Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has already saddled more winners of the $200,000-added Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) than anyone at Churchill Downs, sends out the imposing duo of Be Gentle and Stellar Jayne in Saturday's 60th renewal of the race for 2-year-old fillies.
Lukas will be looking for his fifth winner of the 1 1/16-mile race, the third of four stakes races in Churchill Downs $1.2 million "Big Four Weekend." The Golden Rod has attracted a field of 12 fillies and shares the day's spotlight with the $200,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) for 2-year-olds.
A win by either of the Lukas stars in Saturday's Golden Rod would not be a surprise. Be Gentle, owned by Thomas F. Van Meter II, proved her quality with front-running victories in the Debutante (gr. III) at Churchill Downs and the Darley Alcibiades (gr. II) at Keeneland and a runner-up finish to Ashado in the Spinaway (gr. I) at Saratoga.
Spendthrift Farm, Chuck Kidder, Nancy Cole and Nick Strong's Stellar Jayne has built a winning streak that now stands at three. The gray daughter of Wild Rush likes to run from well off the pace and avoided a fallen rival in deep stretch as she rallied to win the $100,000 Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 1.
Be Gentle was a well-beaten 11th to unbeaten Halfbridled in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Santa Anita, but endured a rough start that day that robbed her of her trademark early speed. But poor runs in the Juvenile Fillies have not been a problem for Lukas trainees in the Golden Rod. Three of his previous four winners -- Lilly Capote (1994), City Band ('96) and Love Lock ('97) -- won the race after Breeders' Cup losses.
"Sometimes those Breeders' Cup races don't unfold like you hope," said Lukas. "She didn't have the best of trips and she's much better than she showed in the Breeders' Cup. I think she's got a great chance to bounce back and run well."
Jockey John McKee will ride Be Gentle, a daughter of Tale of the Cat that has crafted a 3-0-1 record in six races and has earned $380,478. Cornelio Velasquez, who has been the regular rider this fall on both of Lukas' fillies, will ride Stellar Jayne.
Be Gentle, who drew post 10, is the 3-1 morning line favorite. Stellar Jayne will break from the outside post as the 5-1 third choice in his morning line odds.
Trainer Ken McPeek will also saddle a pair of Golden Rod contenders in William A. Carl's Darley Alcibiades runner-up Galloping Gal, the second choice in the morning line at 7-2, and John and Julie Marker's Sister Star, the third-place finisher in the Pocahontas.
Another contender is Hurstland Farm and Kevin McLaughlin's Turn To Lass, the runner-up in the Pocahontas who has won two of three starts.
The field also includes the 1-2 finishers in a recent Churchill Downs allowance race: William S. Farish's Sheer Luck and Dolphus Morrison's Lotta Kim.$200,000 Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II), 2-year-old fillies, 1 1/6 mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, ML
1. Birthday Song, 116, Jesus Castanon, 15-1
2. Galloping Gal, 122, Brice Blanc, 7-2
3. Penny's Fortune, 116, Shane Sellers, 12-1
4. Lotta Kim, 116, Pat Day, 8-1
5. Lenatareese, 116, Corey Lanerie, 20-1
6. Sister Star, 116, Larry Melancon, 12-1
7. Jinny's Gold, 116, Tammy Fox, 30-1
8. Sheer Luck, 118, Calvin Borel, 5-1
9. Twilight Gallop, 116, Rafael Bejarano, 12-1
10. Be Gentle, 122, John McKee, 3-1
11. Dynaville, 116, Craig Perret, 20-1
12. Stellar Jayne, 122, Cornelio Velasquez, 5-1