Churchill Downs Notes: McGee Thrilled That Committee Let

Barn Notes from Churchill Downs

After having to rely on the fates in his effort to get David Holloway's Bet On Sunshine in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in 1997 and '99, Churchill Downs-based trainer Paul J. McGee will be able to relax a bit heading into the 2000 renewal of the $1 million race. In each of those years, McGee's horse failed to be chosen as a member of the original field of 14 for the race. He made it off the preference list and into the field in '97, when he finished third to Elmhurst at Hollywood Park. But he did not get close to drawing into the race off the preference list last year at Gulfstream Park.

But there will be no such drama this year as the Breeders' Cup Sprint is held on Bet On Sunshine's home track. The Breeders' Cup Selection Committee placed the eight-year-old Bet Big gelding in the 14-horse field when pre-entries were announced Wednesday.

"Now we've just got to get him there," said McGee.

Bet On Sunshine has won four of five starts this year -- including a Churchill Downs track record performance in the 6 1/2-furlong Aristides (gr. III) in June. He is coming off his only loss of the year, a third-place finish behind Sprint rival Five Star Day in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup (gr. III) at Keeneland.

"I really like our chances," he said. "He's doing really good. He came out of his Keeneland race just fine and he's doing everything right. So, we'll got into it with no excuses."

McGee first laid his eyes on the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs as a young boy, when his father would bring the entire family to the track. He honed his training skills by working at the track in the mornings while attending Louisville's St. Xavier High School and Bellarmine College. Now he will saddle his first Breeders' Cup starter at his home track.

"It's a great race," McGee said. "But I think we've got as a good a shot as anybody."

Europeans Petrushka, Kalanisi Stretch Their Legs On The Winn Course -- The formidable pair of Breeders' Cup contenders from the stable of Sir Michael Stoute -- Highclere's Prix de L'Opera winner Petrushka (Filly & Mare Turf) and the Aga Kahn's Dubai Champion winner Kalanisi (Turf) -- cantered lightly around the Churchill Downs turf course Thursday in their first training activity since their arrival in the U.S.

"The boys were pleased," said Tony Cromby, Stoute's traveling head lad. "They said the turf course was perfect. No problems."

Petrushka was ridden by Wally Lowsby and Kalanisi had Terry Fahey in the irons for the canter. "You could not groom it more perfectly," Lowsby said. "It has a good covering and it feels good underneath. It couldn't be more perfect."

Absent In The Spring, Zito Happy To Be Back At Churchill -- For the last decade of the 1900's, there was no more accurate indicator of the onset of spring than the arrival of Nick Zito at Churchill Downs for the running of the Kentucky Derby.

Zito, a Derby winner in the decade with Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994), made it a point to be in Louisville with a Derby contender in May like most people hope to be home for the holidays in December.

But Zito's string of six consecutive Derbys -- and eight in 10 years -- ended in 2000 as the horses he had hoped would develop into top contenders -- Greenwood Lake, Rollin With Nolan, Bare Outline and Albert The Great -- were either sidelined by injury or failed to develop as the trainer had hoped.

There is potential, however, for the year to end on a very high note. Zito is passing on autumn in New York for a run at glory in the 17th running of the Breeders' Cup. Zito has a pair of major contenders in Tracy Farmer's Classic hopeful Albert the Great, who has grown into a man with wins in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and Dwyer (gr. II), and Celtic Pride Stable's A P Valentine, who stamped himself as a possible favorite for the Juvenile with a win in the Champagne (gr. I).

"I'm very grateful and very thankful," said Zito. "There's a lot of preachers in Louisville and I guess I'm becoming one of them, but you've got to thank God. To be in this position is beyond belief."

Zito's lone Breeders' Cup win came with Storm Song in the 1996 Juvenile Fillies at Woodbine, but he came tantalizingly close to another that day when Louis Quatorze finished a close second to Alphabet Soup -- and in front of the great Cigar -- in the Classic.

While both of his horses are major players in their respective races, Zito's best chance at victory may be A P Valentine. He believes the A.P. Indy colt is a spectacular talent who could be the first horse to win the Juvenile and then take the Kentucky Derby the following spring.

"He's got greatness written all over him,"said Zito. "Hopefully he can carry that out."

Being a man who likes to take care of his current business, Zito is focused on sending his horses in the winner's circle in their Breeders' Cup races. But, looking back, Zito admits that his springtime away from Louisville was a difficult experience -- and one he doesn't wish to repeat.

"It was really tough, but I've been blessed," Zito said. "We've won two Kentucky Derbys and that's special, but it's something we want to do every spring."

And Zito's welcome by his friends in Kentucky this fall has underscored that desire. "People always say what do you like about Louisville, what do you like about Kentucky?" he said. "It's the people. What else is there?"

Trainer Nick Zito plans to work his Breeders' Cup quartet Monday and Tuesday, weather permitting. Classic hopeful Albert the Great and Juvenile Fillies candidate Out of Sync are scheduled for Monday with Valiant Halory (Sprint) and A P Valentine (Juvenile) slated for Tuesday.

Barn Talk -- Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said his Juvenile candidate Scorpion will be ridden by Garrett Gomez. Gary Stevens was originally named to ride, but he has taken a mount on Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III) winner Point Given...Trainer Ken McPeek said his wife, Susan, would come home from the hospital on Thursday. Susan McPeek underwent surgery to remove a malignancy from the roof of her mouth on Oct. 24. She recently gave birth to the couple's first child. McPeek trains Juvenile Fillies contender She's A Devil Due...Three supplemental nominees figure to spice up the Breeders' Cup weekend stakes schedule at Churchill Downs. Stonerside Farm's 1999 champion juvenile filly Chilukki and the Katz Me If You Can, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained winner of the Thoroughbred Club of America (GIII) at Keeneland, have been made supplemental nominees to the $200,000-added Churchill Downs Distaff (GII) on Saturday, Nov. 4. Thomas VanMeter's Brahms is a supplemental nominee to the River City on Nov. 5. The Elliott Walden-trained colt was pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup Mile, but does not figure to draw-in off the preference list for that oversubscribed race.