Churchill Downs Race Report: Nasty Return

Published in the June 2 issue of The Blood-Horse
While major thunderstorms have run across the Bluegrass state during the later weeks of May, there was one remaining storm on the horizon that had yet to rumble across Churchill Downs. Nasty Storm, a 3-year-old filly by Gulch, had been close to breaking through on several occasions. She finally did on May 26, with a neck victory over the heavily-favored Love At Noon in the $109,700 Dogwood Stakes (gr. III).

Nasty Storm came into the race for sophomore fillies with but one win to her credit as a juvenile--a maiden win in her debut last June. Tested against the best in stakes company, she managed to earn more than $200,000 while placing in three graded stakes in New York and Kentucky, her closest a heart-breaking head loss to She's a Devil Due in Keeneland's Walmac International Alcibiades Stakes (gr. II).

Owned by a partnership of former University of Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum, trainer Dallas Stewart, Daryl Elser, Joe Riccelli, and Reiley McDonald, Nasty Storm returned with a vengeance at three. Her 2001 Keeneland debut was as impressive as any Midwest filly allowance race this spring. Stewart set his sights on the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), but after battling for the early lead through swift fractions, Nasty Storm faded to finish last, more than 20 lengths behind Flute.

The next day, Derby Day, while Nasty Storm was recovering, Love At Noon set off a sonic boom, shattering the 6 1/2-furlong track mark at Churchill with an 8 3/4-length pasting of an allowance field in the opener. Trainer Bob Baffert was so enamored with the effort he dared compare the untested daughter of Afternoon Deelites to his two-time champion Silverbulletday. The effort was such she was made the 1-2 choice in the Dogwood, favored over the more tested Nasty Storm and other graded stakes-placed runners Mysia Jo and Golly Greeley.

A confident Pat Day settled Love At Noon in third early, behind the pacesetting Happily Unbridled and Nasty Storm. Nasty Storm, under Lonnie Meche, cruised to a slim advantage after a moderate half in :47.11.

"I told Lonnie that if she broke on top just let her go and settle into the race on her own," Stewart said.

"She's not an easy filly to ride," Meche said. "You have to let her do what she wants."

After six furlongs in 1:11.69, Happily Unbridled began to tire, but Love At Noon was revving up. Meche went to work and Nasty Storm opened up a 1 1/2-length lead in early stretch. "Turning for home, I was confident," Meche said. "I knew it was going to take something special to catch us." While Love At Noon may still be something special, her late rally fell a neck short at the line. Nasty Storm earned her first stakes win in 1:43.41. It was 3 1/2 lengths back to Golly Greeley in third with Mysia Jo fourth.

"I'm glad to see her redeem herself after her race in the Oaks," Stewart said. "We want to keep her running into this fall. She's valuable and we want to keep her value."

"I couldn't wait to get out to the track today and watch her," an enthused Crum said after the win. "This is my first stakes win at Churchill. She hung in tough down the stretch. Unlike basketball, in racing when they're coming down the stretch like that you can't call a timeout."

Fast Forward
Two-year-old stakes races in May are often hard to figure, but one thing that came out of the $162,600 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) on May 28 is that Leelanau is a horse with a future. Breaking from post five in a six-horse field that included the filly Open Story, dead-heat winner of the Three Chimneys Juvenile Stakes on Kentucky Derby Day, jockey Jon Court and Leelanau laid in waiting as Gygistar set an exhausting opening quarter of :21.63 for the 5 1/2-furlong race. The favorite Open Story sat in a perfect stalking position with Leelanau behind her while racing wide.

In the stretch, Leelanau caught the leaders and opened a slim lead at the eighth pole. The lead expanded quickly as Leelanau pulled away from his tiring foes to win by 4 1/2 lengths. The win was not only visually impressive, it was historically impressive as well. The time for the race, 1:03.11, broke the track record of 1:03.61 set by Yes It's True in winning the 1998 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes.

Owned by the Iron Horse Racing partnership managed by David Clark, Leelanau is trained by Steve Morguelan.

"When 2-year-old winners start to congregate, not all of the horses can run on the lead like they're used to doing," Morguelan said of the Carson City colt. "It just takes racing to find out what they're going to be like. Time will tell. We'll probably put him in the Bashford Manor (gr. II, six furlongs, July 8) as long as he comes out of the race all right."  

(Chart, Equibase)