The name of Mill House’s multiple stakes winner Brilliant was among nine dropped in the entry box on Wednesday for Saturday’s $250,000-added Firecracker Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Neil Howard entered Brilliant in the Firecracker despite having missed some training following a close defeat in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) on Kentucky Derby Day. When the son of 2000 Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner War Chant returned to training, Howard put the 4-year-old colt on an accelerated work schedule that concluded with a four-furlong move over the main track on Tuesday. Brilliant worked in company with a stablemate and covered the distance in :49 over a “fast” surface under regular exercise rider Annie Finney.
“He breezed fine,” said Howard. “I wanted to work him with another horse and it was getting hot, so we worked him on the dirt rather than wait for the grass. He trains good on the dirt.”
Brilliant was being pointed toward a run in Woodbine’s Connaught Cup (Can-III) when he was found to have a higher than normal count of white blood cells. He did not resume serious training until his white cell count returned to normal.
As he worked to make up for lost time and get Brilliant to the Firecracker, Howard worked the colt four times over a span of 16 days. Along with Tuesday’s move, Brilliant’s string of works included a half-mile turf breeze around the “dogs” in :52 1/5 on June 12; five furlongs on the dirt in the company of a stablemate in 1:00 1/5 on June 17; and a June 22 work over seven furlongs around the “dogs” on turf in 1:22.
“I’m slightly apprehensive, but I think everything’s okay,” said Howard. “In a perfect world, an extra work or two spaced a little more normal would have been a little better. But, all in all, he’s doing good.”
The Mill House colt will bring a record of 5-4-2 in 13 races into the Firecracker Breeders’ Cup – including a record of 3-2-0 in five races at Churchill Downs that also includes a victory in the 2006 Jefferson Cup (gr. IIT). He has earned $670,818.
Two New York-based contenders for the Firecracker Breeders’ Cup – Holly Rincon’s Remarkable News and Klaravich Stable’s Outperformance – arrived at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. Gary Tanaka’s Vega’s Lord will travel to Churchill Downs from Hollywood Park, but trainer Neil Drysdale had not advised track officials of travel plans for the 4-year-old German-bred as of Wednesday.
Remarkable News, a 5-year-old Venezuelan-bred, carries high weight of 122 pounds -- one more than Brilliant -- after winning the accident-marred Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) on the Pimlico lawn during Preakness day May 19. Remarkable News won by three-quarters of a length. Outperformance finished third.
$250,000 Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 10, 5:51 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Remarkable News (VEN), 122, Ramon A. Dominguez
2. Hold the Salt (KY), 112, Brian J. Hernandez, Jr.
3. Free Thinking (KY), 114, Jesus L. Castanon
4. Brilliant (KY), 121, Mark Guidry
5. Obi Wan Kenobi (KY), 115, Jamie Theriot
6. Vega's Lord (GER), 116, Robby Albarado
7. Crested (GB), 115, Shaun Bridgmohan
8. Outperformance (KY), 115, Rafael Bejarano
9. Tiganello (GER), 115, Julien R. Leparoux