Trainer Neil Howard hopes that he will be able to dub Saturday as "Brothers Day" as he sends the regally bred Rock Slide out in search of his first graded stakes victory in the $250,000-added Firecracker Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs.
William S. Farish, Temple Webber, Jr. and James Elkins' 5-year-old son of A.P Indy is a full brother to the Howard-trained Mineshaft, who will attempt to affirm his status as one of America's elite older horses on the same afternoon in the $500,000 Suburban Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park. Big brother Rock Slide faces eight rivals in the one-mile Firecracker on the grass.
The Firecracker Breeders' Cup will be televised nationally by CBS-TVas part of the "NTRA Summer Tour" series. The race will be featured along with the Suburban and the $750,000-added American Oaks at Hollywood Park on the telecast that is scheduled for 5-6 p.m.
While Rock Slide is not as accomplished as his younger brother, who won the Pimlico Special (gr. I) and was a close runner-up to Perfect Drift in Churchill Downs' Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), he is carving out a niche of his own on the turf. Rock Slide is unbeaten in three races on the surface, including a recent win in the $150,000-added Sea O'Erin Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park.
Rock Slide seems to have adapted to the turf much better than his celebrated brother, who won only one of seven races over the surface in England before he returned to the United States.
"I think Rock Slide likes the grass more because of some little infirmities that he has," said Howard. "I think he likes it because he's more comfortable on it."
While Rock Slide is not the near perfect physical specimen that Mineshaft has turned out to be, Howard said the horses are otherwise quite similar.
"They're both really nice horses to work around," he said, "They've both got great demeanors, they're honest and consistent."
Rock Slide, who will carry highweight of 117 pounds, will be ridden by Willie Martinez and is listed as the 3-1 favorite in the morning line odds.
Other major contenders include Eutrophia Farm's Package Store, a close third in the Sea O' Erin Breeders Cup; Michael Tabor's Pass Rush, a multiple stakes winner on dirt who makes his turf debut for trainer Patrick Byrne; New York invader Tap The Admiral, winner of the John Henry at Arlington Park, and Brereton C. Jones' recent allowance winner Entitlement.
$250,000-added Firecracker Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT), 3 & up, 1 mile on turf
PP. Horse (Weight), Jockey, ML Odds
1. Freefourinternet (114), Brice Blanc, 12-1
2. Entitlement (111), Calvin Borel, 5-1
3. Package Store (114), Cornelio Velasquez, 7-2
4. Tap The Admiral (115), John McKee, 5-1
5. Al's Dearly Bred (114), Seth Martinez, 12-1
6. Pass Rush (115), Larry Melancon, 9-2
7. Rock Slide (117), Willie Martinez, 3-1
8. Classic Par (112), Lonnie Meche, 10-1
9. Cat Tracker (110), Jon Court, 12-1