The 27-day "Fall Festival of Racing" kicks off at historic Churchill Downs Sunday with a battle of middle distance stars in the $150,000-added Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III).
Apt To Be, owned by Arlington Park President Richard Duchossois, and Donamire Farm's 2002 Ack Ack winner Twilight Road loom as major threats in the 7 1/2-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up. But Michael Tabor's Pass Rush does his best running under the Twin Spires and is the morning line favorite for the first of 11 fall stakes events with record total purses of $2.2 million.
The record Ack Ack purse, an increase of $50,000 from last year, attracted a field of seven.
Pass Rush, an Indiana-bred son of Crown Ambassador trained by Patrick Byrne, will run for the first time since a fifth-place finish in his turf debut in Churchill Downs' Firecracker Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT) on July 5. Despite the layoff, he has been installed as the 3-1 morning line choice.
"We've been waiting for this race," Byrne said. "It's a good distance for him and he really likes the track surface, so I think he's going to be set-up for a big effort."
The 4-year-old Pass Rush, who will carry 116 pounds, was the runner-up to Aldebaran in the Churchill Downs Handicap (gr. II) and won the San Fernando Breeders' Cup (gr. II) at Santa Anita. Pat Day will ride Pass Rush, who has a record 3-2-2 in eight races at Churchill Downs.
The Chris Block-trained Apt To Be, a 6-year-old Rahy gelding, carries a three-race winning streak that includes a seven-length romp in the Hanshin Handicap (gr. III) at Arlington Park on June 29. He has won nine races in 24 starts. His record includes an easy five-length victory last November in a Churchill Downs allowance race at the Ack Ack distance.
Apt To Be was assigned high weight of 120 pounds and will concede from three to six pounds to his rivals. Regular rider Eusabio Razo, Jr. will ride.
The Paul J. McGee-trained Twilight Road romped to a 2 1/2-length victory in the 2002 Ack Ack and has notched a pair of allowance wins in five races this year, including a victory in May at Churchill Downs. The 6-year-old Cahill Road gelding, who will be ridden by Robby Albarado at 116 pounds, has scored half of his eight career victories at Churchill Downs.
Other contenders include Dubai Sheikh, winner of the Don Bernhardt Memorial at Ellis Park, and Cat Tracker and Cappuchino, the 2-3 finishers in the Turfway Fall Championship (gr. III).
$150,000-added Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III), 3 & up, 7 1/2 furlongs
PP. Horse (Weight), Jockey, ML Odds
1. Woodmoon (114), Mark Guidry, 10-1
2. Twilight Road (116), Robby Albarado, 4-1
3. Pass Rush (116), Pat Day, 3-1
4. Cat Tracker (116), Larry Melancon, 7-2
5. Dubai Sheikh (117), Cornelio Velasquez, 4-1
6. Apt To Be (120), Eusebio Razo, Jr., 4-1
7. Cappuchino (117), Jon Court, 8-1