-year-old son of Prized last hit the winner’s circle in September of 2007 when taking the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs. Winner of the Ohio Derby (gr. II), Indiana Derby (gr. II) and Donn Handicap (gr. I), Brass Hat has recovered from serious injuries twice in his remarkable career.
Trained by Buff Bradley, Brass Hat in winless in six lifetime starts on turf, but his last effort was encouraging. Making his second start of the season, Brass Hat finished fifth, beaten just 1 1/4 lengths in the Mervyn Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) March 14 at Fair Grounds. He was also third to Dancing Forever in last year’s Elkhorn. Calvin Borel has the call.
Merriefield Farm’s Always First must be considered a serious threat based on his liking for the Keeneland turf course. The 8-year-old gelded son of Barathea missed by just a neck back in the 2007 Elkhorn and won the Sycamore Stakes (gr. IIIT) last fall by three parts of a length over current entrant Transduction Gold. Trained by Tom Voss, Always First’s biggest win came in the 2005 Sunset Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park. Garrett Gomez will be in the irons.
Also with a chance is last month's Pan American (gr. IIIT) winner Buddy's Humor, as well as Quasicobra and Spice Route, second and third, respectively, in the Feb. 21 Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream Park.