Churchill Fall Meet Opens With Ack Ack 'Cap

(from Churchill Downs report)
Dogwood Stable's Vicarage, a dominating 10-length winner of the Perryville Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, is the 8-5 morning line favorite in Sunday's $100,000-added Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) at Churchill Downs, the featured event on the opening day of a 21-day fall meet.

The 3-year-old son of Vicar, part of a field of nine entered in the 7 1/2-furlong Ack Ack, will attempt to give trainer Todd Pletcher a fast start in his first full meet at Churchill Downs. The Eclipse Award-winning trainer of 2004 has a stable of 26 horses for the meet, which ends Nov. 26. Pletcher currently leads the nation's trainers in earnings.

Vicarage finished third to Don't Get Mad in the $100,000 Derby Trial in April, his only previous race at Churchill Downs. His runaway victory in the seven-furlong Perryville improved his career record to 4-1-2 in 14 races and boosted his earnings to $392,645.

The colt, who will carry co-high weight of 117 pounds was ridden by John Velazquez at Keeneland, but will have Rafael Bejarano in the saddle on Sunday. Bejarano has won the past two spring meet riding crowns at Churchill Downs.

A leading contender is Fly Racing LLC's Level Playingfield, who finished second at odds of 50-1 to TVG Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) competitor Battle Won in the Churchill Downs Handicap (gr. II) in May. The 4-year-old son of Level Sands finished fourth to Elusive Jazz, another Breeders' Cup Sprint hopeful, last time out in Keeneland's Phoenix Breeders' Cup (gr. III). He won the Marfa Handicap for veteran trainer Robert Holthus prior to his effort at Keeneland.

"He's really been an overachiever," said Holthus. "Every time you lead him over there he gives you a good effort. He's got a heart that's bigger than he is."

The steady Level Playingfield has compiled a career record of 7-8-6 in 27 races with earnings of $441,418. He has a record of 1-2-2 in six races at Churchill Downs, with a fifth-place finish to track record-smashing Kelly's Landing in the Aristides Breeders' Cup (gr. III) being his only poor effort at the Louisville track.

Jockey John McKee, the leading jockey of the 2004 Fall Meet at Churchill Downs, will ride the veteran gelding. Level Playingfield will carry 115 pounds and it listed at 6-1 in the morning line for the Ack Ack.

Other accomplished contenders for the Ack Ack Handicap include Thad Ackel's Artemus Sunrise, who was claimed by trainer Steve Flint for $40,000 in May and won the Turfway Park Fall Championship (gr. III) last time out; Miho Izumi's Nakayama Kun, winner of the Governors Handicap at Ellis Park for trainer Akiko Gothard; and Billy Hays' Sterling Gold, winner of the Don Bernhardt Memorial at Ellis Park for trainer Joe Woodard.

$100,000-added Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III, Race 9, 4:32 p.m.), 3 & up, 7 1/2 furlongs
PP. Horse (weight) Jockey, ML Odds
1. Artemus Sunrise (117) Jesus Castanon, 5-1
2. Go Now (113) David Flores, 5-1
3. Straight Line (114) Shawn Bridgmohan, 10-1
4. Britt's Jules (114) John Jacinto, 30-1
5. Nakayama Kun (117) Eddie Martin, Jr., 12-1
6. Level Playingfield (116) John McKee, 6-1
7. Nkosi Reigns (115) Robby Albarado, 8-1
8. Vicarage (117) Rafael Bejarano, 8-5
9. Sterling Gold (116) Mike Smith, 6-1