Sir Cherokee and Calvin Borel launched a rally from last and romped to an authoritative victory over odds-on favorite Fire Slam in Sunday's $163,500 Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III), the opening day feature of Churchill Downs' 21-day fall race meet.Sir Cherokee, racing for the first time since undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from both front ankles this summer, covered the 7 1/2-furlongs in 1:29:48 and paid $14.80, $3.80 and $3.60. Fire Slam, the 3-5 favorite with Pat Day aboard, rallied late to gain the runner-up spot and returned $2.60 and $2.20. Slate Run, who had been claimed in August for $15,000, finished third under Willie Martinez and paid $3.40. The 4-year-old son of Cherokee Run won last year's $500,000 Arkansas Derby (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park and was entered in the 2003 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) but was withdrawn after he suffered an ankle injury the day before the race. He returned to racing last fall with a victory in an allowance race at Churchill Downs and began 2004 with a victory in a stakes race in Texas, but then suffered five consecutive losses before he underwent ankle surgery in June.Owned and bred by Domino Stud of Lexington and trained by Michael Tomlinson, Sir Cherokee posted his second win of the season in seven starts. He earned $102,486 to increase his career total to $628,296 as he improved his overall record to 6-3-2 in 18 starts. "This colt has had such tough luck - beginning Derby Day (of 2003) everything went downhill," said Tomlinson. "He never was the same horse until the layoff this time (after his ankle surgery) and the horse has probably been training as well as he did before the Arkansas Derby last year. We're pretty proud of him." Cappuchino, winner of the 2003 Ack Ack, sped to the early lead and took the field of six through an opening quarter in :22.82 and a half-mile in :45.49. Borel settled Sir Cherokee in last place and followed the field down the backstretch before he launched his late bid and circled the field. Private Horde briefly battled Slate Run for the lead at the head of the stretch before Sir Cherokee swept past that pair and drew off for the win. "When we headed down the backstretch I saw about four of them up there (on the lead) and that just made it sweeter," said Borel. "At the three-eighths pole I knew it was just a matter of how far (I was going to win). He was starting to beg for me to let him run a little bit."The win was the fourth for Borel in the 12-year history of the race. He also won the Ack Ack in 1996, '98 and '99.
OPENING DAY NOTES: An off-the-board finish by the heavily favored Patriot Act in Sunday's fourth race resulted in enormous payouts on $2 wagers to show. Patriot Act, who had finished second in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland in his most recent start, went off as the 1-5 favorite but finished a dull fifth in a field of 10 horses in the 1 1/16-mile maiden race. Of the $372,113 wagered in the show pool, $352,332 of that total was wagered on Patriot Act. As a result, the victorious Rush Bay paid $23.60 to win, $14.60 to place and $60.80 to show. Runner-up Silent Bid returned $8.20 to place and $39.20 to show and the third-place finisher, 86-1 shot Dynamic Storm, paid $254 to show. Churchill Downs does not keep records on all-time show payouts, but the $254 show mutuel on Dynamic Storm would rank 10th among the track's all-time largest win payouts... Jockey Calvin Borel's victory aboard Sir Cherokee in the Ack Ack Handicap was his 28th stakes victory at Churchill Downs and moved him into sole possession of seventh place on the track's all-time list of stakes wins by a jockey. He had been tied at 27 with Craig Perret...The Ack Ack victory allowed Borel to move closer to career victory number 4,000.(Chart, Equibase)